In Queens, Parents Push for Safer Streets Near Schools

After 25-year-old Martha Tibillin-Guamug was killed crossing the street in Jackson Heights last week, the 110th Precinct went on the offensive, writing 200 summonses in 72 hours, including dozens for failure to yield to pedestrians. At a traffic safety town hall on Sunday, residents applauded the effort, then asked the police and DOT to do more.

Martha Tibillin-Guamug, 25, was killed by a bus driver in Jackson Heights last week. Photo: NY Post
Martha Tibillin-Guamug, 25, was killed by a bus driver in Jackson Heights last week. Photo: NY Post

The 110th already has a leg up on most other precincts when it comes to traffic safety — it issued 442 failure-to-yield and nearly 3,000 speeding tickets last year — but at the town hall hosted by Make Queens Safer, Congressman Joseph Crowley, and Assembly Member Francisco Moya, residents said it would take more than a ticket blitz to clamp down on dangerous driving.

Dozens of Queens schools have been designated as priority locations in DOT’s Safe Routes to Schools program, for example, but most have not received street redesigns as a result. From 2004 to 2009, DOT implemented street redesigns in areas surrounding 30 schools citywide. Researchers say these types of traffic calming measures could prevent 210 child injuries annually if the city applies them to all 1,471 elementary and middle schools.

I.S. 230 in Jackson Heights has already been identified as a Safe Routes to Schools priority location. Victoria Medelius, president of the school’s parent-teacher association, said traffic safety efforts shouldn’t happen only after someone dies. “We have to do more than just issue a summons,” she told Streetsblog.

Medelius said one of her son’s classmates was walking to school with his mother last year when a driver hit and injured him. “It shouldn’t be that way. It wasn’t like that for me growing up,” said Medelius, who grew up in Jackson Heights. “Drivers should be more responsible.”

The group at Sunday’s town hall identified street safety priorities and made connections between city agencies and community groups. Cristina Furlong of Make Queens Safer said that a wide range of issues came up at the meeting, including a call for additional crossing guards and more leading pedestrian intervals near schools. In some cases, said Furlong, it’s as simple as linking existing programs to groups that could use them. DOT’s school education program, for example, is scheduled to meet this week with the I.S. 230 PTA.

Make Queens Safer will soon be asking parents to take a driver safety pledge and is attending a meeting with DOT and community board managers later this week to talk about traffic safety.

Pedestrian safety for school children is a persistent concern in Queens. Last March, residents turned out for a traffic safety forum after 11-year-old I.S. 145 student Miguel Torres was run over by a dump truck driver while crossing with the light at Northern Boulevard and 80th Street in the 115th Precinct. At Sunday’s meeting, the 115th’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Michael A. Cody, joined 110th precinct executive officer Captain Ralph Forgione, who received rave reviews from multiple meeting attendees for his attention to traffic safety.

Family members of other traffic violence victims came out to Sunday’s meeting to speak with police and elected officials. Among the neighbors who attended were Marta Puruncajas, whose son Luis Bravo was killed by a hit-and-run driver, and Zoraya Torres, whose mother Angela Hurtado was killed in the crosswalk by an unlicensed driver making an illegal turn.

“That’s simply unacceptable in today’s day and age,” Crowley said of pedestrian deaths on WCBS Sunday. “It should be happening less frequently, not more frequently.” (Last year, New York City pedestrian fatalities increased to 168 from 135 the year before, and Queens was the borough with the most pedestrian fatalities.) Crowley, who secured funding for a Jackson Heights transportation study that led to parking reforms and a new plaza, among other changes, expressed interest in improved lighting and crosswalks, as well as possibly reducing the speed limit.

The success of street safety efforts relies in part on residents remaining engaged. Medelius said she heard about the meeting from one of the teachers at I.S. 230. “I’m just going to try, even if it’s in increments, to get more people involved,” she said. “It’s a really important issue that’s affecting all of us.”