Neighbors sue city over Houston St. safety
By Albert Amateau
Lou Todd, a Prince St. resident who uses a walker, made his way slowly across the construction-choked W. Houston St. intersection at W. Broadway-LaGuardia Pl. at noon on Wednesday, but he had to wait at the narrow traffic median for another light cycle in order to make it all the way across.
He was one of about 60 neighbors, most of them elderly, at an Oct. 3 rally called by City Councilmember Alan Gerson to protest what many have called an ill-conceived Houston St. design that speeds auto traffic but endangers pedestrians.
â€œYes, itâ€™s hard for me to cross Houston St., and itâ€™s hard for someone with a baby carriage,â€ said Todd. â€œThere isnâ€™t enough room on this traffic island to wait out the light.â€
Gerson, Lawrence Goldberg, a Community Board 2 member and attorney, announced at the rally that they and 18 neighbors have filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court to halt the Houston St. reconstruction as presently designed and modify it with safety elements.
â€œWeâ€™re citing the cityâ€™s failure to follow its own master plan to provide pedestrian and bicycle safety in this design,â€ Goldberg said. The project originally called for a Houston St. bicycle lane, which was eliminated in April when the bike lane was moved to Bleecker St. Goldberg noted.
At the time, Josh Benson, bicycle program coordinator of the Dept. of Transportation, said the city moved the lane because Houston St. was too dangerous.
Rally attendees said the planâ€™s major safety defects are at points where there are left turn bays and narrower medians, such as at the intersection of Houston St., W. Broadway and LaGuardia Pl. Gerson, who lives between Houston and Bleecker Sts., also said the community has been asking in vain for a traffic light at the Wooster St. intersection at Houston.
Robert Riccobono, second vice chairperson of C.B. 2, said the board â€œopposed this design more than two years ago, and we have been totally rejected. The city just wants to make this a highway to the Holland Tunnel.â€
A D.O.T. spokesperson referred questions about the Houston St. project to the city Law Department because of the lawsuit. â€œWeâ€™ve received the court papers and are evaluating them carefully,â€ said Kate Ahlers, Law Department spokesperson, who declined to comment further because of the litigation.
Gerson cited the fatal accident at Sixth Ave. and Houston St. on Sept 25, when Hope Miller, 28, was killed on the southeast corner of Houston St. when she was hit by a truck making a right turn onto Houston while fleeing after rear-ending another truck on Sixth Ave.
Gerson said at the time that while the accident might not be directly attributable to the construction, the tangle of construction barriers, excavations and metal street plates at the intersection was a likely factor in the tragedy.
Times Up a bicycle advocacy organization, conducted a memorial event on Tuesday night Oct. 2 at Sixth Ave. and Houston St. in Millerâ€™s memory. The group also honored Julia Thomson, a pedestrian killed by a hit-and-run driver Sun., Sept. 30 at Bowery at E. Fourth St.
Goldberg recalled that three bicyclists were killed in truck accidents on Houston St. in the past three years, including Derek Lake, who died at the LaGuardia Pl. construction intersection in June of 2006. Andrew Morgan was killed earlier at Elizabeth St. where a subway fan plant was under construction and a woman cyclist, Brandie Bailey, was killed at the notoriously dangerous intersection at Avenue A.