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Botched Construction Work Creates Danger Zone Near Penn Station

By DNAinfo Staff on May 25, 2011 7:05am  | Updated on May 25, 2011 8:11am

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN — A botched construction job has turned one of Midtown's busiest intersections into a pedestrian danger zone.

For nearly a month, the sidewalk around the subway entrance at the north-west corner of West 34th Street and Seventh Avenue has been covered by orange and white plastic traffic barriers and haphazardly stacked wooden planks.

For pedestrians, the stretch has become an obstacle course of potholes, sunken pavement and unsteady slats, which neighbors say have tripped dozens of people — many with serious injuries.

"This is a dangerous area," said Denise Chamberlain, 46, of Queens, who said she’d tripped twice on her way to and from work. On Monday, she said she hit her head when she tripped.

The subway entrance is now blocked off.
The subway entrance is now blocked off.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

"Every day people are falling. It’s terrible," she complained.

The mess began when a construction company hired by the 34th Street Partnership, the local Business Improvement District, was working on the sidewalk directly above the subway entrance staircase, which partnership spokesman Joseph Carella said was "in serious disrepair."

As they jackhammered, the workers accidentally punctured a hole in the stairwell’s ceiling, leading to water damage, Carella and MTA spokesmen Kevin Ortiz said.

"They unfortunately moved forward with some work without contacting us and ended up doing some damage," said Ortiz.

That damage put the project on hold. 

On Tuesday around noon a 20-year old girl, who declined to give her name, tripped along the stretch and ripped a fingernail off her right hand.

She was surrounded by concerned passersby as she sobbed in pain. Drops of blood were left splattered on the sidewalk.

"Everyday people are falling. Maybe 10 to 12 people," said Sal Tabe, 39, who works at a jewelry store on the block and frequently spends time at his cousin’s shop a door down from the construction site.

"I’m not exaggerating, Every time I come, somebody's on the floor," he said.

Last week, he said he watched one woman fall face-forward on the ground and apparently break her nose, leaving "blood everywhere." Another time he watched a human pileup on the sidewalk.

"A woman fell and then a guy didn’t see and then he fell and then a child fell. It was a pile of people all on top of each other," he said.

He said the situation is especially bad around 5 p.m. during the evening rush, when people crowding the sidewalk aren’t paying attention to where they step.

According to a fire department spokesman, the agency has responded to numerous tripping incidents in the immediate area in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, a 59-year-old woman was rushed to the hospital after falling and fracturing her leg. Two days later, a 75-year-old woman was transported after she fell and hit her head.

Denise Chamberlain said she hit her head when she tripped on the sidewalk Monday.
Denise Chamberlain said she hit her head when she tripped on the sidewalk Monday.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

Records do not specify on which corner the incidents occurred, so it is unclear whether they are directly related.

Carella said the partnership was unaware of any injuries and would send a team to the site to check it out.

"It should be pretty safe," he said. He added he hoped work would re-start Thursday.

But there's also other pain.

MD Murad, 29, who works at a newsstand in the midst of the chaos, said the construction is killing his business since many patrons think he's closed.

He said his daily revenue has been slashed nearly in half, with just $800 in business instead of his typical $1,300.

"It’s very bad business. Now we are in problems. We can't pay our salary. We can’t pay our rent," he complained. "If they continue like this, we have to close the store."

Carella said the partnership expects its work to be done by the second week of June.

The subway entrance is set to re-open on or before June 20, Ortiz said.

"They are working to make the fixes," he assured.