Islands of death: Some say calming measures have seniors dying in traffic

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Pedestrian islands installed by the city on Fort Hamilton Parkway to make it easier for senior citizens to cross the street are wreaking havoc on the area’s economy, hampering garbage pick ups, and slowing traffic so much that people are dying en route to nearby Maimonides Medical Center because ambulances can’t get through, say angry neighbors.

Residents, business people and elected officials who spoke at Community Board 12’s November meeting demanded the removal of the new islands, which divide the roadway between 44th and 47th streets, and board members subsequently voted overwhelmingly to tell the Department of Transportation to get rid of the obstructions, which were installed by the city as part of its “Safe Streets for Seniors” initiative.

“It’s not just safe streets. We want safety for seniors. We want them to stay alive,” said Rabbi William Handler. “We have 10 or 20 ambulances a day with seniors who have strokes and heart attacks, and they’re going to die in the ambulances.” Before the islands were installed, Handler said, ambulances and other emergency vehicles could zip down the strip even during busy times by riding in the center lane — where the islands now stand.

Now, he said, the ambulances must make take longer routes to the hospital, at Fort Hamilton Parkway and 49th Street, or be delayed by snarled traffic.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind said an ambulance technician told him that a patient being taken to Maimonides died before the ambulance reached the hospital because it was stuck in traffic.

“He felt it was due to not getting to the hospital fast,” Hikind said. “Sometimes a difference of 30 seconds, one minute can be the difference of someone surviving or not.”

And it’s not just ambulances that are impeded, people say.

“The medians pose a huge safety issue for the district’s collection and recycling crews,” said Keith Woods, the area’s Sanitation superintendent, in a Nov. 23 letter to Hikind. “Passenger vehicles are frustrated with the amount of room available and have been consistently taking liberties going around our vehicles. This kind of conduct … could wind up causing serious injuries or fatalities.”

The islands are also having a negative impact on the area’s economy.

“People used to stop and run in for a coffee or a bagel,” said Chaim Fried, one of the owners of a grocery store at 46th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway. “Now, no way. They don’t even pass the neighborhood, because traffic stalls at 43rd Street.”

Department of Transportation officials, who claim the islands were installed after a 70-year-old woman died crossing the street in 2006, say the islands are a success, and the agency plans to install more in other areas of the city.

“The program is bringing increased crossing times for seniors, improved safety signs and additional refuge islands where pedestrians can safely stop if they are caught in the middle of an intersecti­on,” said Transportation Spokesman Montgomery Dean. “Pedestrian fatalities have plunged citywide, in part because of basic safety measures like these. And we are continuing to work to make our historically safe streets even safer.”

Meanwhile, Maimonides is staying mum on the controversy. “Maimonides supports the community in any way it can, and has taken no position on this,” said Eileen Tynion, a hospital spokeswoman.

Updated 3:18 pm, October 19, 2011
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