Dolma’s Grieving Father, Pols Seek Traffic Light at Fatal Corner — But Larger Safety Improvements are Needed
The Department of Transportation says it will not add a traffic light at an Astoria intersection where a 7-year-old girl was killed earlier this month, even though the girl’s grieving father and the Council member who represents him are single-mindedly focused on that sole change.
After Dolma Naadhun was killed on Feb. 17 at Newtown Road and 45th Street — a corner with relatively few crashes, but one that neighbors repeatedly say is dangerous — the DOT said it would consider only additional daylighting and improved crosswalks. And those improvements have been made.
But locals, including Dolma’s father Tsering Wangdu and Council Member Julie Won (D-Long Island City), reiterated at a memorial service on Sunday that they will accept nothing less than a traffic light.
Other speakers, however, pointed out that a traffic light is but one of many tools in the DOT safety arsenal — a battery that includes car-free plazas such as those installed to great success on nearby 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights, and the “bike boulevard” configuration, such as the one installed in nearby Sunnyside.
Neighboring Council Member Tiffany Caban said she supported the traffic light, but also looked more broadly.
“Traffic safety is an overall public safety issue, and we have to change our approach,” she said. “We have to bigger and we have to be bolder. We have to be thinking about traffic-calming measures across all of our intersections … because quite simply, if it saves lives, it’s worth doing.”
She accused the DOT of having a “back assward” approach of being “reactive rather than proactive.”
“It is not just about looking at data around where accidents [sic] have already occurred, but literally just listening to neighbors who walk across those streets every day and can tell you where the dangers lie better than any other data,” she said.
State Sen. Mike Gianaris echoed that during the question and answer session with reporters.
“Unfortunately, because someone lost a child, they’ll make a change,” he said. “But typically they run a formula and look at how many deaths or accidents [sic] were at this intersection, and then they’ll say, ‘OK, this justifies it after the fact.’ We’ve all known Newtown Road is very dangerous for so many years, so if they just engage communities, the people who live here will tell them where the problems — and if they do proactively instead of reactively, we could prevent things from happening before it’s too late.”
Assembly Member Jessica Gonzalez Rojas specifically cited the successful conversion of 34th Avenue from a dangerous, car through street first into a car-light open street during the pandemic and now Paseo Park, which features several car-free plaza blocks and other traffic calming interventions that have all but eliminated injury-causing crashes between 69th Street and Junction Boulevard, as Streetsblog has reported.
“I’ve been a longtime champion of the 34th Avenue Paseo Park,” she said. “That was a community-driven effort, so it shows the success of community-driven efforts.”
For now, Tsering Wangdu is not focused on building a broader community and spending years to create car-free space. He just wants a traffic light at 45th Street, and other intersections along Newtown Road, which cuts a diagonal between 30tt Avenue and Northern Boulevard. Since 2019, there have been 113 reported crashes on that stretch, injuring 41 people. It is by no means the most dangerous corridor in Queens. But it is to Wangdu.
“I don’t want any family to suffer like what I’m suffering and my family is suffering,” he said. “So please help me to set up a red light at 44th, 45th, 46th, 47th and 48th Streets. Help me.”
The DOT has already said it will not add the red lights. But since last week, the agency did make improvements, repainting crosswalks and adding “No standing anytime” signs to prevent cars from parking up against the crosswalk on Newtown Road and 45th Street. It is also considering “vertical elements” to discourage drivers from standing in the daylighted zone.
The lack of daylighting may have been a contributing factor in the crash, but the DOT said that in this case, it’s unsure because the driver was in possession of only a learner’s permit, yet did not have a licensed adult in the car with her, which is against the law.
The NYPD would not confirm the report. And activists were quick to dismiss the implication that Newtown Road is not in need of further improvements because it experiences relatively few crashes and in this case, the fatality stemmed from an unlicensed and possibly drunk driver.
“Designing streets that slow down drivers, ensure visibility, and protect people with physical infrastructure is the best way to prevent crashes and save lives,” said Elizabeth Adams, senior director of Advocacy & Organizing at Transportation Alternatives. “Design choices and reckless driving failed 7-year-old Dolma Naadhun. Our leaders must take action now to prevent reckless driving and future tragedies.”
That’s a point emphasized by Caban during her brief remarks.
“The reality is that traffic deaths are more prolific than gun violence or murders in our city,” she said. “Yet we don’t treat them with the same level of urgency.”
Sixteen children were killed on New York City streets in 2022, the Department of Transportation said. That number includes Jonathan Martinez, who was killed by a pickup truck driver on McIntosh Street and 100th Street in East Elmhurst in September — another awkwardly-shaped intersection that residents had long complained about.
Anyone expecting major changes on Newtown Road would be advised to review the clips from the 2012 battle to turn one block of Newtown Avenue (as the northern stretch of the diagonal street is known north of 30th Avenue) into a public plaza to block cars at one of the neighborhood’s known danger spots. The community board rejected the DOT plan and as a result, the only improvements made were concrete bulb-outs.