The intersection of South Frontage Road and York Street was bustling during rush hour Monday evening.
As cars sped down South Frontage — often running red lights in the process — and batches of Yale-New Haven Hospital staffers stood at the crosswalk waiting their turn, it may have been easy to miss the bouquet of flowers sitting on the sidewalk around a street post.
A single white ribbon tied in a bow just above the flowers commemorated the death of Mila Rainof MED ’08, the 27-year-old Santa Monica native who was hit by a car at the intersection Saturday morning and died the next day. Rainof’s death has sparked a call from students and area residents for stronger measures to protect pedestrian safety at the intersection. But looming in the background is a similar effort less than two years ago when, following an accident at North Frontage Road and College Street, students rallied for better pedestrian safety — and failed.
According to the New Haven Independent’s crime logs, there were 15 motor vehicle accidents at the intersection of South Frontage Road and York Street in 2006, 27 in 2007 and 12 so far in 2008.
“My heart is heavy,” Bunny Montgomery, an employee of the hospital on her way home from work, said Monday evening. “But this intersection is dangerous — cars running red lights, turning where they’re not supposed to. You’ve got to be careful.”
Just last Friday, Montgomery said, she was trying to cross the street when two sports cars sped down South Frontage in an obvious drag race. One of the cars was blocking the other from changing lanes and almost forced it into the left-hand side curb, she said.
Seemingly every passerby had a similar story to tell. As those in the area Monday evening told it, cars often speed far beyond the speed limit of 25 miles per hour, accelerate when the traffic light flashes yellow and make illegal right turns from York Street onto South Frontage despite obvious signage prohibiting it.
A house staffer at the hospital, who asked to remain anonymous because she lives in the same apartment building Rainof did, said she often sees large trucks, similar to the one at the scene of Rainof’s accident, coming out of the hospital’s loading docks.
“It makes it hard to see the traffic that’s coming,” the staffer said. “Plus, this road is basically a highway.”
Usually, most of those interviewed said, there is a police officer stationed south of the intersection. But between 4:45 and 5:15 p.m. on Monday, no such officer could be found.
Yale School of Medicine Dean Richard Alpern said students at the school discussed the danger of the intersection at a community meeting held in Rainof’s memory Monday. They proposed potential solutions such as building speed bumps, Alpern said, but to no avail — the students came to the conclusion that the city would not allow speed bumps so close to the freeway.
“That part of Frontage Road is problematic,” Alpern said. “There’s a lot of pedestrian traffic at that intersection. And it’s problematic not just for students, but all of our faculty have to cross that intersection to get to the parking lots and access their cars.”
City officials in the Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking could not be reached for comment Monday. Director Michael Piscitelli did not respond to a phone message left with his secretary or an e-mail request for comment. Bruce Fischer, the traffic operations engineer, was out of the office Monday and did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.
News of Rainof’s death “irked” Anant Shah EPH ’07. One of Shah’s good friends, Lubna Shamsi EPH ’07, was hit by a car in October of 2006 at the intersection of North Frontage and College by a driver who was having a minor seizure.
Shamsi was hospitalized for two weak knees and a broken collarbone and underwent extensive reconstructive surgery.
At the time, Shah circulated a petition demanding that the city to make the intersection safer for pedestrians. That petition, which is still active online, garnered a handful of signatures Monday, bringing the total to 652 at press time.
Along with officials from the medical school, Shah met with members of the New Haven Department of Transportation shortly after the incident. The city refused to appropriate funds to the area because of a tight budget, Shah said, and no changes were made.
City officials estimated that it would cost roughly $25,000 to install walk signals at all four corners on an interim basis until a longer-term solution could be found, he added.
Shah criticized city officials for being “unacceptably passive” both in 2006 and in the aftermath of this weekend’s accident.
“No one is taking leadership in the community,” said Shah, who now lives in Georgia. “There needs to be more weight on the department to take an active role and protect its citizens. If I were a parent of [Rainof], I would absolutely be outraged.”
Shah said it would be in the University’s best interest to invest some money in making intersections along Frontage Road safer, perhaps for an overpass crosswalk or other mechanisms that could alert traffic to the high volume of pedestrians in the area.
Yale’s Associate Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 could not be reached for comment Monday evening.
Acknowledging the danger of intersection, some of the pedestrians at the South Frontage and York intersection on Monday simply resigned themselves to the reality of the situation.
“It’s a city. This kind of thing happens a lot in a city,” Carla Giles, a Yale-New Haven employee, said.
A loud revving noise filled the air seconds afterward.
A black Pontiac, which had been stopped at the front of the intersection a moment earlier, set off at a speed noticeably faster than 25 miles per hour, well ahead of the pack of cars that were just beginning to accelerate.
After the car had driven away, the flowers remained a silent reminder of Rainof’s passing on an otherwise lively street.