Frustrated college staff in Long Island City demand city make long-delayed street safety improvements

Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS

After a deadly decade on the streets near Long Island City’s LaGuardia Community College, the staff has had enough with unfulfilled promises from the city Department of Transportation (DOT) for road safety improvements.

Activists at a Tuesday press conference hosted by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer not only said there have been 15 fatalities on Thomson Avenue in front from the school between 2009 and 2019, but that DOT has been allocated the resources to make safety improvements for several years.

Many at the rally looked back on March 11, 2013, when a car ran into several individuals in a pedestrian plaza across from 30-20 Thomson Ave., killing 16-year-old Tenzin Drudak who was waiting for a bus on the sidewalk.

Kevin Lopez, 20, was also struck on his bike while on his way home from school, according to information on one protester’s sign.

The trend does not end there; along with the 15 fatalities over the last 10 years, there have also been 760 severe injuries.

“Tens of thousands of people traverse these sidewalks and these streets every single day, and make no mistake: it is a dangerous stretch for anyone to walk or cycle and even drive,” Van Bramer said. “They were not in the street. They were actually on the pavement — on the sidewalk — waiting to cross this street when a car plowed into them, killing Tenzen Drudak and injuring numerous others.”

There are four high schools along with LaGuardia in a five-block radius which is a transit hub for up to 15,000 students per day, according to Van Bramer.

Despite this, DOT has not designated this section of Thomson a school zone — something the activists are urging the agency to do along with traffic calming measures, which is what those at the rally were calling for.

“The safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors is paramount. Several incidents where members of LaGuardia Community College and other pedestrians have been injured or killed while standing on a sidewalk or crossing a street near our campus have illuminated the perils of the current traffic pattern,” Paul Arcario, interim president of LaGuardia said. “As well, too many near misses have occurred. These are serious, life-threatening issues that must be addressed urgently in order to safeguard lives and prevent future tragedies.”

One of those injuries includes Sasha Ponappa, who is the director for the Program for Deaf Adults at LaGuardia. Since she was hit by a car that ran a red light eight months ago, Ponappa has dealt with injuries as well psychological remembrances: post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Every area of my life has been impacted by that hit. I broke my hand. I injured both my knees and my legs. I had a concussion. I also have PTSD from the crash,” Ponappa said through a sign language interpreter. “I was not the only victim that night. There was another pedestrian that was hit as well. I have not seen any change since and it’s sad to know how many people have been lost and injured here.”

DOT told QNS they have been working with community stakeholders over the past few months to implement changes from 33rd Street side of the campus and plans to present a strategy to the councilman by the end of the year.

“Building on previous improvements to this corridor, DOT implemented safety enhancements to Queens Boulevard from Van Dam Street to 33rd Street to better accommodate and protect the high volumes of pedestrians around LaGuardia Community College,” a DOT spokesman said. “We worked with the College, Council Member Van Bramer, and Community Board 2 to make much-needed upgrades for greater pedestrian safety and access, including six new crosswalks and related traffic signals and the expanded and reconfigured Greenstreets triangle, which has been modified so that pedestrian ramps fit in the space and that the island is passable for pedestrian use. Pedestrians can access the triangle using three new crosswalks. DOT converted 14 off-street parking spaces under the Viaduct between 32nd Place and 33rd Street to pedestrian walkway to accommodate the high pedestrian volumes. DOT committed to completing this phase of work before the fall academic semester started.”

Joby Jacob, a professor of biology, claimed DOT has been slow to act on the dangerous conditions because of what he sees as a propensity to give priority to motorist coming to and from Manhattan with the school being closely situated to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and the Queensborough Bridge.

“The cost so far of DOT prioritizing people driving into Manhattan has been too heavy; people have been killed. People have been hurt. It’s terrible. It’s time for something different,” Jacob said.

DOT did not immediately respond to an inquiry from QNS before press time, this story will be updated with comment once it’s received.

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