Vallone calls for solar powered traffic signals nearly a year after Whitestone teen’s tragic death

Photo courtesy of the New York City Council

A northeast Queens councilman is calling for solar powered traffic signals, nearly a year after the tragic death of Madeline Sershen who was killed by an elderly driver in Whitestone.

At the May 29 stated meeting, Councilman Paul Vallone introduced legislation directing the Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a feasibility study of adopting and controlling solar powered traffic devices on New York City streets.

During the course of the study, the law would require DOT to publish their findings and recommendations. The bill would be effective immediately and the agency would have to submit study findings within one year of the effective date.

Communities in Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and several other states have successfully employed solar powered traffic devices within their own street crossings and intersections, according to Vallone. A motion sensor or push button activates the on-demand system and displays flashing lights to warn vehicles of pedestrians crossing in the crosswalk.

Last year, Vallone discussed these safety measures with DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenburg following Sershen’s death. During the incident, 88-year-old Sheila Kahn Prager ran a red light and struck the 17-year-old Whitestone resident as she walked in the crosswalk at the intersection of Utopia Parkway and 16th Avenue.

“In the critical interest of keeping our City’s pedestrians protected, we must proactively look for new and innovative ways to make our streets safer for all,” said Vallone. “Solar powered illuminated crosswalks have been successfully implemented in other parts of the country and would be an effective way to improve safety for our pedestrians. As the Administration continues implementing its Vision Zero plan, this inventive control measure could be a critical piece of preventing collisions like the one that tragically took the life of Madeline Sershen.”

On DOT’s website, data on pedestrian safety shows that pedestrian deaths have declined since the start of the mayor’s Vision Zero initiative. But, these deaths still consistently make up the majority of the city’s traffic fatalities.

“As a parent, an educator, and a heartbroken aunt, I believe street safety needs to be our City’s number one priority,” said Rita Barravecchio, Sershen’s aunt. “My niece Madeline Sershen died last June in a horrible crash where the driver did not see her. This new type of street design could help make pedestrians more visible to drivers. We need to make our streets safer, and by doing so, we will save lives and prevent tragedies like that of my niece’s.”

According to Vallone’s office, the councilman has requested a hearing on this bill in the Transportation Committee, which is chaired by Councilman Ydanis Rodríguez.

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