DOT Commish Promises Safety Improvements at Queens Intersection Where Pedestrian Was Run Over Three Times

The intersection of Cooper and Cypress avenues in Queens is so dangerous that when you see a hearse, you're not surprised. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The intersection of Cooper and Cypress avenues in Queens is so dangerous that when you see a hearse, you're not surprised. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Updated | Give him a couple more days.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez promised on Tuesday that his agency would quickly make safety improvements at a notorious Queens intersection where a pedestrian was run over three times by two negligent drivers who apparently didn’t see him — but Rodriguez stopped short of offering specifics for taming one of the worst intersections in the borough.

“Help is on the way,” Rodriguez said, citing elements of the DOT toolbox, including raised crosswalks, pedestrian-only signal timing, new lane markings and other lane redesigns. “We can start with some of them that are easier to do, like related to the signal; that’s something that we can control and can happen faster. There’s other things that will take more time, but I can say that help is on the way.

“You will see changes here in the next couple of days,” he added. “This will happen.” Rodriguez said the redesign was part of Mayor Adams’s promise on Jan. 19 to fix 1,000 of the most dangerous intersections in the city.

(Update: One signal change has already happened. Late on Tuesday night, DOT installed a pedestrian-only signal phase, one known as a “Barnes Dance” after its greatest champion, traffic engineer Henry Barnes, who was New York’s commissioner of Traffic in the early 1960s. “We implemented an all-pedestrian phase at this intersection as we continue to explore additional safety improvements,” said agency spokesman Vin Barone. See the new timing at Cooper and Cypress in action here or below.)

It's a children's crusade. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Kids photo bombed Ydanis Rodriguez on Tuesday. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The promise of help was appreciated by people who live near the intersection of Cooper and Cypress avenues in Glendale, where the horrific crash happened last week — part of an epic series of crashes that continue to plague the neighborhood. In the eight years of the prior mayoral administration, there were 153 reported crashes at that one intersection, injuring seven cyclists, 10 pedestrians and 56 motorists, according to city stats.

During the same time period — the Vision Zero years, 2014 to 2021 — there were 536 reported crashes on just the four-block stretch of Cypress Avenue between the Jackie Robinson Parkway exit ramp and Cooper Avenue, injuring 11 cyclists, 14 pedestrian and 195 motorists. And in the 11-block stretch of Cooper Avenue between the L train tracks and Cypress Hills Street, there were 46 reported crashes last year, injuring two cyclists, two pedestrians and 19 motorists, according to city stats.

“Commissioner, we need help,” Council Member Bob Holden told Rodriguez at a rally at the corner, where children held signs reading, “Swagger won’t keep us safe on Cypress Avenue” and “Mayor Adams, try biking here; TL, DR, it sucks.”

“I had nine pedestrians killed in a little over two years in the 104th Precinct, which isn’t even my entire district,” Holden said. This is an area that certainly needs attention.”

Holden showed off a sheath of letters from DOT in response to his specific requests for safety improvements in his district.

“I call them ‘turned-down letters’ because I’m always being turned down,” he said. “I’ve been very critical of DOT in the past because of this. … In this neighborhood, we’re really not as worried about violent crime, but I tell my wife every morning when she goes to work, ‘Careful crossing the street.’ That’s the most danger to life and limb in this precinct.”

The toll that car culture takes in Glendale is oppressive. In the half hour press conference at the intersection, horns honked constantly, drivers routinely ran red lights and made illegal turns, and a car dealership left its cars illegally on the sidewalk and blocked an entire lane with a huge car-filled tractor trailer.

“Friends won’t come over to my house with their children because they are afraid of crossing this street,” said Caroline Shadood, an area resident whose partner was recently hit and seriously injured by a car driver at the same intersection.

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Holden is not a traffic engineer, so he admitted that he does not know what the perfect solution is for an intersection featuring a narrow roadway meeting a road that is more or less an entrance and exit ramp for the Jackie Robinson Parkway. Speeding and recklessness is endemic. A gas station provides a convenient cut-through for the most impatient drivers to go from northbound Cypress onto eastbound Cooper without waiting for one or possibly two lights.

“First of all, it’s a severely angled street, right? So maybe we need to look at traffic directions,” he said. “And I want to give the pedestrians a few more seconds to cross and be visible. And I’ve asked Commissioner Rodriguez to look at raised crosswalks. And we need enforcement so there aren’t all these illegally parked cars and drivers cutting through the gas station.

“This is a ridiculously busy corner and the pedestrian is at a distinct disadvantage here,” he added.

Council Member Bob Holden (with Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar and DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez) showed off his rejection letters from DOT. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Council Member Bob Holden (with Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar and DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez) showed off his rejection letters from DOT. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Then, sounding like an eager new soldier in the war on cars, Holden — himself a driver with a recent speeding ticket on his car’s record — looked at the deeper culture that is driving the continued rise in pedestrian deaths in the city and nation.

“The problem of mentality of the motorists in New York City, and it has to change,” he said. “No matter what safety improvements we make, everybody’s in a rush. Nobody has any patience. And as we have more traffic, it’s going to get worse. … And look how they market cars. Look at the commercials. Notice how fast they’re going, how they spin around. That’s the mentality that they’re selling, so we also have to change the mindset of selling cars. Nobody should go that fast in the city in the city, so if they’re gonna sell cars in the city, they can’t market them that way.”

Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar, who last year aggravated street safety activists by seeking to create more parking in another part of the district, made positive overtures on Tuesday.

“This is traffic violence,” she said. “Traffic violence is when we know about the dangers of a roadway and we do nothing about it. That’s violence against the community and it has to stop.”

She also said she supports a slate of bills in Albany that would give the city more control over speed limits and speed cameras.

One problem left unsaid by the politicians was the sheer size of the vehicles on New York City roadways these days.

“It absolutely plays a role in crashes like this one,” said Laura Shepard of Transportation Alternatives, referring to the video of last week’s crash, which culminated in a massive SUV running over a man lying prone in the crosswalk. “The heights are so high that the drivers can barely see full grown adults, let alone children, who are directly in front of them.”

The victim in last week’s crash, whose name has not been released, remains in stable condition at a Jamaica Hospital, authorities have said.