FLATIRON — The Flatiron intersection where a 21-year-old man was killed by a city bus last week is a safety hazard — pitting speeding buses turning off busy Broadway against pedestrians trying to cross East 23rd Street, residents said.
Days after waiter Amos Veloz was killed by an X27 bus as he tried to cross East 23rd Street between Broadway and Madison avenues after leaving work, members of the nearby Madison Green condominium building penned a letter to the Department of Transportation asking it to look into dangerous conditions at the intersection, which they say has become an "unofficial bus depot" for MTA coaches.
"The [buses] often bully pedestrians trying to cross 23rd street in a form of 'Pedestrian Polo,' speeding around the turn in an effort to race ahead of the pedestrians trying to cross," wrote Joerg Schwartz, president of Madison Green, a condo building located at East 22nd Street near Broadway.
"On behalf of the residents of Madison Green I request that the DOT come up with a solution that will protect pedestrians crossing this intersection," added Schwartz, who delivered the letter to members of Community Board 5's transportation committee Monday night.
Late in the evening on March 22, Veloz had left his job as a back waiter at Le Verdure, a restaurant inside Mario Batali’s massive Eataly complex, where he had worked for more than a year. He was hit by the bus around 11:44 p.m. and pronounced dead at the scene. Police said no criminality is suspected in the crash.
Aaron Reitkopf, a resident of Madison Green who was on his balcony when the crash occurred, said he's not surprised the accident happened at that intersection. And, he warned, it's only a matter of time before something similar happens again.
"Buses always make you feel like you could get run over," Reitkopf said. "They basically use the bus to intimidate the pedestrians and hold you back."
Reitkopf said cars aren't a problem at the intersection, only buses heading south on Broadway that make left turns to head east on 23rd Street. Likely under pressure to clear the intersection and stick to their schedules, bus drivers take the turn fast and have limited visibility when they swing around the tight, 90-degree turn, he said.
The MTA said the bus that struck Veloz had turned eastbound onto 23rd Street from Broadway — the same path locals are concerned about.
"I think you can improve the situation by putting a turn lane in," Reitkopf said. "Right now, mixing buses and people just doesn’t work."
In a statement, an MTA spokesman said it has not received any complaints about aggressive driving by bus operators in that area.
"Anyone who witnesses improper operation of a bus should note the bus number, route, date, and time and notify us immediately," he said.
The area around Madison Square Park is a complicated convergence of avenues and streets, with Fifth Avenue, Broadway and East 23rd Street all meeting at the tip of the Flatiron building.
In 2008, the Department of Transportation transformed chunks of roadway in and around that intersection into public plazas, in part to enhance pedestrian safety.
A DOT spokesperson said that a before-and-after analysis of the intersection's safety found that crashes with injuries decreased 34 percent after the improvements were put in place. Injuries to pedestrians dropped 18 percent, and crashes declined 29 percent overall, the spokesperson added.
In total, there were two pedestrian injuries per year during the last four years and no fatalities at the intersection, he added.
In his letter, Schwartz lauded the plaza additions, claiming they have slowed traffic in the area.
But Schwartz said something still needs to be done to make things safer for pedestrians crossing at East 23rd Street and Broadway.
"The buses step on the gas as they make the turn," Schwartz said in an interview.
"It’s something I’ve noticed for a long time," he continued. "They’re big buses. They’re menacing. They’re imposing."
To prevent future accidents, Schwartz said he and his fellow residents had discussed the possibility of adding a left-turn signal for those vehicles trying to turn east onto 23rd Street from Broadway, which would also prohibit pedestrian crossing while vehicles have the green light to make the turn. They also suggested altering bus routes or relocating stops.
Eataly has also posted a notice on its website, alerting visitors that it will be collecting donations for the Veloz family in the wake of their tragic loss. A spokeswoman said the donation system is still being set up and will be available soon.
"We are devastated to lose a friend and colleague," the restaurant wrote in a public notice on Twitter.