The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Union/Utopia Accident Reports Increase

January fatality calls for Councilman, NYC DOT attention
Eight people were injured at the intersection of Union Tpke. and Utopia Pkwy. in 2017.

The New York City Department of Transportation is looking at potential pedestrian safety enhancements along Union Turnpike, a local city councilman said this week, in the wake of several accidents in recent years outside the University’s gates.

“At my request, the Department of Transportation has been conducting a study of potential safety enhancements along Union Turnpike,” Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) told The Torch on Tuesday, “and we are currently awaiting the results.”

A 71-year-old Elmhurst resident was crossing Union after leaving a men’s basketball game on campus Jan. 23 when he was struck and killed by a car. The accident, which did not result in charges against the motorist, occurred right outside Gate 4 behind Carnesecca Arena.

The victim was identified as Philip O’Reilly.

According to Streetsblog, a website dedicated to inform the movement to improve walking, biking and transit, police filed no charges and said the motorist had a green light. Policy is to not release the name of a driver involved in a fatal collision unless charges are filed.

Lancman called O’Reilly’s death “a tragedy for our community.”

“The intersection of Union Turnpike and Utopia Parkway has long been one of the most dangerous in our neighborhood,” he said, “and in turn, we have made critical efforts in recent years to raise awareness and improve traffic safety.”



St. John’s University is wedged between two major traffic roads that have been the site of several accidents throughout the last few years.

Union Turnpike and Utopia Parkway, whose intersection is located between gates one and four on campus, are both four-lane roads. Drivers say the design of the roads lends itself to speeding. Complicating matters is that at times pedestrians who are crossing the road and cars that are making a right both have green lights at the same time.

It’s a common concern for students.

“When crossing streets, I always wait for the light to give me the right of way but almost every time drivers turning left cut me off and won’t stop to the point where I almost got hit once,” SJU senior Denisse Juliana Jimenez said.

She said it’s a matter of watching out for one’s own safety when crossing the roads, but added that they can still be dangerous.

“Drivers tend to get kind of aggressive and cut you off even when you follow all the rules so in that case, I do not feel that safe so I simply ride [her bike] in the sidewalk if there’s no people,” she said.


ACCIDENTS is a New York City-run website that details speed limits and pinpoints the number of accidents, including fatalities, at intersections and roads across the five boroughs on an interactive map.

According to this site, the speed limit on both Union and Utopia is 25 mph; although signs on Union display the speed limit, it is not displayed anywhere near campus on Utopia.

The map also shows just how dangerous the intersection of Union and Utopia has been in recent years, the accidents are on the rise. Eight people were injured at the intersection in 2017, up from five in 2016 and six in 2015. The Queens Tribune even called it one of the most dangerous intersections in the 107th Precinct.

Lalisa Wongchai, a senior, said that by living in New York she’s become accustomed to the risks. But she believes speeding on Union is a real issue.

“I have faced situations where cars could have hit me (i.e. speeding up before the light turns red, not stopping at the stop sign, etc.),” Wongchai said in a text message. “Even if I bike or walk, New York drivers are careless regardless.”

She added she doesn’t feel safe riding her bike on the roads.

As for nearby intersection, two injuries were recorded at Union and Parsons Boulevard and one injury reported at Union and 170th Street, Utopia and 80th Drive and where Utopia turns into Homelawn Street as of Jan. 31, 2018.

About 4,000 New Yorkers are injured and 250 are killed every year in vehicle crashes, according to the Queens Tribune.

Lancman, the local city councilman who has asked the Department of Transportation to study the area, added that he will continue to work with the 107th Precinct, the DOT and civic organizations to prevent traffic injuries and fatalities.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s initiatives for traffic safety seeks to reduce the number of fatalities through education, increased enforcement, street redesign and data collection.



St. John’s officials say they keep tabs of traffic concerns, and pass on information as they deem necessary.

“While it was a very tragic traffic accident that occurred back in January, Public Safety does issue a timely warning when a crime is reported, either on or off campus, that constitutes a continuing threat to students and employees,” Executive Director of Public Safety Denise Vencak said in a statement to the Torch.

No email was sent to students regarding O’Reilly’s death in January.

Jimenez, the senior who said she’s almost been hit crossing Union over the years, said she was not aware of the 71-year-old’s death while crossing Union after a January basketball game. She felt she should have been informed.

“Regardless of whether he was a student or not, it still happened within our area and we have the right to know what happens,” she said.

A surprised Wongchai said, “Wow I had no idea. Of course they should have informed regardless.”

Vencak added in her statement: “We monitor the lights and signage around the perimeter of campus, and notify the local NYPD precinct and 311 when we notice any areas of concern.”

Jimenez and Wongchai both said reckless driving on Union and Utopia is a concern, and that there is not much Public Safety — or anyone else — can do besides proceeding with caution.

“It would be nice to have some bike lanes here and there,” Wongchai said, “but other than that I think it’s the mentality of these drivers that are so ingrained to them that change is not really possible in my opinion.”

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About the Contributor
Isabella Bruni
Isabella Bruni, Managing Editor
Isabella Bruni is a senior journalism major with a minor in Italian and International Studies. Isabella hopes to maintain the Torch’s vast news coverage and increase its online presence all while focusing on managing the business side of the newspaper and building relationships with advertisers. She has been part of the Torch since her freshman year starting as a copy editor, becoming chief copy editor her sophomore year and then news editor her junior year. Have any questions? Email Isabella at [email protected] or [email protected] 
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