STATEN ISLAND — The city's traffic czar went on a walk of Howard Avenue Monday with proponents who have been pushing for street safety improvements since a nursing student was killed while riding his bike on the curvy roadway three months ago.
Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the city's Department of Transportation, walked the street with the president of Wagner College, whose nursing student Ron Tillman, 29, was fatally stuck by a hit-and-run driver in February.
Howard Avenue is a popular path for bike riders and pedestrians headed to classes at one of the several schools located in the mile-long stretch between Clove Road and Louis Street: Wagner College, St. John's University, Notre Dame Academy and P.S. 35.
"Many of the students, as well as the administration, live in the nearby neighborhoods,"
said Meredith Sladek, Staten Island volunteer committee chairwoman of Transportation Alternatives, who has joined advocates to call for bike safety improvements.
"It's very easy for them to walk or bike to school or to work. The pedestrian accommodations around there are very poor."
Sadik-Khan toured the street with Wagner College President Richard Guarasc and met with Laura Barlament — who works in the school's communications office and knows first-hand how dangerous Howard Avenue can be.
Barlament survived being hit by a car on Howard Avenue, at Stratford Road, as she biked to work last summer from her Grymes Hill home. The run-in prompted her to join with coworkers who had launched a safety campaign for the hilly road that has few traffic lights or stop signs.
"I think my guardian angel was watching over me," said Barlament, associate director of communications and marketing for Wagner College. "When the car hit me, it just knocked me off my bike, it didn't run me over."
"I don't think this was totally a freak accident, because this road is not set up well," she added, saying she hoped Sadik-Khan's visit will spark changes.
"Now that there was an actual death on the road that broke our hearts, we knew that we cannot ignore this issue anymore," Barlament said.
Barlament, along with co-workers, organized The Howard Avenue Traffic Safety Working Group.
She and Amerika Grewal, an academic advisor at Wagner College, started speaking at community board and civic association meetings. Barlament created "Thank You For Sharing the Road" lawn signs, which have been distributed to nearly 100 neighbors.
She also started an online petition to the DOT, which now has 307 signatures, and created an email list for residents who want to stay informed and help calm the traffic of the neighborhood.
The group is hoping to get the DOT to add and widen sidewalks along Howard Avenue, which now has a walkway on only one side of the road. They are also pushing for pedestrian crosswalks, more stop signs, traffic lights and a shared bike lane.
Sadik-Khan made no definite commitment to making changes, Barlament said, but seemed supportive of the plans.
"She was very receptive to the ideas that were being discussed," Barlament said.
DOT officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Bike safety advocates said police have had a greater presence on the roadway and have ramped up enforcement since Tillman's death, but even more needs to be done.
"People need to feel all the time that somebody is watching over their shoulder," Sladek said. "That would create a safer environment and a safer neighborhood."
Howard Avenue only has three traffic lights, two near Wagner and one at Clove Rd., and no stop signs until drivers reach Louis Street. Even with the winding curves, residents said drivers consistently drive recklessly.
"Howard Avenue gets a tremendous amount of speeding," said Tom Hamilton, 73, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1976. "If you're going less than 40 [mph], somebody's going to pass you."
Hamilton, a retired astronomy teacher and author who lives on Arlo Road, which intersects with Howard Avenue, said neighbors regularly wake up to find damage to their parked cars.
"[Drivers] go so fast and they pay no attention to the stop signs," he said. "They lose control and somebody's going to lose their parked vehicle."
Grewal, who is also a Grymes Hill resident, said she recently bought a radar gun online, and has clocked drivers going 63 mph on Howard Avenue near St. John's.
Barlament said she is encouraged by the community interest and the meeting with Sadik-Khan.
"Apparently something's going to happen since all of these meetings have taken place and we got the bigwigs up here," Barlament said.