Months After Fatal Bike Crash, Howard Avenue to Get New Traffic Light

By Nicholas Rizzi on October 10, 2012 8:51am 

STATEN ISLAND — The city's Department of Transportation has started to install new traffic safety measures on Howard Avenue after a nursing student was killed while riding his bike in February.

The DOT installed a new traffic light and a radar speed sign on the curvy Grymes Hill road after the Howard Avenue Traffic Safety Working Group started petitions, put up "Share the Road" and "Slow Down" signs and even gave the city's traffic czar Janette Sadik-Khan a tour of the area in May.

Laura Barlament, who works in Wagner College's communications office and organized the group, said she did not expect to get results so quickly.

"I was determined that changes needed to be made, I just thought it would take a couple of years," she said. "I'm really happy at getting action fairly quickly."

Barlament, along with co-workers, organized the group after Ron "RJ" Tillman, 29, a nursing student at Wagner, was struck and killed on Howard Avenue by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bike home from studying.

The street is popular with bike riders and walkers because of the four schools on the mile-long stretch between Clove Road and Louis Street: Wagner College, St. John's University, Notre Dame Academy and P.S. 35.

Up until this month, the street only had three traffic lights, mostly near Wagner College, and no stop signs until the end at Louis Street.

However, last week the DOT finished putting up a new traffic light at the intersection of Howard and Hillside avenues. It has not yet been turned on.

Barlament said the intersection curves at an angle, which makes it hard for drivers to see oncoming traffic and pedestrians.

"It intersects Howard [Avenue] at a very bad angle, so it's very hard for drivers to see traffic that's coming along," she said. "It causes a lot of problems for drivers as well as pedestrians."

The new intersection will have a crosswalk with a Walk/Don't Walk sign, which Barlament said will help students that live in the nearby Grymes Hill Apartments cross on their way to school.

While her group was pushing for more traffic signs and lights on Howard Avenue, Barlament said she never expected one to go up at that particular intersection.

"I really wasn't even expecting the DOT to do a traffic light there," she said. "It's a dangerous spot, so I think this will help because it will let pedestrians cross the street safely."

In August, the DOT also put up a radar speed sign, which tells drivers the speed they are going and flashes "Slow Down" if they drive too far over the 25 mile-per-hour speed limit.

"There's still reckless driving, but I think it helps," Barlament said. "If they see a sign like that they'll be reminded."

Once the traffic light is finished, the DOT plans on adding more safety improvements to the street, according to a DOT spokeswoman.

But even with the changes afoot for the street, Barlament's group hasn't slowed down.

Annemarie Dowling-Castronovo, an assistant nursing professor at Wagner, has started to help by providing Barlament four student volunteers to help study the traffic patterns.

The volunteers are part of the school's freshman "Health and Society" course, where Dowling-Castronovo teaches a connected writing class where the students work on public health issues and write about their experiences.

Dowling-Castronovo, who drives to work, said she tried to bike once but found it too dangerous. She said the issue was a great way to teach students about a public health problem and get them involved in the community.

"What we try to reflect on is the public health aspect," she said.

"What does this mean for carbon imprint, what would making a safety traffic pattern mean?"

The issue of street safety hit close to home for Dowling-Castronovo, who taught Tillman in one of his graduate classes.

"He was a very good, dedicated student," she said. "It was a big loss. It still hits close to home."

The students will help Barlament monitor traffic on the street, and eventually will present their findings to the local community board and the DOT.

And while Barlament said the street has gotten safer in the past few month, she thinks there are still issues to be worked on.

"It is still difficult for people who want to walk from campus down to Clove Road," she said.

"I think that's an area we should focus on making safer because there's a sidewalk one side of the street only."

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