Dangerous Streets

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By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke

Laurence Renard was killed by a dump truck on First Avenue and 90th Street on a January afternoon. Jason King was fatally hit by a truck on Madison Avenue and 80th Street in December. In 2009, 3-year-old Elle Vandenberghe was on her way to pre-school when she was struck by a car on the corner of 82nd Street and York Avenue. It took Elle eight months and 11 surgeries before she regained the ability to walk again.
The Upper East Side is one of the city"s top five most dangerous neighborhoods for pedestrians, according to a new study by Transportation Alternatives, a pedestrian and bicycle advocacy group. Six people in as many months have died after being hit by automobiles in the neighborhood, according to the New York Police Department.

Now, local elected officials are calling on recently enacted laws to crack down on reckless drivers.

The driver who killed Jason King was charged with reckless driving under Hayley and Diego"s Law. It was the first time that the new law has been used.

“The NYPD has set a powerful example by issuing the first summons under Hayley and Diego"s Law, said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “The Police Department has shown it can respond to top community concerns and lead the way in reducing needless tragedy on our streets by enforcing safe driving behavior.

Hayley and Diego"s Law's named after two 4-year-olds in Chinatown who died in 2009 after an idling van backed up into an intersection's allows “drivers who act in a manner that endangers or would be likely to endanger a pedestrian or cyclist thereby causing physical injury or death to be punished with a fine, up to 15 days in prison and a motor vehicle accident prevention course.

“It"s a great step, and I"m glad the police have begun enforcing these laws's that"s the only way we"ll finally start getting dangerous drivers off our streets, said Assembly Member Micah Kellner.

Prior to that summons, State Senator Liz Krueger sent a letter to District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., urging him to enforce Elle"s Law.

86th Street and Third Avenue has the highest number of crashes on the Upper East Side, according to a recent Transportation Alternatives study. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

Elle"s Law, which suspends motorists" drivers licenses for up to one year if they seriously injure or kill a pedestrian, was signed and enacted by Governor Paterson last summer after a campaign by Elle"s mother, Heather Vandenberghe. After Elle was injured in 2009, Vandenberghe wanted to make sure that legal recourse existed to get dangerous drivers off the road.

“Particularly in a city as congested as ours, it is critical that drivers pay all due deference to the ‘rules of the road," and that they recognize their vehicles" potential as deadly weapons if they are not operated in a responsible manner, wrote Krueger. “Strict enforcement of Elle"s Law will help get this message across.

Until these laws were enacted, the only legal recourse available to prevent reckless drivers from driving after they were involved in an accident was to charge them with vehicular manslaughter's a charge that is difficult to prove and not always applicable. Because many of these cases don"t qualify as vehicular manslaughter, the driver often faced no repercussions after causing a serious accident.

The new laws make it possible to prevent drivers, who are at fault for hitting a pedestrian or a cyclist, from getting behind a wheel, and politicians hope that the existence of the laws acts as a deterrent.

While the Upper East Side has seen a barrage of pedestrian deaths recently, the overall number of pedestrian deaths in New York City has sustained a four-year low, according to a Feb. 7 Department of Transportation study. Last year, 269 people were killed in traffic accidents, according to the study. Pedestrian deaths decreased to 151 in 2010, five fewer than during the previous year, and 21 percent fewer than in 2001. Bicycle traffic deaths, which had decreased by more than 50 percent in 2009, increased last year to 18. Senior fatalities dropped by three to 44 last year, or 32 percent fewer than in 2001.

In addition to laws that aim to discourage reckless drivers, Transportation Alternatives outlined changes that could help prevent accidents in the future, including better street design and the enforcement of new laws designed to deter careless drivers.

“Design improvements and greater enforcement of traffic violations by the NYPD are needed to make the East Side streets safer, said Julia Day, director of transportation and health at Transportation Alternatives. “Many of the East Side"s corridors are over 70 feet wide and do not provide adequate crossing time for pedestrians.

Transportation Alternative"s East Side Action Plan, which surveyed more than 600 East Side residents for the study, said that many of the problems on the Upper East Side are structural, and changes such as giving pedestrians a head start by changing the timing of lights, installing pedestrian medians and bike lanes could help protect pedestrians as well as bicyclists.

According to the Department of Transportation"s pedestrian safety report, streets with the lanes see 40 percent fewer fatal or injurious crashes than streets without them. After bike lanes came to Ninth Avenue, pedestrian injuries decreased 29 percent. On Prospect Park West, injuries decreased 21 percent after bike lanes were installed.

“Bike lanes are one way to reduce speeding, reduce crashes for all street users and generally make a street friendly for the majority of folks who are using it: pedestrians, said Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy at Transportation Alternatives.

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Portraits of Tragedy

Laurence Renard
On Jan. 24, fashion stylist Laurence Renard was killed on impact by a truck a block from her First Avenue apartment. Renard was pronounced dead at the scene. The truck driver, Diego A. Tapia-Ulloa, was charged with driving with a suspended license.

Born in France, Renard grew up in Paris, Miami and New York, and attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. She worked as a stylist for Victoria"s Secret and on advertising campaigns shot by photographer Bruce Weber.

“She was a really lovely girl, who just had a lot of good energy and excitement about working in the fashion industry, said Weber in a statement released shortly after the accident. “She always just had a really nice way about herself.

A memorial to Laurence Renard, a fashion stylist who was killed by a truck Jan. 24 at the intersection of First Avenue and 90th Street. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

Jason King
Jason King, 21, was crossing Madison Avenue early on the morning of Dec. 7, 2010, when he was struck and killed by a Mack truck going in reverse. The driver of the truck, Anthony Regisford, has been issued a summons for careless driving under a new law.

King, who lived on the East Side, was a student at LaGuardia Community College and worked at EAT Bakery's where he was headed when he was killed. According to a police report, an iPod was found at the scene and King is believed to have been listening to it at the time of the accident.

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