Astoria Residents are Angry About Street Safety. Will the NYPD Listen?
Are there tremors of a culture shift in Queens?
Police precinct meetings — which were held on Zoom on recently, due to the pandemic — are naturally filled with cop-friendly fare: tough talk of tackling crime; praise of police officers behind a successful sting; and, often, complaints from (typically older) residents about cyclists and pedestrians not obeying traffic rules.
And, most important, few street safety advocates ever bothering to show up.
But the tables seem to be turning in the 114th Precinct of Astoria. A couple of shocking deaths since January are instigating a growing tide of residents to show up to the precinct’s monthly meetings at the Astoria World Manor, and asking why the cops are notably absent on issues of street safety and traffic violence — or even sometimes complicit in perpetuating them. (This is the precinct that
won lost Streetsblog’s “March (Parking) Madness” in 2021, after all.)
Many participants came to the last meeting, held on Tuesday night, after hearing about it on the Astoria subreddit, which has grown into a sizable forum for street safety concerns in the area. (It boasts over 55,000 members.) Miser, a local advocate who moderates r/MicromobilityNYC, has pushed the effort to raise awareness among residents, who, he notes, are not activists. Instead, he told me after the meeting, they’re just average New Yorkers, fed up with the status quo of city streets.
He asked Deputy Inspector Kenneth Gorman the first question of the night: “What are you doing to be a better Vision Zero partner?”
The presence of attendees at a precinct community council meeting who are not reflexively pro-car is forcing top brass to change their tone. Gorman suggested last month that 7-year-old Dolma Naadhun’s death was an unfortunate inevitability. (He voiced a similar sentiment on Tuesday, saying that many officers and residents need to drive — even if most residents in Astoria don’t.)
But before a different crowd on Tuesday, he appeared conciliatory, and said the precinct was taking action.
In the last 28-day period, Gorman said his officers gave out 450 parking summons and 600 moving violations, up from 430 movers in the same month last year, according to NYPD stats. And he said that officers conducted a sting that resulted in 50 parking summonses for commercial vehicles parked on residential streets overnight, a policy priority of Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.
“Between the conversations we’ve had here, which have been very productive, obviously, and with the community board and some specific associations, we’ve been able to target some of those areas and make sure that we have a safer environment out there,” he explained.
But statistics fall flat, residents argued, when barely making it across the street without getting trampled is part of one’s daily routine. (Some statistics worth noting, however: So far this year in just the 114th Precinct, there have been 379 reported crashes, according to city stats, or 4.5 per day on average. Those crashes have injured 21 cyclists, 45 pedestrians and 113 motorists, roughly the same number as the same period last year.)
“I feel safe here, overall; where I don’t feel safe is when I cross the road,” said Danny Fosterman, the father of two young kids, after officials noted a local drop in violent crime.
Fosterman then described the scene outside of Coffee Pot, a local deli familiar to northern Astoria residents, where cops regularly park in the crosswalk. “I have to walk into the street with my children where there is no vision at all. You can’t see anything,” Fosterman continued. “Vision Zero seems to be a joke overall in the city.”
R.A. Guirand, a stay-at-home father of two, said cars regularly blow stop lights and signs when he crosses Hoyt Avenue and 31st Street. The notoriously dangerous intersection sits at the entrance of the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and Grand Central Parkway, down the block from the precinct house. (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently allocated money to the city DOT for “safety improvements” along the corridor, and Council Member Tiffany Cabán has pushed for minor design tweaks.)
“I can say I see it almost every day,” Guirand told the audience. “Five days I see it, maybe 12 times each day. So it is a serious situation.”
In response, Gorman repeatedly told neighbors at the meeting to inform the precinct of any problematic intersections — or “collision prone” areas, in CompStat lingo — so the cops could conduct a traffic safety survey to decide further action.
“It may be something as simple as changing a light or sign, or maybe putting zebra stripes on the corner, if we can get DOT to do that, to make sure people are parking a little further back from the corner, if it’s a sight problem,” said Gorman. “And sometimes, it’s just enforcement.”
The generational divide of the issue — and neighborhood — was still on display. Older attendees rolled their eyes when the issue of traffic violence didn’t go away. One man jokingly asked officers nearby sotto voce, “If my wife gets mugged, is that a parking or moving violation?” Another asked Gorman what to do if a kid jumps in front of his car: “Should I call the cops and have him arrested?” And another asked how many summons had been issued to pedestrians for jaywalking. (Data for that is not yet available, but in 2022, the 114th Precinct issued two “jaywalking” tickets — both to black men.)
There was space for agreement, though. When Guirand mentioned Hoyt, an older man stood up to say that the intersection had been previously called “one of the worst in the country.” And there were nods when a female resident asked Gorman if the police could return next month with specific figures on collision-prone intersections that they investigated — and, hopefully, improved.
“I want us all to feel good about that,” she said, after detailing how she was almost hit walking her dog a few days earlier. “I want to be able to brag about Astoria. I want to be able to say our community has a good relationship with the 114th. They listened. Here are statistics.
“I think that there’s going to be a big sense of trust, if we can start tracking some of this on your end, the way you do with shootings,” she continued. “But just coming every month and giving us the update … these people are gonna still keep showing up until they see change.”