Dec. 12, 2013 By Christian Murray
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and State. Sen. Mike Gianaris called on the Department of Transportation to fix a dangerous piece of Long Island City roadway at a joint press conference yesterday at the Queensboro Plaza site where an off-duty police officer was killed in a car crash Tuesday morning.
The press conference followed the death of Officer Elisa Toro, a 36-year-old mother of two, who was killed after she lost control of her vehicle while exiting the Queensboro Bridge at about 2 am Tuesday.
Toro struck a metal guard rail that caused her to 2004 Ford Focus to roll over and go airborne over a cement barrier into a vacant store located at 25-06 Queens Plaza South.
The accident occurred at a notorious exit off-ramp, where three deadly crashes have occurred since 2011. In March 2011, a drunk driver flew off the same exit ramp, killing a pedestrian. And then in April 2011 a Volkswagen Jetta crashed into the same storefront. A passenger ended up dying in that accident.
Following the 2011 incidents, Gianaris and Van Bramer called on the DOT to improve traffic safety and redesign the exit off ramp– which they refer to as a ‘death trap.’
Gianaris and Van Bramer said the DOT responded by erecting some signs and barriers– but ignored their calls for a fundamental redesign of the exit ramp.
“No one else should have to die before the city realizes that this exit ramp is fundamentally unsafe,” Gianaris said. “We stood here two years ago asking for a complete redesign of the off ramp, and instead we got new signs and a couple barriers.”
One barrier was meant specifically to protect the storefront at 25-06 Queens Plaza South, which was smashed in 2011 and again on Tuesday. The store has remained vacant for years—since few businesses would want to open up at that location, Gianaris said.
Gianaris said that the DOT, as part of a redesign, should reduce the sharpness of the right turn as people get off the exit. He said people hit the guard rail and then make a sharp left turn to overcompensate—which throws them into an out-of-control spin.
However, the DOT claims that the changes made in 2011 are sufficient, arguing that the exit ramp had been used by tens of thousands of motorists safely at all times of day and night since then.
“As of 2011, this ramp has been equipped with a large variety of traffic management devices, including three 20 MPH word messages and “sharks teeth” markings on the roadway, 14 yellow and 12 white 36”-by-8” aluminum-backed reflectors, plus another 150 yellow and white prismatic reflectors on the bridge rail uprights, four sets of rumble strips to warn drivers that they are approaching a reduced speed zone and an electronic sign that displays the speed of passing motorists using radar technology,“ said Seth Solomonow, a spokesman with the DOT, said in a statement.
But Van Bramer claims this is not enough.
“The east bound off ramp of the Queensboro Bridge is clearly a death trap,” Van Bramer said. “Cars are still flying off this bridge, into store fronts, and putting the lives of pedestrians and motorists in jeopardy. It is clear that the DOT has not done enough.”
“If this happened on the Manhattan side of the bridge and cars were flying into businesses this would have been fixed,” Van Bramer added.
Gianaris, Van Bramer—along with Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney — sent a letter to Janette Sadik-kahn, Commissioner of DOT, calling for change.
“Conditions at this dangerous curve remain deadly,” the joint letter read. “We believe that nothing short of a complete redesign of the exit ramp will fully address this problem.”