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Volume 77, Number 19 | October 10 - 16, 2007

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Lou Todd, a Prince St. resident, stopped his walker on the newly narrowed Houston St. median at LaGuardia Pl. on Oct. 3 as Councilmember Alan Gerson gestured his disapproval of the median’s shrunken size.

Houston St. becoming even deadlier, suit charges

By Albert Amateau

Lou Todd, a Prince St. resident who uses a walker, made his way slowly across the construction-choked W. Houston St. intersection at W. Broadway/LaGuardia Pl. at noon on Oct. 3, but he had to wait at the narrow traffic median for another light cycle in order to make it all the way across.

He was one of about 60 neighbors, most of them elderly, at a rally called by City Councilmember Alan Gerson to protest what many have called an ill-conceived Houston St. reconstruction design that speeds auto traffic but endangers pedestrians.

“Yes, it’s hard for me to cross Houston St., and it’s hard for someone with a baby carriage,” said Todd. “There isn’t enough room on this traffic island to wait out the light.”

Gerson and Lawrence Goldberg, a Community Board 2 member and attorney, announced at the rally that they and 18 neighbors have filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court to halt the Houston St. reconstruction as presently designed and modify it with safety elements.

“We’re citing the city’s failure to follow its own master plan to provide pedestrian and bicycle safety in this design,” Goldberg said. The project originally called for a Houston St. bicycle lane, which was eliminated in April when the bike lane was moved to Bleecker St., Goldberg noted.

At the time, Josh Benson, bicycle program coordinator of the Department of Transportation, said the city moved the lane after consultation with C.B. 2 members because Houston St. was too dangerous. Board members at the time said they still preferred a Houston St. bike lane.

The major safety defects of the Houston St. project are where left-turn bays and narrower medians are being built, such as at the intersection of Houston St., W. Broadway and LaGuardia Pl., according to people at the Oct. 3 rally. Gerson, who lives at 505 LaGuardia Pl., between Houston and Bleecker Sts., also said the community has been asking in vain for a traffic light at the Wooster St. intersection at Houston St.

Robert Riccobono, second vice chairperson of C.B. 2, said the board “opposed this design more than two years ago and we have been totally rejected. The city just wants to make this a highway to the Holland Tunnel.”

A D.O.T. spokesperson referred questions about the Houston St. project to the city Law Department because of the lawsuit.

“We’ve received the court papers and are evaluating them carefully,” said Kate Ahlers, Law Department spokesperson, declining to comment further because of the litigation.

Gerson cited the fatal accident at Sixth Ave. and Houston St. on Sept. 25 when Hope Miller, 28, was killed in the crosswalk near the southeast corner of Houston St. when she was hit by a truck making a right turn onto Houston while fleeing after rear-ending another truck on Sixth Ave.

Gerson said at the time that while the accident might not have been directly attributable to the construction, the tangle of construction barriers, excavations and metal street plates at the intersection was a likely factor in the tragedy.

Time’s Up!, a bicycle advocacy organization, conducted a memorial event on Tuesday night Oct. 2 at Sixth Ave. and Houston St. in Miller’s memory. At the same event, the group also honored Julia Thomson, a pedestrian killed by a hit-and-run driver Sun., Sept. 30, on the Bowery at E. Fourth St.

Goldberg recalled that three bicyclists have been killed in truck accidents on Houston St. in the past three years: Derek Lake died at the LaGuardia Pl. construction intersection in June 2006; Andrew Morgan was killed earlier at Elizabeth St. where a subway fan plant was under construction; and a young female cyclist, Brandie Bailey, was fatally struck at the notoriously dangerous intersection at Avenue A.

“It’s never too late to correct safety issues like this,” said George Haikalis, a Village resident and president of the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility. He cited temporary changes that D.O.T. made in recent years by installing barriers at Waverly Pl. and Christopher St. and at Jane St. and Eighth Ave. that became permanent.

“We have new leadership at D.O.T. and Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn is very sympathetic to pedestrian issues,” Haikalis said, adding, “If they want to do something, they can do it.”

Lucy Cecere, a South Village civic leader for more than 30 years, said, “We’ve been fighting this project before it even started. If they had listened to us, we wouldn’t have lost a lovely young woman, just 28, last week.”

Sylvia Rackow, a resident of 505 LaGuardia Pl., shook the cane that she uses and said, “Just think how hard it is for someone with a walker to cross here, or a mommy with kids in a stroller.”

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