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Another Pedestrian Death Renews Cries For Safer Grand Street

By Gwynne Hogan | January 10, 2017 2:25pm
 On Tuesday morning, Politicians and residents rallied near the spot where Rafael Nieves was killed. 
On Tuesday morning, Politicians and residents rallied near the spot where Rafael Nieves was killed. 
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

WILLIAMSBURG — For the second time in as many months, frustrated residents and elected officials gathered on a Grand Street corner to call for a safer, more pedestrian-friendly street, after yet another fatal collision on the block.

Residents rallied on the corner of Lorimer Street Tuesday morning, the day after 85-year-old Rafael Neives, a fixture of the block who neighbors fondly dubbed the "neighborhood watchdog," was struck and killed in front of Key Food supermarket as he attempted to cross to his home at 584 Grand St. mid-block.

The box truck driver most likely won't be charged, according to police, who tracked him down after the crash and determined he didn't know he had fatally struck Nieves.

"We ask for the city and our elected officials to make Grand Street a safer place for pedestrians and cyclists," said Artineh Havan, the head of the street's Business Improvement District, and who's held her post since 2012. 

Last year, the street got sidewalk upgrades, she said, and several years back the Department of Transportation painted unprotected bike lanes along it.

But collisions have been a constant reality, and in 2016, there were two fatalities on the street, and dozens more less serious bike and pedestrian collisions, according to Vision Zero statistics. 

Of the fatal incidents, one took place on March 10, involving Dominica Gonzalez, 71, who was hit by van traveling east at around 6:10 a.m. at the intersection of Union Avenue.

Gonzalez was rushed to a nearby hospital, but died from her injuries 13 days after the crash on March 23, according to police, who did not notify the public of her death until October. The driver remained at the scene and was not arrested, police said.

And on July 2, 35-year-old cyclist Matthew von Ohlen was struck and killed while riding in the bike lane by a hit-and-run-driver who was finally arrested last November, four months after von Ohlen's death.

Following von Ohlen's death, his friends and family first called for a safer bike lane and later added their voices to call for the "Grand Street Peopleway," in November, that would prioritize buses, cyclists and pedestrians with protected bike lanes, bus lanes and wider sidewalks.

Advocates point out that when the L train shuts down in 2019, Grand Street will become a main artery for North Brooklyn residents to traverse the area and make it to ferries or buses that might shuttle them to Manhattan.

Local City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who also joined protesters Tuesday morning, went even further to call for a car-free street that only allowed for local truck deliveries and buses and no private vehicles.

"I would like to see this street not have cars," Reynoso said in Spanish. As a cyclist himself and vocal proponent of car-free streets, he has also proposed to close Bedford Avenue to cars to allow for Mayor Bill de Blasio's street car to pass down it.

Because of the 2019 L train shutdown of service into Manhattan, the Department of Transportation is mulling changes on Grand Street, Reynoso said, though the DOT didn't respond immediately to a request for comment.

While a safer Grand Street was a top priority for those gathered Tuesday, they also pointed out that there was no arrest of the driver who'd struck and killed Nieves less than 24 hours earlier.

"Somebody got hit, somebody died and the person left," Reynoso said. "There's definitely no justice at this point."