Elderly Woman Maimed by Bus Highlights Pedestrian Safety Issues: Advocates

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on January 27, 2014 10:09am 

 Gertrude Schnabel was hit by an MTA bus in Forest Hills last week.
Gertrude Schnabel was hit by an MTA bus in Forest Hills last week.
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Roy Renna / BMR Breaking News/courtesy of Henry Davoli

QUEENS — An 84-year old woman who was struck by an MTA bus in Forest Hills lost part of her leg and faces months of therapy after an accident that transit advocates say could have been avoided.

The crash on notorious Queens Boulevard came on the same day that Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he was pushing to reduce the number of pedestrian traffic deaths to zero after 173 people were killed in 2013.

Gertrude Schnabel, a retired Woodhaven resident, went to a Forest Hills doctor’s office on Jan. 15, after which she decided to get a snack at her favorite store Gotta Getta Bagel on 71st Avenue, her lawyer, Henry Davoli, said.

She was crossing Queens Boulevard just before 10 a.m. when she was hit by a Q64 bus, which was making a right turn from 108th Street onto Queens Boulevard, according to the MTA.

Schnabel, who was struck by the rear tire of the bus, was taken to Bellevue Hospital with serious foot and ankle injuries, the MTA said.

Since her accident, she has undergone two surgeries on her left leg which had to be amputated below the knee. She is also scheduled for surgery on her right ankle to insert screws, Davoli said.

Before the crash Schnabel  "was very independent and lived on her own,” Davoli said about his client, who worked for 40 years in the garment industry. He also described her as an “amazing, bright and funny person.”

But now Schnabel, who is a widow and has no children, will have to rely on help from her extended family, Davoli said, adding that he is planning to file a $10 million notice of claim against the MTA and the city, the prelude to a lawsuit.

Both Schnabel and the bus had the right of way, according to Davoli. The investigation is ongoing, the NYPD said, and it has not been decided if a summons will be issued.

About $7 million has been allocated over the years by local Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz to improve safety along Queens Boulevard, paying for a number of improvements at the bustling intersection of 71st Avenue and 108th Street where Schnabel was hit, including installing countdown signals for pedestrians.

Transit advocates said Schnabel's accident is yet another example of how dangerous Queens Boulevard remains for pedestrians.

In September last year, Nisath Hossain, 58, died in a hit-and-run accident when she was crossing Queens Boulevard at the same intersection on her way home from work at McDonald's in Forest Hills.

The 7-mile stretch of road is nicknamed the “Boulevard of Death” because more than 70 pedestrians were killed in accidents there from 1993 to 2001, according to statistics provided by the Department of Transportation.

Since then, a number of safety improvements have been introduced, including fences preventing pedestrians from jaywalking. Pedestrian countdown signals were also installed at more than 60 intersections at Queens Boulevard, according to the DOT.

But Peter Beadle, a member of Transportation Alternatives Queens Activist Committee, said allowing drivers to turn right at the same time as pedestrians start crossing the street has led to many accidents citywide.

One solution, he said, would be to install so called "leading pedestrian interval" signals at the intersections, which would turn the light green for pedestrians first, before allowing drivers to turn.

“When cars make their turn, the pedestrians are already halfway across the street and are much more visible,” Beadle said. “That makes a huge difference."

According to the DOT, 18 such signals have been installed along Queens Boulevard, mostly in Long Island City and Sunnyside, but Beadle said more are needed.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also vowed to make the city's streets safer for pedestrians earlier this month, when he laid out his administration's "Vision Zero," a plan to reduce traffic fatalities and crack down on dangerous driving.

The city's recently installed more speed cameras and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has increased the number of officers assigned to the NYPD's Highway division, which enforces serious traffic violations.

A DOT spokesman said the agency is reviewing "potential marking enhancements that would calm traffic along 108th Street" and "the feasibility of a Leading Pedestrian Interval."

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