Van Bramer to DOT: Prioritize Ped Safety Over QBB-Bound Traffic

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer holds a petition signed by over 500 LaGuardia Community Colllege students in July asking DOT to improve pedestrian safety along Thomson Avenue. Photo: Stephen Miller

This morning, with constant horn honking and engine noise in the background, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer called on DOT to study and implement traffic calming improvements along Thomson Avenue in the wake of the death of 16 year-old Tenzin Drudak, who was standing on the sidewalk when a driver jumped the curb and plowed into a group of pedestrians on Monday.

Van Bramer was joined by students from LaGuardia Community College, area high school students, Community Board 2 Chair Joseph Conley, and Transportation Alternatives.

“We cannot risk our lives to come into school any more. Please do something,” said LaGuardia Community College student government president Shah Amanat.

Last July, nearly 500 LaGuardia students signed a petition asking DOT for more signal time to get across the street. In November, DOT replied, saying that the signals were functioning properly and that it would not adjust them.

“We should never, ever, ever in this city sacrifice lives or put lives at risk in order to move cars faster. That is wrong,” added Van Bramer, who called on DOT to immediately study Thomson Avenue from Van Dam Street to Skillman Avenue for traffic calming, signal retiming, and additional bollards.

In the last few years, DOT has added safety improvements to other bridge approaches, including Delancey Street near the Williamsburg Bridge, on the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge, and nearby, at Queensboro Plaza and along Queens Boulevard — but not on Thomson.

DOT said it is in the process of evaluating curb extensions at the intersection where Drudak was killed. “The agency was already working with LaGuardia Community College to improve pedestrian safety and access at this location as part of the college’s planned expansion,” said spokesperson Scott Gastel. Streetsblog asked DOT if the agency has a timeline for implementing traffic calming measures but has not received a reply.

Friends of Tenzin Drudak at a memorial this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

“They need to change their approach,” said CB 2 chair Conley. “The priority shouldn’t be how quickly you can move cars in and out of Manhattan, and that’s long been the complaint of this community.”

Thomson Avenue is often clogged with drivers on their way to or from the lower level of the Queensboro Bridge, which is free, unlike the nearby Queens-Midtown Tunnel. “All of us would love to reduce the number of vehicles going through here,” Van Bramer said. “Tolls are one way that could be accomplished; I’m not going to say one way or another here whether that’s the solution.”

The driver that killed Drudak has been identified by police as Mohamed Keita, 36, of Charlotte, N.C. He was issued a summons for driving without insurance. Although witnesses said Keita was speeding and the driver himself reportedly attributes the crash to being distracted by spilt milk, no charges have been filed.

“There could be a better job of enforcement,” Conley told Streetsblog after the event. Although he said the 108th Precinct works well with the community, he added that red light running and dangerous driving is a continual problem. Last year, the precinct issued 504 summonses for failing to stop at a traffic signal and 296 speeding tickets.

Van Bramer has been a champion of speed cameras, which have a shot at passing in Albany this year. The City Council’s transportation committee will be holding a public hearing on Van Bramer’s resolution asking Albany to take action on Monday at 2:30 p.m.