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Oakland Gardens residents call on city to make streets safer

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City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said the city plans to put traffic safety measures, including turn signals, at a dangerous intersection in Oakland Gardens where more than 100 pedestrians have been struck in five years.

But community residents said the city needs to go further to protect people crossing the street at Springfield Boulevard and Union Turnpike.

“It’s the boulevard of death,” resident George McCorkell said. “People come off the highway like it’s the Indie 500.”

As many as 105 pedestrians have been struck by cars at the intersection between 2005 and 2010, according to 111th Precinct records.

Vehicles traveling north to south along Springfield Boulevard make left turns onto Union Turnpike at high rates of speed, striking people in the crosswalk, residents said. Most of the vehicles are heading west toward the Grand Central Parkway.

In January, resident Connie Sui was fatally struck at the intersection and her body was thrown 43 feet. She was pregnant at the time of her death.

“I don’t want this to ever happen to anyone else,” said Billy Sui, the victim’s husband.

In March 2007, Robert Menendez suffered eight broken ribs and brain damage after being hit near the site.

Weprin said the city Department of Transportation planned to include left-turn traffic signals along Springfield Boulevard heading both north and south. In addition, the city will increase the amount of time on crossing signals for pedestrians.

Currently, the crossing signals only last 25 seconds, but the length from one side of the curb to the other is 77 feet.

The DOT could not be reached for comment.

Oakland Gardens residents said the DOT needs to make more changes at the intersection, including the relocation of bus stops along Union Turnpike, traffic lights that are more centered, a wider median in the crosswalk and zebra marks on all four corners at the intersection.

Currently, there are only marks going north and south on Springfield Boulevard.

“This intersection has been bad forever,” said Henry Jaffe, who has witnessed crashes and pedestrians being struck at the site since 1959. “A lot of children transfer buses here in the morning for school.”

Weprin said he would continue to put pressure on the DOT to make the necessary changes at the intersection as well as pushing them to do more.

“It’s unfortunate that things have to go wrong for the DOT to do right,” he said. “Sometimes a tragedy is the impetus for positive change.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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