By Patrick Hedlund and Alexandra Cheney
LOWER EAST SIDE — The tangle of traffic on the Lower East Side has made navigating local streets a deadly proposition for pedestrians, with a local transportation advocate just the latest victim of the area’s bustling thoroughfares.
Community Board 3 member and longtime neighborhood activist Harry Wieder was struck and killed by a cab on Essex Street Tuesday night after leaving a board meeting on the block, which has been identified by transportation advocates as one of the most dangerous on the Lower East Side.
Wieder, 57, who was disabled and used crutches to walk, was crossing Essex Street mid-block between Houston and Stanton streets when a cab headed north on the two-way street ran him down.
No criminality is suspected on the part of the driver, police said, but the incident coincides with increased calls from the community to address issues of pedestrian safety in the area. Only two weeks, another man was struck and killed by a car while walking through the intersection of Delancey and Essex streets.
The City Council is currently pushing for more transparency regarding NYPD crash data, and its Committee on Public Safety held a hearing Wednesday to discuss a proposed bill that would make the statistics available to the public.
“It is abundantly clear that the Police Department has access to critical traffic management data and that they should be making that available to the public,” said East Side Councilman Dan Garodnick, one of the measure’s co-sponsors.
“They have information on accident locations, time of day, dates, precinct, cross-streets, and they have it all in electronic form. You give that information to the public, within 30 minutes someone will make an iPhone app out of it and make it more useful than the Police Department could ever even imagine.”
Even the NYPD’s former chief of transportation, Michael Scagnelli, testified in favor of publicizing the data.
“The simple fact is that this information already exists in a form that could be easily released and made available to the public and other agencies focused on reducing traffic causalities,” he said at the hearing.
Transportation Alternatives, a transportation advocacy group, recorded 119 crashes at the Delancey and Essex streets intersection — close to where Wieder was killed — during a study they conducted from 1998-2008. The group recently released a comprehensive map ranking the most dangerous intersections on the Lower East Side.
“Whenever the Department of Transportation is proposing changes and giving us new plans, we’re always looking at what statistics are around the areas they’re proposing changes,” said Community Board 3 Chairman Dominic Pisciotta, who went to the hospital with Wieder following the incident. “Or if something is occurring — there is a [crash] hotspot — we’ll want to have it addressed.”
On Essex Street Wednesday afternoon, vehicles headed northbound on the block could be viewed jockeying for position approaching Houston Street and even racing around each other to be the first in line at the traffic light.
Complicating matters for pedestrians, vehicles driving along Houston Street in either direction make both left- and right-hand turns on to Essex Street using consecutive traffic signals, and two bus stops are located near the southwest corner of the intersection.
“There’s been a lot of trouble on that corner,” said Alfonso Escobar, 50, who’s lived in the neighborhood for 16 years and saw police responding to the scene Tuesday night.
“It’s horrible. It’s insane,” added Christine Carabetta, 47, a lifelong resident of the area who walks Essex Street daily on her way to and from work.
“Everything has to be done yesterday,” she said of the rush of pedestrians and drivers traveling through the neighborhood. “You have to make that light, you have to cross the street. It’s just hustle, hustle, hustle.”
Wieder himself was a staunch advocate for traffic safety as a member of the board’s transportation committee, and he penned a 3,000-word letter to the Department of Transportation only a month ago broadly detailing the transit system’s shortcomings in accommodating people with disabilities.
“Just remember, like me, New Yorkers with disabilities are a minority group which anyone (or an important acquaintance), in a snap, can enter,” he wrote.
“This is particularly true as we age and progressive conditions like arthritis and emphysema set in. Unreasonable restrictions cannot wait for reversals. Epiphanies and twinges of conscience come much too late for people who are no longer empowered to act where they once were.”