March 14, 2013 By Christian Murray
The Department of Transportation faced heavy criticism Thursday morning for failing to take preventive measures that might have saved the life of a Woodside teenager who was killed by an out-of-control minivan while walking along the sidewalk on Thomson Avenue on Monday.
Tenzin Drudak, a 16-year-old from Tibet, was killed when the driver of a maroon Dodge Caravan lost control and careened onto the sidewalk (by 30th Street) at about 10:30 am on Monday. The driver was distracted after reaching for a carton of spilled milk, police said.
Drudak was on his way to Applied Communications HS at the time he was struck.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer held a press conference at the place Drudak was killed on Thursday and urged the Department of Transportation to add more sidewalk barriers; increase the amount of time allotted for pedestrians to cross the wide street (at the traffic lights); and conduct a comprehensive study of the traffic flow in the Thomson Avenue area.
Van Bramer said that the existing metal sidewalk barriers along Thomson Avenue are old and do not cover the entire area. In fact, the minivan that killed Drudak was unimpeded by such a barrier and was brought to a halt after striking a tree. Four La Guardia students were also injured.
Van Bramer said he had been urging the DOT to increase the amount of time given to pedestrians to cross the street at traffic lights on Thomson Avenue for some time. “Every day there are near misses …and yet the DOT tells us the signals are working properly.”
Meanwhile, Shah Amanat, the head of the LaGuardia student association, said he submitted a petition that included the names of 500 students to the DOT in July calling on the agency to review the pedestrian-crossing times.
Armanat said that he received a response in November that the signal timing was fine.
However, a spokesman for the DOT, said “safety is always DOT’s first priority and the agency was already working with LaGuardia Community College to improve pedestrian safety and access at this location as part of the college’s planned expansion. Safety enhancements that are under consideration include sidewalk extensions at this intersection.”
Furthermore, the DOT said that “this week’s fatal crash was the first at that location in at least the last decade.”
Van Bramer discussed other possible solutions at the press conference. He said that in Manhattan crossing guards often work on intersections directing traffic during rush hour—something that he would like to see in this area. He said it was worth considering the creation of a pedestrian bridge, although he did recognize that it would involve a major expenditure.
Van Bramer argues that the DOT is more interested in getting cars to Manhattan as quickly as possible—to the detriment of the 17,000 LaGuardia students and the attendees of 3 nearby high schools.
“Students should not have to risk their lives going to school,” Van Bramer said.
Van Bramer spoke at the memorial site of Drudak, which was the tree that ultimately stopped the careening minivan. At the foot of the tree, there were several candles and flowers. Tied to the trunk were several letters. One letter read: “We will miss you. The good always die young.”
Meanwhile, several of Drudak’s friends—mostly immigrants from Tibet—attended the press conference.
Tenzin Delek, a close friend, said Drudak was interested in hip-hop culture and liked to wear fancy clothes. “He had a tattoo of his mom on his chest,” Delek said, and he liked to hang out with his two dogs. “He was cool.”