March 30 2023, By Michael Dorgan
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced that it plans to install traffic lights at the Astoria intersection where a 7-year-old girl was struck dead by an SUV in February, answering the calls of local leaders, residents and the victim’s family.
The agency will install the traffic signals in May having completed a control study of the intersection — located at Newtown Road and 45th Street — following the death of Dolma Naadhun on Feb. 17.
Naadhun was fatally struck by the driver of a Ford Explorer while she was crossing the intersection with her mother and sister just before 6 p.m. The driver — a 46-year-old woman — allegedly drove through a stop sign and collided with her.
Naadhun’s death sent shockwaves throughout the neighborhood and led to calls for the DOT to make the intersection safer by installing various traffic calming measures — particularly traffic lights — at the location.
An online petition launched by Naadhun’s brother urging the DOT to erect traffic signals at the junction generated more than 32,500 signatures.
The DOT said it has already improved crosswalk markings at the intersection and put down painted curb extensions, which stop cars from parking near an intersection in order to improve visibility.
The agency had been waiting on the control study to be completed before it made a decision to install traffic lights.
DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez made the announcement on Thursday, March 30.
“No loss of life on our streets is acceptable and we continue to keep Dolma Naadhum and her family in our hearts,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “In addition to making immediate safety enhancements at the intersection, DOT has conducted an intersection control study, which recommended a traffic signal. We will continue to explore safety enhancements along the corridor.”
The DOT said it will also install all-way stop signs on Newtown Road and 46th Street. At all-way stop signs, vehicles are required to come to a full stop before proceeding.
The news was welcomed by a number of local elected officials, many of whom attended various vigils held in honor of Naadhun and advocated for the traffic lights. The lawmakers who called for the traffic signals to be installed included City Council members Julie Won, Tiffany Cabán and Selvena Brooks-Powers, state Sen. Michael Gianaris, as well as Assembly members Jessica González-Rojas and Zohran Mamdani.
Won said she was grateful for the DOT’s decision, which she said was made at rapid speed.
“Our heart still breaks with our community as we mourn the loss of Dolma Rinchen Naadhun,” Won said. “It should not take the loss of a child’s life for us to install preventative road designs for street safety.”
Won, along with Cabán and Brooks-Powers, had written to the DOT on Feb. 20 calling for new safety measures at the intersection, including traffic lights.
Cabán said she was also pleased with the decision and said the neighborhood was still mourning the loss of Naadhun.
“Nothing can bring back Dolma Naadhun, or eliminate the grief afflicting her family and community,” Cabán said. “We hope, however, that installing this traffic light will at least honor her precious life and prevent further tragedies.”
Cabán said more work needs to be done to reduce traffic-related fatalities and injuries across the city, such as increasing the number of protected bike lanes, adding more daylighting measures and increasing the number of roads closed off to vehicular traffic. Daylighting is a process of removing any visual barriers within a minimum of 10 feet of a crosswalk or intersection in order to increase the visibility of both pedestrians and motorists.
She also called for a state bill known as “Sammy’s Law” to be passed which would give the city greater control over setting speed limits, and for legislation to reduce the blood alcohol limit of drivers from .08 to .05.
The driver who struck Naadhun had the legal amount of alcohol in her system when tested after the crash, the DOT said, although the exact measurement is unclear. The driver also had a learner’s permit and was traveling without a licensed adult in the vehicle, the agency said.
“This cannot be the end of our efforts to win life-saving infrastructure improvements,” Cabán said. “We remain steadfast in our fight to build a city where car-induced deaths and injuries are a thing of the past.