Volume 21, Number 40 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 13 - 19, 2009


Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

Pedestrians cross West St. near the spot where Marilyn H. Feng, 26, was struck and killed by a man charged with drunk driving and manslaughter. The squiggly line in the foreground near the crosswalk is the spot where she was hit.

Young woman killed crossing West St.

By Julie Shapiro

A drunk driver slammed into a young couple crossing West St. early Saturday morning, killing Marilyn H. Feng, 26, and shattering her boyfriend’s leg.

The couple had spent Friday night tangoing at a dance party near the Empire State Building. They were heading home to Huang’s apartment in Battery Park City and were crossing West St. at Albany St. when the car struck them. Residents have long described the construction-choked West St. crossings as treacherous.

Feng, of 200 Rector Pl., came to the United States four years ago from Shanghai and received a master’s at New York University’s law school.

“She was a really sweet young woman,” said Bonnie Wong, president of Asian Women in Business, where Feng worked until recently. “She was adorable and sweet and always smiling — a very pleasant type person.”

Feng, whose family still lives in China, would have started a new job as a business counselor for the Chinatown Manpower Project on Monday. She spent much of her free time tangoing, often with her boyfriend Dennis Loffredo, 26, a financial analyst. The couple went to a dance party at DanceSport in Midtown Friday night and they were part of a small group that stayed into the wee hours of Saturday morning, said a club employee who did not want to give his name.

“They were there having a great time,” the employee said. “I didn’t feel like kicking them out. I told them whenever they want to leave, I’ll close.”

Feng and Loffredo were nearly home when they crossed Route 9A’s six lanes of traffic at 3:40 a.m. The car that hit them, a 2007 Toyota Camry, was traveling south toward the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, according to the police report. Loffredo was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital with injuries to his leg and head, and he was in stable condition Wednesday.

The driver, Martin Abreu, 25, a Jersey City police officer, was arrested at the scene and charged with vehicular manslaughter, vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated, according to police and press reports. He reportedly slurred his words when police arrived on the scene and had a blood alcohol level of .124, well above the legal limit of .08.

Police have not said who had the green light at the time of the accident.

“It’s a shame,” said a construction worker on the state’s Route 9A project, who saw Feng’s covered body in the street when he arrived at work at 6 a.m. Saturday. “You gotta be careful.”

Even during the day, when several traffic agents direct cars and pedestrians through the Albany St. intersection, the crossing can be confusing. The State Dept. of Transportation is rebuilding Route 9A, so the intersection is cluttered with Jersey barriers and orange bollards, and the configuration of the crossing changes frequently, several residents said.

To get from one side of West St. to the other, pedestrians have to cross two lanes of northbound traffic, then pass through a safe zone, then another lane of northbound traffic, another safe zone, and finally three lanes of southbound traffic. It takes a steady clip to make it all the way across in one light cycle, which gives pedestrians 28 or 29 seconds depending on the time of day.

Bruce Brodoff, a Battery Park City resident, said the crossing looked particularly dangerous last weekend.

“I deal with that intersection every day, but Saturday it was an obstacle course,” Brodoff said in a phone interview. “There was no clearly defined pedestrian path.”

Brodoff, a Downtown Alliance executive, said he had to dodge utility trucks as he crossed and once had to step blindly around a parked vehicle.

“It was ridiculous,” Brodoff said. “I’m living there 11 years and I didn’t know how to cross West St. Saturday. That’s pretty bad.”

Adam Levine, spokesperson for State D.O.T., said the agency has not made any recent changes to the intersection.

“We haven’t identified anything in the intersection that suggests anything unsafe about it,” Levine said.

State D.O.T. examined the intersection after the accident and repainted the crosswalk and stop lines, but those markings were visible before the accident as well, Levine said. The ongoing construction near the intersection includes underground utility work, paving and construction of a permanent crosswalk, Levine said.

“It is in some places a difficult area to navigate,” Levine said. “It’s a construction zone. Everyone’s got to be careful.”

The City Dept. of Transportation said the intersection had not seen any fatalities going back to at least 2004, while there was an average of one to two pedestrian injuries a year during that time.

Most people who spoke to Downtown Express at the intersection on a recent morning said the crossing was dangerous.

“It’s a nightmare,” said Lee Debo, 40, who lives in the Bronx but was Downtown to install a fire alarm. “It’s a highway, not a street…. I’m okay, I’m young, I can get across, but someone older, or in wheelchair, will get stuck in the middle.”

Debo thinks the intersection needs more traffic agents, along with police officers to write tickets.

Gesturing to the condo towers in Battery Park City, he said, “You’d think with all the people here and all their money — but, I guess they don’t cross the street.”

Elizabeth Hadi, a 90 West St. resident, called the intersection “crazy” as she pushed her 14-month-old son across the street in a stroller. She said she feels safe during the day when the traffic agents are there. Once the agents leave at 7 p.m., the intersection gets much more dangerous, said another woman who lives in 90 West St., who was walking her black lab into Battery Park City.

“They should’ve fixed this years ago,” agreed John, a middle-aged Battery Park City resident.

Levine, from State D.O.T., said the agency would look into having traffic agents at the intersection around the clock to help pedestrians cross.

The neighborhood has several pedestrian bridges, including one at Rector St., one block south of Albany St., but they have their own problems. The bridges aren’t always convenient, depending on where people are coming from and where they are going. The Rector St. bridge elevator is closed because there is no emergency communication device so people with wheelchairs must stick to the at-grade crossing.

A traffic agent stationed at the Albany St. intersection said the real problem is not the traffic, but that people cross against the light.

“Nobody respects the cars,” said the agent, who did not give his name.

As he spoke, a suited man clutching a Starbucks cup darted across one lane of traffic against the light, then leapt back onto the curb to avoid a slew of oncoming cars. He finally crossed with the light a minute later and power-walked toward the World Financial Center.

The uncertainty of the speeding traffic on West St. means that while local residents and workers were upset by the accident, they weren’t necessarily surprised.

As Debo, the fire-alarm installer, finished crossing, he turned to look at the intersection.

“Anything could happen here,” he said.


Julie@DowntownExpress.com




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