Greenpointers Rally For Safer Streets Where Cyclist, 73, Was Killed
When neighbors fight road safety improvements, other neighbors die.
That was the overriding message of a large Saturday rally of Greenpointers at the site where bike rider Teddy Orzechowski, 73, was fatally struck by a driver on Driggs Avenue — along a stretch of roadway that was once a car-light street for pedestrians and cyclists, but was restored to a car-choked shortcut for impatient drivers after vigilantes first beat up an open-street volunteer and dismantled the traffic calming effort by stealing barricades and dumping them in the creek.
“What we need is a comprehensive, safe street redesign for our neighborhood … that allows for children to have access to the parks and their school without fear of death, that makes it impossible for another death to happen by the design of the streets,” said Chris Roberti, who chairs the Safe Streets Committee at Public School 110, which is at the corner of Monitor and Driggs, where Orzechowski was struck on May 12.
The school is also where Matthew Jensen taught — until he was killed two blocks away on McGuinness Boulevard in 2021. Parents at PS 110 wanted to turn Monitor Street into a play street, but the school leadership team withdrew the application after some neighbors protested against any limits on car access, though study after study show that removing cars makes roadways far safer.
And DOT proposed adding bike lanes to Monitor and nearby Kingsland Avenue last year, but advocates worry that businesses in the area have successfully lobbied the city to halt the effort. (Agency reps said only that DOT has “future plans for a safety project on Driggs,” but did not share more details.)
Roberti said the city should do a full-scale overhaul of the area’s streets, turning it into a low-traffic neighborhood that discourages truck traffic, for example by flipping the direction on one block of Monitor Street.
Also at the rally, Greenpoint pols said they will continue pushing the city to fix the intersection at Monitor Street and Driggs Avenue which is between PS 110 and McGolrick Park. The two streets are also where two streams of dangerous traffic conditions meet: drivers coming off the Kosciuszko Bridge and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway use Driggs as a shortcut while truck drivers often use Monitor as a way of avoiding McGuinness.
“The inaction that we’ve seen at this corner in front of our beloved neighborhood school has led to death,” said Council Member Lincoln Restler said. “I am going to push like all hell to make sure that by the time the kids come back in September, we see major changes here at Monitor and Driggs. We cannot afford more violence, we cannot afford another death.”
The city agency also pledged to redesign McGuinness as a safer artery, with a protected bike lane and removing one car lane in each direction, after a hit-and-run driver killed beloved P.S. 110 teacher Matthew Jensen in 2021.
The intersection where the SUV driver struck Orzechowski on May 12 has poor visibility due to cars parked right up to or in the crosswalk, with just one corner daylighted by a row of bike racks.
Greenpointers march near an intersection where a 73-year-old cyclist was recently fatally hit by an SUV driver. It’s on what used to be the Driggs Ave Open Street but that was dismantled by opponents two years ago. More here: https://t.co/vl1qypYaEE pic.twitter.com/Uy2jyOGZF2
— Kevin Duggan (@kduggan16) June 3, 2023
“We could have predicted this,” Roberti said of Orzechowski’s killing. “If nothing changes this is what we’re gonna keep getting.”
Advocates marched around McGolrick Park, chanting for safer streets, and installed a white “ghost bike” at the crossing and mounted a sign that a cyclist died there, a painful reminder of the preventable tragedy said a neighbor.
“My son and I were crossing the street minutes before Teddy was hit,” said Noel Hidalgo. “I never wanna be that white bike, I never wanna have a white bike in my family. I now have a white bike in front of my apartment.”
In just the two years since Jensen was killed, there have been 1,419 reported crashes in just Greenpoint alone, or roughly two per day, according to city statistics (which are an undercount because the NYPD stopped responding to all non-injury crashes in 2020). Those crashes injured 64 cyclists and 66 pedestrians.
Assembly Member Emily Gallagher blamed driver enablers in the state legislature for blocking the passage of Sammy’s Law, which would allow the city to lower its own speed limits from 25 miles per hour to 20.
“I have to tell you that it was the folks who live in more suburban areas of our city that killed Sammy’s Law. And what that means for us is that we have to organize to make those folks care,” Gallagher said. “Every day, we’re dealing with the violence of inaction, and that is a choice that we are making.”
The consequences were evident during the rally, as several close calls between motorists and other road users happened at the intersection. One driver nearly hit a moped rider, and cyclists swerved around motorists who rolled through the stop signs on both sides.
Locals plan to hold a meeting to discuss safety improvements around McGolrick Park on June 24 at noon at the Palace, 206 Nassau Ave., at the corner of Russell Street.