Brooklyn Heights

Residents search for answers after latest pedestrian death on Atlantic Avenue

Hundreds donate to GoFundMe

April 20, 2023 Mary Frost
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After the latest pedestrian death on Atlantic Avenue on April 16, residents of Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill are demanding that the city do something to control traffic on the street. 

Neighborhood associations say that despite a speed limit of 25 mph, the avenue has become a de facto highway leading to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway’s (BQE) entrance and exit ramps. The groups have sent a host of traffic-calming ideas to the city’s Department of Transportation. 

Katherine Harris, 31, was crossing Atlantic at Clinton Street Sunday night, walking south legally with the light, when she was run down by an alleged drunken driver, Erick Taxilaga Trujillo, 27. 

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According to the Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District (BID), the tragic accident took place at the same intersection where Brooklyn Heights resident Martha Atwater was struck and killed in 2013, and where local store owner Muyassar Moustapha was run down in 2015.

Bensonhurst resident Erick Taxilaga Trujillo, 27, was charged with manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, assault, driving while impaired and refusing to take the breath test.

A memorial in honor of Katherine Harris, victim of a drunk driver, has appeared in front of 136 Atlantic Ave., between Clinton and Henry streets. Photo courtesy of the Cobble Hill Association

Donations flood GoFundMe

Within 24 hours of an account being set up, more than 200 people donated to a GoFundMe to help Harris’ family cover the unexpected funeral expenses and legal fees.

Miguel Ortiz-Crane, Harris’ uncle, wrote on the GoFundMe website that Harris was killed “just steps” from her apartment in Brooklyn.

“Our family is devastated by the tragic, violent, and senseless loss of our joyful, quirky, and loving Katie. In an instant, our lives have changed forever, and the world will never be the same,” Ortiz-Crane wrote.

So many donations flooded in that the family’s goal of $15,000 was reached quickly and the GoFundMe was closed.

“Thank you, thank you. In 24 hours we have reached our goal. We are eternally grateful for the outpouring of love and support,” Ortiz-Crane wrote.

Mark Gelbs, president of the 84th Precinct Community Council. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Residents: Only a matter of time

Residents say it’s only a matter of time until the next GoFundMe must be set up. On Wednesday, April 19, community organizations and elected officials sent a letter to the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) urging the agency to implement numerous pedestrian safety and traffic calming efforts on Atlantic Avenue. 

The letter was signed by Councilmembers Lincoln Restler and Shahana Hanif, State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, the Atlantic Avenue BID, and the Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and Brooklyn Heights associations. 

The list of requests include:

– Raising the crosswalks where Atlantic Avenue intersects with Hicks, Henry, and Clinton Streets;

– Installing mid-block traffic lights;

– Redesigning pedestrian crossings;

– Extending the curbs at intersections;

– And redesigning the sidewalk and pedestrian space around the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) entrance and exit ramps.

Howard Kolins, president of the Boerum Hill Association, was among the community members speaking at the recent 84th Precinct Community Council meeting to advocate DOT to implement a host of pedestrian safety and traffic calming efforts on Atlantic Avenue. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Safety walk and rally coming up

The Cobble Hill Association will be holding a safety walk on the avenue for community members on Saturday, April 29 at 12 p.m., starting at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Furman Street, and ending at Times Plaza (Flatbush and Atlantic).

In an e-blast sent out Thursday, CHA wrote, “All are invited to join community leaders for a walk up Atlantic Avenue to rally for necessary safety changes and to commemorate those impacted by traffic violence … With the power of numbers we can show the city that we aren’t going to stand by and wait for another tragedy.”

Workers repair a dining shed that was damaged in the incident. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

NYPD vehicle at intersection 24/7 not the answer

“Over the last 20 years it’s been a death alley there, with dozens of bodily injuries and death,” Heights resident and activist Jeffrey Smith said about the dangerous intersection at the Tuesday, April 18 meeting of the 84th Precinct Community Council, held at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

Smith demanded that the precinct “station a vehicle with flashers” at the intersection around the clock, “given all the taxes this area pays and the traffic’s deadly history.”

That stretch of the avenue is “a high non-compliance area,” he added. “There’s no substitute for manpower.”

Community members and officials attending the meeting, however, agreed with the assessment of the 84th Precinct’s Commanding Officer Deputy Inspector Adeel Rana that Atlantic Avenue speeding would be better handled with the traffic mitigations suggested in the joint letter — leaving the precinct free to handle to handle other incidents, such as recent reports of shots fired just a few blocks away.

Howard Kolins, president of the Boerum Hill Association, Councilmember Lincoln Restler and Clay Olsen, operations manager for state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, advocated for the traffic mitigations, and also for an idea advocated by the Atlantic Avenue BID and former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s expert BQE panel: to close the Atlantic Avenue eastbound entrance to the BQE. 

The intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Clinton Street where the tragic death of Katherine Harris took place. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Atlantic Avenue BID: Close the ramp and extend the trench

In a March 20 letter to NYCDOT, Kelly Carroll, executive director of the Atlantic Avenue BID wrote, “The Atlantic Avenue ramp is documented as one of the worst designed ramps in NYC. Closing the ramp would eliminate related crashes and overturned trucks, reduce demand on the BQE, and help reduce the traffic volumes on the Atlantic Avenue corridor and Hicks Street. It would also improve pedestrian safety by creating a safer connection between Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn Bridge Park and the ferry landing at Pier 6.”

In the long run, as part of the massive upcoming BQE reconstruction, the BID also wants DOT to extend the Cobble Hill BQE “trench” to pass under Atlantic Avenue, or cap the highway with an expanded park.

“Burying the highway is a best practice for dense urban environments, and expanding green space here would separate human and vehicular circulation,” the BID wrote. “This concept would improve the public realm along the BQE from the Cobble Hill trench to the Atlantic Avenue interchange, and transform the Atlantic Avenue Gateway to Brooklyn Bridge Park as a pedestrian-centric connection.”

The BID’s letter was addressed to NYCDOT Chief Strategy Officer Julie Bero and NYCDOT Executive Director for the BQE, Bridges Tanvi Pandya.

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