Feb. 27, 2023 By Michael Dorgan and Paul Frangipane
Elected officials, residents and community leaders took part in a rally in Astoria Sunday, Feb. 26, calling on the DOT to install traffic lights at the intersection where a 7-year-old was struck dead by an SUV earlier this month.
The event was held at the Astoria Heights Playground — located on 30th Road between 45th Street and 46th Street — about a block and a half away from where Dolma Naadhum lost her life in the Feb. 17 incident. Naadhum was crossing Newtown Road and 45th Street with her mother and sister just before 6 p.m. when a 2021 Ford Explorer — driven by a 46-year-old woman — allegedly blew a stop sign and collided with her.
The rally took place shortly after a remembrance service was held inside the playground for Naadhum.
A memorial was erected inside the playground consisting of a framed photograph of Naadhum, flowers and messages. The area was filled with purple-colored balloons that had the words “forever in our hearts” emblazoned across them, while children also wrote Naadhum’s name in chalk on the ground.
Councilwoman Julie Won — who attended the event alongside fellow Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán, state Sen. Michael Gianaris and Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas — said that the neighborhood was showing a united front in demanding that the intersection be made safer.
“We’re standing together as a community to say, ‘enough is enough,’” Won said.
“We want to see a traffic light there and we do not want any more lives like Dolma lost as a sacrifice when this could have been a preventable death,” said Won, who represents the 26th Council district that covers Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City and a portion of Astoria. “You have a commitment from the state to the city in making sure that Newtown Road for every single street, that we are going to make it safe and we’re not going to take no for an answer from DOT for a traffic light.”
The rally came nearly a week after Won and Cabán wrote to the DOT urging the agency to make the sidewalk wider by installing traffic lights and other traffic calming measures such as curb extensions and speed bumps.
Cabán said that the approach to road traffic safety needs to change drastically.
“We all navigate these streets together and when we think about the dangers we face on any given day, the reality is that traffic deaths are more prolific than gun violence, than murders in our city, yet we don’t treat them with the same level as urgency,” said Cabán, who represents District 22, which covers parts of Astoria, East Elmhurst and Rikers Island.
“We have to be bigger, we have to be bolder, we have to be thinking about traffic-calming measures across all of our intersections.”
Tsering Wangdu, Naadhum’s father, paid tribute to his daughter at the event saying she had filled their lives with joy.
“During her short seven-and-a-half years, she brought the greatest joy to us,” Wangdu said. “She was a kind, compassionate, loving child with the most beautiful smile. One cannot imagine losing a daughter and a sister at such a tender age. We pray that no one has to go through what, our family has experienced.”
Wangdu echoed the lawmakers’ calls for traffic lights at the intersection. He also said the family forgives the SUV driver who knocked his daughter down.
“As a Buddhist family, we forgive the person responsible for our great loss,” Wandu said. “I don’t want any other family to suffer like I’m suffering, and my family is suffering. So please help me to set up that light.”
Meanwhile, Gianaris called on the DOT to be more proactive in preventing similar incidents from occurring again.
“[The DOT] needs to listen to the community and reach out before these things happen, rather than doing studies after the fact,” said Gianaris, who represents State Senate District 12, which covers Astoria.
“The sad truth is that her death will make it more likely that we will get these lights because the way DOT and the city look at these things is they wait for bad things to happen and then they decide to put [up] a traffic light.”
Rebecca Van Kessel, a local resident, also called on the community to demand the intersection be made safer.
“Dolma’s corner is my corner too, my kids cross that intersection 10 times a week for the last seven years,” Van Kessel said.
“It could have been my kid, it could have been your kid and we all need to step up and do better for her, we can fix this. We can’t bring her back but we can absolutely make that corner safer.”