Groups, pols demand DOT make streets safer
By Jessica Meditz
Two back-to-back hit-and-run incidents took the Ridgewood community by surprise in mid-August.
On Aug. 14, 74-year-old Be Tran, a DoorDash worker and father of two, was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver at Myrtle Ave. and Hancock St.
In response, and to demand an end to traffic violence in the neighborhood, Ridgewood Tenants Union and Transportation Alternatives organized a rally on Seneca Ave. — in the vicinity of where Tran was killed.
Adrian King, the owner of King’s Juice Bar in Ridgewood, was on scene when the hit-and-run occurred.
For over a year, King has fought for a traffic signal at the intersection of Weirfield St. and Seneca Ave., due to the countless traffic accidents he’s witnessed.
“I’m so frustrated because I’ve been in Ridgewood for 40 years, and I love Ridgewood. The issue with Ridgewood is that it’s a community based on community, attention, love, dedication and looking out for each other. Today’s generation is a different world,” King said.
“Focus, pay attention, stop thinking about yourselves. When you’re on the street, anything can happen, forces that we can’t control,” he continued. “But if you collectively think about each other, it will be a better place anywhere in the world — so focus.”
Raquel Namuche, founder of Ridgewood Tenants Union, who has worked closely with King to combat this issue, informed the crowd that the Queens liaison for DOT responded to their inquiry for a traffic signal at the intersection.
“We will be in touch about the study at Weirfield St. We are unable to send a representative today,” the DOT representative said in an email. “We are also working to get details around the fatal crash on Seneca Ave., and are looking to see if there are ways to further enhance safety for all street users.”
Namuche argued that the DOT be more prompt and vigilant in regard to pedestrian safety in the community.
“We need them to do it now. Here at this intersection, it’s been over a year. There’s been numerous accidents, and we can share videos of all the accidents that Mr. King and our neighbor, Robert Diaz, have been tracking here,” Namuche said.
“It is unacceptable. Mr. Tran should not have died. The hit and run on Wyckoff Ave. and George St. should not have happened. That should not be happening, not in Ridgewood, not anywhere in this city,” she continued. “And as long as it keeps happening, we know that DOT and the Mayor are not keeping us safe. And that’s what today is about. They are not enhancing our protection in any way, shape or form, and we need them to do it now.”
State Senator Michael Gianaris and Councilwoman Jennifer Gutiérrez accompanied the groups and numerous community members in attendance.
“I brought this intersection to the attention of the DOT a year and a half ago, and they are still studying it. This is a problem we see everywhere,” Gianaris said. “The city knows what it needs to do to make these places safe. They just need the will to do it.”
Gianaris explained that the city studies and scores a certain intersection before additional protections are added to it.
Part of the score is how many crashes the site has seen, and another is how many people have been injured or killed.
“Queens Boulevard used to be known as the ‘Boulevard of Death’ because so many people were killed in crashes, and after all those deaths, they finally did something about it,” Gianaris said.
“So they have to wait until that happens to get the score high enough to realize that an intersection needs protection,” he continued. “The city has it backwards.”
“Someone who is still working at 74, risking their life every single day to provide for their family and to contribute to an economy for a city that says ‘I don’t care about your safety’ is a slap in the face to [Tran’s] family and their story of coming here to the United States,” Gutiérrez, who represents portions of Ridgewood, said.
“The city has done way too much to empower drivers, at the cost of pedestrians, at the cost of cyclists, of our seniors and of our children. It’s time that we make that change,” she continued. “We need to continue to push DOT. It’s unacceptable that there exists a rubric for how many deaths need to occur for mitigation to happen. I am extremely frustrated.”
Kathy Park Price, a Brooklyn organizer for Transportation Alternatives, said that residents of city streets know them best, and that the organization will stand in partnership with elected officials to do more.
“We know what works and we need to take action immediately…We need to rely on street design and infrastructure to affect change,” she said.
“We know from the DOT that road diets, bike lanes, pedestrian highland, sidewalk expansions, turn calming and leading pedestrian intervals all deliver impressive injury reductions for everyone, including older adults,” she continued.
The program concluded with a moment of silence to honor Be Tran, and a poem read by Michelle Bounkousohn, a member of Ridgewood Tenants Union.
The poem was written in Vietnamese by Ngo Thanh Nhan, Bounkousohn’s grandfather, in memory of his life and legacy in the community.
The poem, Tran’s picture, flowers and candles were placed on the corner of Myrtle and Seneca Aves. as a memorial for him.
On Aug. 10, three people, including a mother pushing her child in a stroller, were hit by an unlicensed driver at Wyckoff Ave. and George St.
The suspect wanted for that incident has been identified as 28-year-old Tyshawn Baldwin.
The hit-and-run driver who struck and killed Tran remains at large, and the investigation is ongoing.