"Who's not responding to the needs of our children? Who is passing the buck?" asked CB 11 member Loretta Napier, who called the special meeting after Joseph Baik's July 1 death, when he was hit by a car near Horace Harding Expressway and Cloverdale Boulevard. The death was ruled an accident, and the driver was not charged.
The issue of children on bikes and sharing roads with motorists has been paramount this summer. On July 7, another boy, Nicholas Ho, was hit while riding his bike by a dump truck driver at Francis Lewis Boulevard and 56th Avenue. Nicholas remained in critical but stable condition at Weill Cornell Medical Center, according to hospital officials.
The CB 11 meeting focused on pedestrian overpasses that some criticize for not having safeguards to prevent accidents like the one that killed Joseph Baik.
Napier's grandson, Christopher Scott, also died after being hit by a car when he was biking on an overpass near 46th Avenue and the Clearview Expressway in 2000.
She said that after her grandson's death, the community had called for improvements, never implemented, that could have saved the life of Joseph.
In 2002, City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) introduced legislation that would mandate the placement of stop signs at the end of all pedestrian overpasses, but the bill, named "Christopher's Crossing" in memory of Napier's grandson, was never passed by the City Council.
"This particular accident is very similar, unfortunately," to Christopher's accident, CB 11 member Bernard Haber told the meeting at the board's headquarters at 46-21 Little Neck Parkway. "I feel very bad about this, that we, the city of New York, didn't take preventive measures."
"These scenarios are accidents waiting to happen," said Jerry Iannece, CB 11 chairman. "Kids are going to be kids, and we can't blame drivers because they're going to do what they do."
Some of the CB 11 members said there are no minimum pedestrian safety policies for these overpasses.
"There has to be a uniform policy for overpasses in all of New York City," Iannece said.
The design of the overpass that Joseph was riding on drew heavy criticism, in large part because it is new and community leaders say it lacks safety precautions that should have been included after Christopher's death on a similar overpass.
"This overpass is probably the most unusual in the city in that at the end of the overpass there is a 20-foot opening where you can take a bike and catapult right into road," Haber said. He recommended placing baffles at the overpass exit, where bicyclists must slow down to weave around the plastic rods.
Gene McSweeney, a representative from state Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza's (D-Bayside) office, also suggested mandating bicyclists to dismount when crossing overpasses. "If you can make that kid get off that bike, it's almost impossible to scoot right around the baffle," he said.
"Baffles are not an answer-all," Napier said, citing fears that while bicyclists may be more cautious, inattentive drivers would still pose a danger. "Someone is not going to pay attention. It's still not acceptable." She recommended that stop signs be placed at the exit ramps to signal drivers to stop.
Many of the community leaders at the meeting addressed their concerns directly to City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who is the chairman of the Council's Committee on Transportation.
"This accident makes you want to get out there and say anything, do anything, to make sure this doesn't happen again," Liu said, while noting that his role as committee chairman does not mean he controls the DOT.
"My responsibility is making sure that the DOT, every time a request is made, goes out there and looks at the site," he said. "It's not to engage in requiring them - nor do I have the authority to require them - to put stop signs. That is something I leave to their professional expertise.
"We're all interested in saving lives," Liu said. He said that it has been a "horrible year," with numerous children involved in accidents around the city. "There should have been things done at every intersection. We can demand that DOT make these improvements. They will go out there and fix the overpasses. They're doing it but can't do it immediately," he said.
"I can use my oversight authority to make sure that DOT is doing their job," Liu said. "It doesn't mean that I can tell them exactly what to do. I'm not an engineer. I'm not qualified to tell them what to do."
But others disagreed.
"Your approach is wrong," CB 11 member Frank Skala told Liu. "Take the whole DOT and put it under the Council's jurisdiction. You are the lawmaker. They've got to do what you tell them.
"If I was in your job, I'd hang them," Skala continued. "That way another kid won't die."
Liu countered: "The only way that you can eliminate fatalities and injuries from car accidents is to ban cars." He cited Nicholas' accident, which came just days after Joseph's death.
"Did that red light prevent that accident? No. I don't think it's responsible to make a blanket statement that creates a false sense of security and puts scarce resources in the wrong places," Liu said.
Haber said that according to Constance Moran, the borough commissioner of the city DOT, improving the safety of the area's overpasses "is the highest priority in the DOT," though every overpass has different characteristics.
"Connie Moran pointed out that each bridge is pretty much unique," he said. "This isn't a one-shoe-fits-all kind of thing."
"It seems like we're waiting for another accident, and then we act," said the Rev. Andrew Kim of St. Robert's Bellarmine RC Church, where Joseph and his family attended Mass every Sunday. "This group has to raise safety issues."
Officers from the 111th Police Precinct and representatives for state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), state Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck) and City Councilmen David Weprin (D-Hollis) and Avella were also present at the meeting.
"I am asking you as representatives of all facets of the community, get busy," Napier said. "Make the DOT do what they're supposed to do."
Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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