Elected officials, safe streets advocates call for change after pedestrian fatality

NYS Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, right, calls for change at the three-way intersection at Johnson Avenue and Kappock Street.
Photo Jason Cohen

Safety advocates and elected officials are demanding action at a busy intersection in Riverdale following the tragic death of a longtime resident.

On Sept. 7, Ruth Mullen, a well-known activist and writer from Riverdale, was struck and killed by an MTA bus at Johnson Avenue and Kappock Street. A preliminary investigation revealed that the bus was traveling south on Kappock Street and turned left onto Johnson Avenue when it hit Mullen, 68, while crossing the street. Based on eyewitness accounts, the bus rolled through the stop sign and hit Mullens. The driver, unaware, kept driving and only after someone yelled did the bus finally halt, all while dragging her body underneath.

Her death has devastated the community.

On Sept. 10, state Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, City Councilman Eric Dinowitz, Community Board 8 District Manager Ciara Gannon and advocates for safe streets gathered to commemorate Mullens’ life and demand the DOT take action. The typical timeframe for New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a study of an area is 12-18 months, but lawmakers and residents refuse to wait.

A makeshift memorial was erected near the location where Riverdale resident Ruth Mullen was killed on Sept. 7, 2021.

“There is nothing we can say or do that will bring Ruth back to our community, but we can work to prevent this type of tragedy from happening again,” the assemblyman said. “Walkable neighborhoods are livable neighborhoods, and there is resounding support in our community to make this intersection safer for pedestrians. We need DOT to take expeditious action and come up with pedestrian safety improvements quickly.”

The assemblyman added that there needs to be a thorough investigation by the NYPD.

The latest tragedy in the northwestern Bronx comes amidst a concerning rise in traffic fatalities throughout New York City over the past two years, with NYPD reporting 176 fatalities citywide through Sept. 5. This number corresponds to a nearly 25% rise in traffic fatalities compared to this point in 2020.

Local residents have long expressed concern about pedestrian safety at the intersection of Johnson Avenue and Kappock Street, which is a frequently used thoroughfare that connects the Spuyten Duyvil neighborhood with nearby Kingsbridge. It is also a common pass-through for people connecting from the Henry Hudson Parkway to the Major Deegan Expressway as well as the Broadway Bridge. The intersection also serves as a bus stop for several major bus routes, including the Bx10, Bx20, BxM1, BxM2 and BxM18 lines.

Several years ago, Jeffrey Dinowitz was successful in getting a stop sign installed for northbound traffic on Johnson – alleviating a major safety concern where cars only had to stop in two of three points in the intersection. Now, residents and leaders are asking DOT for additional improvement, including installing traffic signals, speed humps, curb extensions, and other ideas to make it safer for people to cross the street.

“I’m not an engineer, I can’t say what the best answer is,” the assemblyman said.

Eric Dinowitz, who is a former teacher, wished people were together to celebrate the opening of a school, not Mullen’s death. People should not be mowed down in front of where they live, he said.

“We are not here because we are angry,” he said. “We are here because we are sad. A tragedy like this was preventable and didn’t have to happen.”

Helen Krim, who was a member of the Riverdale Huddle with Mullen, a group of politically minded women, said Mullen was a dedicated public servant.

“She was a beautiful light and a kind chaotic idealist who was always trying to make the world better,” Krim said emotionally. “She gave dedicated service to the city as a poll worker and a writer, and I’ll miss her. I think we all will.”

Mullen’s neighbor, Nathan Dupree, told the Bronx times he was one of the first on the scene at the accident. Dupree, who has lived in the same building as Mullen for 15 years, was home the night of the accident when he heard people screaming and immediately ran outside.

He saw a few people at the intersection and quickly asked what happened.

“I said was anybody hurt, and it was worse than that as I saw her body under the bus,” he told the Bronx Times.

Helen Krim speaks about the tragic death of her friend Ruth Mullen.

Greg Gallent, another neighbor of Mullen’s, started a petition to implement a traffic signal at the intersection. So far it has garnered more than 1,400 signatures. Mullen, who often babysat his son, has left a gaping hole in the community, he said.

“She was a joy of a person,” Gallent said. “She was willing to help educate people on how Bronx politics works. No one could have expected this. It’s dumfounding for all of us.”

In the meantime, DOT is looking at ways to make this intersection safer, said spokesperson Alana Morales. Morales added that there have been two severe injuries and — prior to Mullen’s death — no fatalities at the intersection.

“This was a tragic loss and we are reviewing a feasibility study of left turn traffic calming treatments at the intersection and if feasible we will install as soon as possible,” Morales said.