Tragic Traffic Deaths Mar New Year’s in Jackson Heights and Other NYC Nabes

Safety advocates continue to call on the city to establish parking protected bike lanes to separate cyclists from cars and to prevent cyclist deaths. Photo by Cybele Grandjean.

Safety advocates continue to call on the city to establish parking protected bike lanes to separate cyclists from cars and to prevent cyclist deaths. Photo by Cybele Grandjean.

By David Brand

Despite a record-low number of traffic deaths in 2018, New York City streets remain a dangerous place for pedestrians and cyclists — a bleak reality highlighted by the reported deaths of two pedestrians and a cyclist on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Though vehicle-occupant and cyclist deaths reached record lows in 2018, pedestrian deaths did not decrease at the same rate, which safety advocates attribute to infrastructure flaws and persistent problems with the city’s driving culture.

On Monday in Jackson Heights, Vitaliana Garcia Gavilan, who was driving without a license, crashed into a pedestrian and then backed her car into the victim, killing her. The fatal collision occurred at around 12:45 p.m.

Garcia Gavilan, 43, struck the victim, 60, with her 2008 Chevy Equinox while making a right turn at 37th Avenue and 81st Street. The car’s front right tire ran over the victim’s body, police said. When Garcia Gavilan backed the car up, the same tire again rolled over the woman.

Garcia Gavilan, a Great Neck resident, remained on the scene and was charged with being an aggravated unlicensed operator, failure to yield, a motor vehicle license violation: no license and failure to use due care causing a serious injury. She was arrested and issued a desk appearance ticket.

Police had not yet released the identity of the victim as of Wednesday afternoon.

The same evening, Nabil Hakim, 91, was struck and killed by a car on Victory Boulevard in Staten Island. The driver, who was driving a 2016 Volkswagen Jetta, remained at the scene.

On Tuesday, NYC recorded its first cyclist death when a 26-year-old electric bike rider was “doored” by someone exiting a parked vehicle on Brooklyn’s Third Avenue.

Hugo Alexander Sinto Garcia, 26, was killed in Greenwood Heights shortly after 6 a.m. on New Year’s Day, when an occupant of a 2009 Toyota taxi opened a door in front of him. Sinto Garcia collided with the door and was launched into oncoming traffic.

Transportation Alternatives' Co-Interim Director Ellen McDermott said the tragedy was the result of poor street design.

“This morning’s deadly crash, in which a 26-year-old bicyclist was killed after being doored and launched into traffic, could have been prevented,” McDermott said in a statement. “Brooklyn’s Third Avenue has not been redesigned to safely accommodate all users regardless of their mode of transport. On the stretch of Third Avenue where this crash occurred, there is no dedicated right of way for people on bikes — just three wide lanes for moving cars and trucks, and one lane for storing them.”

McDermott called on the city to create more protected bike lanes and enact other safety improvements.

“Life-saving measures, like protected bike lanes, must be applied wherever possible and as a matter of policy — not just when it is politically palatable or after a bicyclist has been killed. This is the only way to create a connected, city-wide network of protected bike lanes,” she said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the declining rate of traffic deaths, which he attributed to the city’s Vision Zero initiatives, in an announcement on Dec. 28.

As part of Vision Zero, the city expanded access for cyclists by installing more than 20 miles of protected bike lanes and “more than 250 miles of dedicated cycling space” and redesigning some streets to better accommodate cyclists, de Blasio said in a statement.

As of Dec. 27, 10 cyclists had died in 2018, according to city data.

Despite the modest improvements, the city has much work to do to ensure an end to traffic deaths, said Assemblymember Michael DenDekker.

“Although I am extremely pleased with the overall reduction in traffic fatalities, I still believe that there is much more work to be done,” DenDekker said in a statement. “We need an expansion of the speed camera program, increased penalties for vehicles with multiple camera violations, and traffic lights that allow pedestrians to cross the street without any vehicles moving.”