Mott Haven intersection is a death trap, protesters say
A traffic accident that claimed the life of a 69-year-old man as he attempted to cross at the corner of St. Ann’s Ave. and E. 138thSt. on Dec. 13 has raised new concerns about the intersection widely considered one of the deadliest in Mott Haven.
Residents and advocates say heavy truck traffic and lights that change from red to green too quickly make the crossing a hazard for pedestrians. Some two-dozen protesters from several non-profits and area schools rallied at the corner two days after the accident to press city officials to make the area safer.
The accident victim, Ignacio Cubano, of 640 E. 137 St., was crushed by a tractor-trailer on the afternoon of Dec. 13 as he tried to cross. Cubano was a long-time parishioner at St. Luke’s church down the street where he was remembered for his generosity.
“He always cooked turkey for Thanksgiving for everyone. He was up all night, cooking,” said Cubano’s neighbor, Lydia Nieves, 75, recalling that Cubano for years led efforts at the church to feed hundreds of hungry people from area homeless shelters on Thanksgiving.
The pastor at St. Luke’s, Monsignor Gerald Ryan, said he was forced to take a detour while driving along St. Ann’s Ave. en route to the church on the afternoon of the 20th, because police had blocked off the street after the accident. When Father Ryan later found out a pedestrian had been killed, he returned to the scene, but had no idea one of his loyal parishioners was lying dead under the police canvas.
“When I got the holy oils and went down to anoint the body, I didn’t know who it was,” Father Ryan recalled. “I was so disappointed that I gave the last sacraments of the church without knowing who it was.”
Father Ryan, who has served at St. Luke’s for almost 50 years, said he and his parishioners have long feared the traffic on the corner where Ignacio Cubano was killed.
“They drive much too fast,” he said.
At a Community Board 1 meeting on the evening after the accident, police from the 40th Precinct agreed with board members that drivers use E. 138th St. in ways that put pedestrians at risk. “Drivers drive down 138th like it’s a drag race,” said Community Affairs officer Hector Espada, and added “Believe it or not, it’s a shortcut for many drivers” who get off the Major Deegan Expressway at the exit a block farther south.
Several residents stopped to join the rally, chiming in on the message for change at the corner.
“Cars zoom up and down and they don’t never stop,” said Sharon Saunders, 43, who lives on St. Ann’s Ave. Walk signals should be longer, she said, adding traffic there seems to continue around-the-clock.
“If that light turns yellow, you have to run because he’s already gonna go,” she added.
Danny Perez, 40, who works at the Boost Mobile store on E. 138th St. near the corner, said he often sees schoolchildren from nearby schools racing to beat the light.
“There’s no crossing guards,” said Perez. “When these trucks go, they go fast.”
Some expressed concern that online grocer FreshDirect’s proposed move to Port Morris could worsen congestion by introducing nearly 1000 additional truck trips per day to the area.
“We want to draw attention to the problem that’s here already,” said Roberto Borrero of non-profit group the United Federation of Taino People, pointing out that the stretch of streets and highways between Hunts Point and Port Morris is among the city’s worst.
“Why is it that neighborhoods that are economically depressed get the higher volume,” he said.
The story was updated on Jan. 1 to indicate that Ignacio Cubano was struck and killed on Dec. 13 rather than Dec. 20.