2001-01-10 / Front Page

Bd 11 Community Fears Another Death At Clearview Overpass

By William Milgrim

The pedestrian overpass bridge of the Clearview Expressway was the sight of the recent tragedy.
The pedestrian overpass bridge of the Clearview Expressway was the sight of the recent tragedy.

On August 17, 2000, a motorist killed Christopher Adam Scott, 11. Scott had just crossed the pedestrian overpass bridge of the Clearview Expressway on his bike when he was struck at the corner of 46th Avenue and the service road of the Expressway, in Bayside. He died almost immediately. In 1994, in nearly the identical spot, a car hit bicyclist John Shim. Shim was in a coma for nine months before he died at age 12.

Last Saturday, Jan. 6th, would have been Christopher’s 12th birthday. Instead of a celebration, there was a gathering at the cemetery for the family who have been residents of Queens for five generations.

At the Community Board 11 meeting on Jan. 2nd many residents emphatically expressed views that additional safety measures must be taken in order to prevent another tragedy.

John Bisbano, who is on the executive board of the Eastern Democratic Club, kicked off the evening by saying, "It’s as simple as black and white. All that’s needed is a stop sign. If there was a stop sign two children wouldn’t have been killed."

Frank Skala, president of the East Bayside Homeowners Corporation, displayed a handsome plaque sponsored by the Bayside Kiwanis Club, which will serve as a memorial to the two boys. It will be mounted on the bridge during a ceremony this spring. It tells the boys, "Rest in Peace."

At a recent choir practice Skala said, he was talking to Mark Middleton, 35, about the deaths of the two boys. Middleton said that 20 years ago, at age 15, he too was hit by a car while on his bike coming off the same bridge. He was in the hospital for a week, had a pin inserted in his left ankle and has a collarbone injury that never healed properly.

A longtime resident of 46th Avenue, who requested not to be identified, said he could recall five or six other accidents in the same intersection. "They were being hit like in a bowling alley," he said.

After the most recent tragedy on Aug. 17th, the city Department of Transportation (DOT) did a study of the intersection. Bernard Haber, chairman of Community Board 11 participated and found that there are "surges of traffic every 60 seconds" as cars traveling west make left turns at the light on Northern Boulevard. About 70 percent of the cars enter onto the expressway going south and 30 percent stay on the service road, where they pass by 46th Avenue. During the hours Haber was there he counted 29 children crossing over the bridge.

The DOT evaluates standards to determine whether or not to install a stop sign or traffic signal. Which device is installed depends upon the number of vehicles that go through an intersection and the speed at which they’re traveling. Other factors are the accident history of the previous 18 months, visibility, whether the road is straight or curved, and the spacing of other traffic signals.

Iris Weinshall, who became commissioner of the DOT in September 2000, told the Gazette, "It’s very tragic what happened with this little boy." Weinshall said that the results of the study indicated the "federal standards were not met," for the intersection to get a stop sign or traffic signal.

"We get thousands of requests a year," Weinshall said. When asked whether the commissioner has the authority to overrule the result of a study she said, yes. She added that to her knowledge she is not aware of an instance when a commissioner did so.

In response to the result of the DOT study Bisbano said, "This is ridiculous. This is how politics works; red tape. All they know is numbers."

"It only took one car to kill Christopher, it only took one car to kill John," Loretta Napier, the grandmother said. Napier, who has been active in community affairs for over 20 years, was welcomed at the Jan. 2nd board meeting as its newest member.

The DOT has taken a number of measures since Christopher’s death. Cone shaped objects, called "Qwick Kurb," have been installed to guide traffic farther away from the bridge. On the bridge itself a sign reads, "Bikers STOP, Dismount and Walk Bike." The street has been painted with "School X-ING." Four green school signs are in place. The bridge opening which leads onto the service road has been narrowed with the installation of a partial gate, making it more difficult for children to make a sharp turn onto the street.

"The opening is too big," says Mandingo Osceola Tshaka, president of Bayside Clear-Spring Council, a civic association. "I’m about 240 lbs, and I can easily get through."

In response to the actions taken by the DOT Napier said, "It’s a measure that will help, but it’s not the best they could do." No charges were brought against the driver of the car who hit Scott. Many in the community feel that if a stop sign were to be installed it would not be possible for a motorist to kill someone in the intersection and not be charged with a crime.

Napier has been overwhelmed by the compassionate response of the community. "All of the people of Bayside responded so beautifully," she said. "Three thousand people attended my grandson’s wake and service. Neighbors have been a godsend."

At the Jan. 2nd meeting Haber said, "We can write letters, we can ask for more studies, but I think at this point we’re going to get the same results. So it seems to me that this should really be in the hands of the elected officials: councilmembers, the borough president, the assembly, and senators."

Napier said she will write to elected officials and ask for help. She says the laws should focus less on rhetoric, and instead focus on saving lives. "I want to see something in writing from politicians," she said, to encourage the DOT to install a stop sign.

"We employ our politicians, they’re our employees," said Balbano. "Now the employer is saying to the employee, put in a stop sign."

"I’d be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Frank Skala and Mandingo Tshaka; rear-end to rear-end and stop the traffic there if that’s what it takes to save another child’s life."

Scott’s life was short but kind. Napier reminisced that an elderly woman was standing outside her house when Christopher and some friends came by. She asked if one of them would get her a can of soup. Christopher volunteered and bought the soup, then warmed it up for her. He went back a few days later to check on her.

Three months before he died, Christopher struck out 17 batters in a Little League game. He also hit a grand slam, a single, a double and a triple. Napier said that if Christopher could talk to her about her efforts to make sure that another child is not killed in the same spot he would say, "Go get ‘em, Grandma!"

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