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A school bus accident that sent six children to the hospital in Whitestone last week might have been prevented if the city had replaced a stop sign at the intersection that was knocked down two days earlier, residents said.
According to police, the bus was traveling westbound on 17th Avenue at 2:20 p.m. Feb. 5 when another car slammed into the bus as it crossed 149th Street. The bus flipped over and landed on its side, careening into the bushes of a nearby house, said police.
Six children, ages 4 and 5, were rushed to New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens. They suffered only minor injuries and were soon released, said police.
The site of an exit on the Cross Island Parkway, 149th Street can become a busy road. Two stop signs at the intersection force drivers on 17th Avenue to yield to drivers on 149th Street.
According to residents, the eastern stop sign at the intersection was knocked down on Feb. 3 in an accident that occurred at about 7 a.m.
Keith Kalb, spokesman for the city Department of Transportation , said the city has 48 hours to replace the stop sign after it is knocked down.
However, Kalb said the DOT was not notified about the fallen stop sign until a resident called at about 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 4, giving the agency until 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 6 to replace the sign.
Kalb said if police respond to an accident, they are responsible for making sure that the DOT knows about damage to any signs.
The 109th Precinct, which covers Whitestone as well as Flushing and College Point, declined to say whether or not an accident report had been filed for the Feb. 3 accident.
Kevin Smyth, who lives on 149th Street just north of 17th Avenue, said he was awakened by the first accident at 7 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3.
This corner has more than its fair share of accidents, said Smyth.
Smyth noted that cars often race from the light at the intersection of 15th Road to make the light on 20th Avenue, six blocks to the south.
The Ehresmans, who live on the corner of 149th Street and 17th Avenue, sit just yards away from where the school bus flipped over.
I wont let my kids walk to the corner, said Steve Ehresman.
Were considering moving because Im afraid of them playing there, added Kathleen Ehresman, Steves wife.
The couple said traffic in the area has increased over the last few years and their corner sees accidents almost on a weekly basis.
Steve Ehresman said he was upset that the stop sign knocked down Feb. 3 was not replaced until about 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 5. DOT workers also replaced the western stop sign at the intersection that was taken down when the school bus hit it.
Its unbelievable the kids walked away, said Ehresman of the school bus accident. To me its a warning.
Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who has been assessing traffic problems in Whitestone, said he had called for a study when he had worked as chief of staff for State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), asking for a four-way stop sign at the intersection.
The DOT confirmed that it studied the intersection in June 1999 but had determined that a four-way stop sign was not needed.
Steve Ehresman criticized the study, saying it was conducted during the summer, when the area has less traffic than usual.
Avella said the recent population rise in Whitestone, as well as all of northeast Queens, demands a rethinking of how to deal with traffic.
We need to find better ways to deal with traffic than were doing now, said Avella. The amount of traffic is just getting out of hand.
When asked if allowing an intersection to go without a stop sign for two days was too long a time, Kalb said everyone should always be alert at every intersection. In an ideal world, we would love to have a stop sign up in five minutes. It cant be done that way.
Avella agreed that it was difficult to create a faster response time for replacing stop signs.
I would like to see it up within 24 hours, said Avella. Does the DOT have the manpower? Its questionable.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.
©2002 Community Newspaper Group
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