Thursday, December 11, 2008

Civic: More Pedestrian Upgrades Needed Six Years After Tragic Accident

By Conor Greene

Six years ago this past week, a 17-year-old girl was struck and killed by an out-of-control driver who lost control of his vehicle at the dangerous intersection where 69th Street meets the Long Island Expressway service road at Grand Avenue in Maspeth.

The tragic death of Middle Village resident Daniela D’Angelo – who was killed while walking home from Christ the King High School – spurred a traffic study at the intersection, but local leaders say more still needs to be done to make the area safer.

“Unfortunately, little was done except adding bollards to the intersection,” said Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association. He noted that the civic association, through a $30,000 grant from Transportation Alternatives, completed a study and produced a plan to make intersections in the area safer. “They city did nothing. The area, with heavier truck traffic, is actually more dangerous today,” said Holden.

The December 6, 2002 accident occurred when Dennis Fiechter, 30, lost control of his Mazda while driving north on 69th Street, causing it to crash into several vehicles before hitting D’Angelo and a 50-year-old man who was also standing on the sidewalk at the time. Fiechter told investigators that he suffered a seizure before losing control, but police later determined that the seizure occurred after the accident.

Fiechter eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated unlicensed operation of a car in exchange for a 1 1/3-to-4-year prison sentence. Prior to the accident, Fiechter’s license had been suspended 28 times. In addition, he was subsequently sentenced to prison time for an attempted robbery in Queens and a burglary in New Jersey.

In Holden’s opinion, the safety improvements are vital, but an even bigger issue is why Fiechter was still free to get behind the wheel of a car. “This guy should have been in jail years ago if the government did its job and protected the public from career criminals like Fiechter,” he said.

The traffic study completed by the JPCA and Transportation Alternatives produced a number of recommendations to improve safety at that and other intersections. Among the suggestions were: installing bollards at the traffic island at 69th Street and Grand Avenue; posting a “No Left Turn” sign at northbound 69th Street and Grand Avenue; upgrading pedestrian crosswalks to make them more visible; and repositioning several traffic signals to make them easier to see and reduce confusion for drivers.

According to a DOT spokeswoman, “all of the proposed improvements were implemented in October 2003.”

However, Holden and other community leaders including Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano say the intersection warrants additional attention from the city. Giordano noted that the board still has a capital budget request filed with the city “for them to accomplish the physical portions of these safety improvements.”

He said the intersection is especially dangerous because two busy streets – both truck routes - and the expressway meet there. In addition, many drivers rely on 69th Street because there are not many parallel routes in the area, he noted. “That area could always use attention,” said Giordano. “There is much going on there between pedestrians and motorists.”

Photos: A memorial was placed at the intersection of Grand Avenue and 69th Street in Maspeth six years ago after Christ the King High School student Daniela D'Angelo was killed by an out-of-control driver. While some safety improvements were made to the intersection, local community leaders say the area is still unsafe for pedestrians.

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