A recent tragedy proves once again the deadliness of the LES’ main thoroughfare
By Lillian Rizzo and Marissa Maier, with additional reporting by Andrew Rice
A few months ago, a NYPD officer stood in the middle of the intersection of Delancey and Essex streets, out of breath and sweating. Occasionally, a driver would roll down his window to shout at him.
“Tell this guy to move up already!” said an angry blonde woman in a green Jeep. In the middle of the intersection, with three honking cars behind her, she was attempting to turn toward the Williamsburg Bridge before the light changed. This isn’t just typical for a Saturday afternoon—it is typical for any time at this intersection just before the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge.
Currently labeled one of the deadliest thoroughfares in the city, Delancey Street cuts through the Lower East Side. It is known for a recent string of fatalities and over 500 car accidents in the last 12 years. The chaos, which usually ensues on weekends and at rush hour, has built up over the years as more people populate the Lower East Side and more cyclists use the bridge.
The most recent accident to occur on Delancey Street claimed the life of a 12-year-old girl. The NYPD reported that Dashane Santana was killed Friday, Jan. 13, after being hit by a minivan. Police say the girl was crossing the street with a group of friends near the intersection of Delancey and Clinton streets, close to where the road feeds into the Williamsburg Bridge, when a 2006 Toyota minivan struck her.
Gothamist interviewed one witness who was with the girl, who reported that the group was crossing the street when the light changed quickly and Santana tripped.
NYPD officer Michael DeBonis revealed that Santana attended M.S. 345 CASTLE Middle School, located on nearby Henry Street, but was said to have had dreams of applying to the Juilliard School. She reportedly lived in the East Village’s Jacob Riis II Houses.
The driver of the vehicle, DeBonis continued, was a 58-year-old Asian man who remained on the scene after the accident. While the investigation is ongoing, police at this point are saying they don’t suspect criminal charges will be issued.
The 911 call came in at around 2:36 p.m., but FDNY representative Jim Long said Santana was already in cardiac arrest and wasn’t breathing by the time medical personnel arrived at the scene. She was rushed to New York Downtown Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Working on Solutions
“Today, an unspeakable tragedy happened on Delancey Street. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the young victim. We must continue to work together as a community to make Delancey Street safer for everyone,” said New York State Sen. Dan Squadron in a statement Friday, Jan 13.
Santana’s death joins a string of other recent fatalities. In May 2011, a female pedestrian was crushed to death by a private sanitation truck in the crosswalk at Delancey and Essex streets. Months later, in August, a bicyclist was hit and killed by a semi-trailer at Delancey and Chrystie streets. The previous year, a pedestrian and a cyclist were both killed in vehicular accidents on the thoroughfare.
These fatalities spurred local politicians, Community Board 3, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the NYPD to put together the Delancey Street Safety Working Group in September of last year.
“I believe it is one of the more dangerous streets in the five boroughs,” said Squadron at the time.
According to numbers obtained from the DOT, from 2005 to 2009 there were an average of nine pedestrian injuries per year just at the intersection of Essex and Delancey streets. Between 2005 and 2010, there were two deaths at the intersection.
Following the death in August, the DOT added countdown signals for the crosswalks. Barricades at the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge have also been added to guide cyclists away from traffic and toward the divider, where they can cross to a side street.
“The crosswalk [signals] aren’t that long,” said Michelle Brick, 32, a volunteer for CreativeTime, who stood near Essex Street handing out fliers last fall. “When I was crossing, it wasn’t enough time.”
The countdown clocks allow pedestrians roughly 30 seconds to cross before the light turns red, which doesn’t give most people enough time to walk across. Many people stop at the median traffic island.
Lengthening crossing times and medians is one issue the Working Group hopes to tackle in the near future, reported Squadron’s office, which has been organizing the meetings. The group met in September, October and November of last year and will meet again in the coming weeks to discuss creating turning restrictions, implementing stop lines and configuring a new solution for bike traffic.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who also sits on the group, outlined a few recommendations in a recent letter to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan: “The Department of Transportation should undertake a comprehensive safety study and recommend improvements that would enhance protections for pedestrians at several intersections. In the meantime…I am asking that the DOT post pedestrian managers at the most dangerous intersections of Delancey.
“At the very least, managers should be required during school hours and other peak periods,” the letter continued. “In addition to pedestrian managers, I ask that the green light for pedestrians be extended so that people have more time to safely cross.”
For their part, DOT spokesman Scott Gastel mentioned in an email that in addition to the countdown signals, the DOT has increased pedestrian crossing times at four intersections and is working on a project to extend the median areas at two intersections. He added that the DOT will continue to address issues at this corridor.
Kelly Magee, communications director for City Council Member Margaret Chin, said the issue of safety on Delancey Street highlights a broader issue of pedestrian use outpacing changes to the layout of the street. She noted that heavy traffic can be found on both sides of Downtown Manhattan at key times near the Holland Tunnel and the Williamsburg Bridge. She added that there is also parking on Delancey Street, which hinders visibility when turning onto the thoroughfare.
For some locals, improvements to Delancey Street can’t come soon enough. R. Hughes, a 21-year resident of Clinton Street and mother of three, witnessed a fatality last year.
“The lights here are too short. Even now, after getting halfway across the street, we only have three seconds left,” said Hughes while crossing Delancey.
Waitress Cindy Chung, who has worked at the Olympic Restaurant, at 115 Delancey St., for 35 years, calls the stretch of road between Essex Street and the Williamsburg Bridge a “death street.”
While the NYPD hasn’t disclosed the exact cause of the accident that killed Santan, Sal Medina, 54, who has lived in the Lower East Side for over 40 years and owns the Medina Newsstand at the corner of Clinton and Delancey streets, blames the fast traffic and the short pedestrian crossing lights for the fatal accident. He recounted a heartbreaking scene from Friday afternoon. “I heard this loud crack as the minivan hit her,” he said. “And then I saw her lying unconscious with her shoes knocked off in the street.”
Parts of this article are taken from a previous Our Town Downtown piece, “Working Group Formed to Find Safety Measures for Delancey “, also by Lillian Rizzo.
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