Community board approves Wyckoff Avenue plaza proposal
by Benjamin Fang
Jul 19, 2016 | 12857 views | 0 0 comments | 131 131 recommendations | email to a friend | print
From left to right: Judy Kottick, Ken Bandes and Amy Cohen from Families for Safe Streets
From left to right: Judy Kottick, Ken Bandes and Amy Cohen from Families for Safe Streets
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A rendering of the Wyckoff Avenue Plaza
A rendering of the Wyckoff Avenue Plaza
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Street safety advocates are one step closer to achieving their goal of turning a dangerous intersection into a pedestrian plaza in Ridgewood.

Community Board 5 voted in favor of redesigning Wyckoff Avenue between Myrtle and Gates avenues, which leads into a six-legged intersection, into a car-free street.

The plan, proposed by the Department of Transportation (DOT), would dramatically reduce interactions between cars, cyclists and pedestrians.

It would also change the direction of Wyckoff Avenue between Myrtle Avenue and Madison Street into a one-way southbound road.

The near-unanimous vote came after advocates voiced their support for the plan during the meeting’s public forum. Judy Kottik, the mother of 23-year-old Ella Bandes who died crossing the intersection in 2013, spoke about the emotional impact of her daughter’s death.

“Losing a beloved child is the nightmare you would imagine it to be,” Kottik said. “I wake up everyday questioning why this happened to our family and how it’s possible to go on.”

Kottik said her daughter loved Ridgewood as a community. She loved the diversity, the food choices, her neighbors and the affordable apartment she paid for on an internship salary. She even loved the L train.

In a passionate plea, Kottik urged the board to support DOT’s redesign plan.

“No one should risk their lives trying to get to home, and that’s exactly the situation here,” she said. “I imagine you think this could never happen to you because you don’t play Pokemon Go when you cross the street. You don’t wear headphones.

“You look both ways, the way you were taught as a child, but I’m telling you this could happen to you or someone you love,” she added.

She acknowledged that a major road change will create inconveniences for drivers and businesses, but said safety should be the first priority.

“Let’s make safety a priority so no one else has to live my heartbreak,” Kottik said.

Bandes was one of three people who died crossing that intersection since 2009, according to DOT. Hui Wu was killed there on February 2, 2009, and Edwin Torres was also run over on October 31, 2014.

Since 2010, the busy intersection that borders Queens and Brooklyn also produced 25 injures, which is twice as many as other intersections along Wyckoff Avenue, according to DOT.

The intersection is a major transportation hub, with several buses running through and the L and M train tracks hovering above. With six streets approaching the same intersection, drivers previously had 25 possible vehicular turns and movements, which the DOT reduced for safety reasons.

The proposal would narrow that down to just seven turn options, four for buses and three for cars.

At the CB5 meeting, Lisa Pearlstein said her daughter lost one of her best friends in Ella Bandes. She called Bandes a kind, intelligent and artistic woman with “a heart of gold.”

“Her death has been devastating to her parents and also to her young friends, my daughter,” Pearlstein said. “Others have been killed in crashes at this intersection. Think of all the heartache. Any one of us or our children could have been killed or injured at this intersection.”

Advocacy groups like Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets brought their members to the meeting, many of whom lived in the local area. Joshua Katz-Rosene, a Ridgewood resident, said he goes through that intersection several times a week.

“I witness, almost on a daily basis, the very heavy pedestrian traffic that has to navigate buses turning from several directions,” he said.

Katz-Rosene added that a plaza would increase the quality of life for residents and improve safety for all users of the street.

Charice Silverman, who lives in Glendale, said she has also witnessed “mass confusion” among pedestrians when they cross the intersection. Even with traffic lights, she said, it still feels chaotic.

“You could be in the right and be in the wrong,” Silverman said. “That’s exactly what unfortunately happened to them.”

Silverman also said that with the L train closure looming, the M train is going to be even more heavily used, which creates a need for safety.

The proposal received a warm reception from elected officials and their representatives at the meeting. State Senator Joseph Addabbo stopped by to give updates about his district, and briefly mentioned his support.

Evelyn Cruz, a community coordinator with Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, said while she understands the challenges of drivers navigating from one side of Myrtle Avenue to the other, she gave her endorsement to the plaza.

“We do support the redesign of this,” Cruz said. “It’s just for the best of all.”

After the vote was cast, members of the street advocacy groups got up to hug one another. It was a much-needed victory for their cause, especially after Community Board 4 in Brooklyn had rejected the proposal.

Amy Cohen, who lost her 12-year-old son Sammy in 2013 to a van collision in Prospect Park, called the Ridgewood-Bushwick intersection one of New York City’s most dangerous crossroads. She said she doesn’t want more people to join the ranks of grieving mothers and parents who make up the group Families for Safe Streets.

“I am here tonight to remind everyone that behind every number, there is a person,” Cohen said. “My son Sammy was a wonderful kid. He was kind, affectionate, smart and funny. We miss him more than words can say.”

Tearing up while giving her testimony prior to the vote, Cohen urged the board members to do more to prevent a tragedy happening again.

“I urge you, for Sammy and for Ella, do not let a parent pay such a high price for New York City’s inaction,” she said.

In an email, a DOT spokesperson said the agency was pleased with the vote.

“This week’s vote by Queens’ Community Board 5 is encouraging as DOT looks to work with all stakeholders to greatly improve safety at this intersection,” the spokesperson said.
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