In the early hours of April 1, 32-year-old Gelasio Reyes was returning home from work on his bike when he was struck at the intersection of 43rd Avenue and 39th Street in Sunnyside.
Reyes was taken to Elmhurst Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Police later arrested 25-year-old Cristian Guiracocha, who was drunk and blew past the intersection. He left the scene, but was caught and arrested a few blocks away and charged with a DWI.
Just ten days later at 6 a.m., cyclist David Nunez was struck by a box truck at the same intersection. The truck driver, who remained at the scene, was arrested and charged with failure to yield to a cyclist.
Last Thursday afternoon, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer joined transit advocates and community members to call for changes at the intersection, which sits between the busy thoroughfares of Queens and Northern boulevards.
It’s also on the block of a large senior center and pre-kindergarten program at Sunnyside Community Services.
“This intersection needs to be safe for every single New Yorker, every single moment of every single day,” he said. “That is not what we have.”
Van Bramer called on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a “very serious, comprehensive” study of the spot, which he said should lead to an overhaul of the intersection’s design.
“Already, we have lost one man and we could lose another,” he said. “If we’re not acting right now, who’s to say this weekend, someone else won’t be killed?”
One of his demands is to install a protected bike lane on 43rd Avenue. Van Bramer is also calling for Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs) at the location, which would give pedestrians a few seconds head start before cars are permitted to turn.
Lastly, the councilman called on the 108th Precinct to issue more tickets to cars ignoring red lights. He said he has already spoken to Captain Ralph Forgione about the issue.
“Everyone has to follow the rules of the road,” Van Bramer said. “But it is the responsibility and obligation of someone who is behind the wheel of a several-ton vehicle to know where pedestrians and cyclists are and to stop.”
According to DOT data, until this month there had not been any fatalities at the intersection since 2009, however there have been 27 reported injuries in the eight-year span.
Flor Jimenez, the 29-year-old widow of Gelasio Reyes, attended the rally but was overcome with emotion as she attempted to speak. Peter Beadle, Jimenez’s attorney and a bike advocate, said Jimenez has two children, including an infant, at home.
“This is yet another in a series of press conferences that are held because we live in a culture where cyclists like Gelasio and David and pedestrians are invisible to motorists,” Beadle said. “The road is treated as the exclusive domain of people in cars, when it needs to be used by all of us.”
He called for not just a protected bike lane, but a complete redesign. He said while educational programs and enforcement are important, a change in design and culture will make more of a difference.
“If we don’t physically change our streets, we’ll be standing at another press conference with another family who has lost somebody they deeply love,” Beadle said. “That has to stop.”
A DOT spokesperson noted that the two crashes involved different circumstances and contributing factors. While the first involved a drunk driver, the April 10th crash occurred as the bicyclist and truck were traveling in the same direction before the truck made a right turn.
“DOT will study the intersection for potential safety enhancements,” the spokesperson said.