Fatal Bushwick Accident Spurs Safety Push at Complex Intersection

Home Brooklyn Life Fatal Bushwick Accident Spurs Safety Push at Complex Intersection

Correction Appended: Mon, Apr 23, 2013

When Judy Kottick used to visit her daughter Ella at her Ridgewood, Queens apartment, she would comment that a nearby intersection between Ridgewood and Bushwick in Brooklyn seemed dangerous.

Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue and Palmetto Street meet at the complicated intersection where a city bus fatally hit Ella Bandes. (Michaelle Bond/The Brooklyn Ink)
Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue and Palmetto Street meet at the complicated intersection where a city bus fatally hit Ella Bandes. (Michaelle Bond/The Brooklyn Ink)

She had reason to be nervous. A complicated dance between teeming pedestrians and vehicles plays out daily at the spot where Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue and Palmetto Street all come together. Cars squeeze past each other. Pedestrians sometimes abandon the circle of crosswalks that goes around the intersection for their own, more direct route through the middle of it. Or, like at other city crosswalks, they ignore the walk signals. The streets are sandwiched between the M train above and the L train below. They spew people into one of the busiest stations in Brooklyn, which served more than 5 million riders in 2011. Six bus lines add to the traffic.

The mother’s fears became real on Jan. 31, when a police officer called her and her husband, Ken Bandes, and said Ella had been in an accident—an MTA bus had run over the 23-year-old as she crossed Myrtle Avenue. Ella Kottick Bandes, who planned to be a clinical psychologist and was waiting to hear back from graduate schools, died four days later, after she was removed from life support.

Ever since, Ella’s parents, who live in Montclair, N.J., have coped with their grief by launching a crusade to make the Bushwick intersection safer. Community activist groups and City Councilwoman Diana Reyna, who represents the area, have joined the cause too. A public forum on the intersection is scheduled for April 18, two days after what would have been Ella’s 24th birthday. I.S. 77 will host the meeting at 976 Seneca Ave. in Ridgewood at 6:30 p.m.

After the pressure, the Department of Transportation said it would analyze the intersection, where 21 crashes and 9 injuries, mostly to pedestrians, occurred between August 2011 and December 2012. A pedestrian was killed there in 2009.

Ella’s family didn’t know any of this before the accident. They’re working now to make sure Ella, an artist, dancer and musician who shied away from attention, isn’t just another tally mark in the city’s traffic data.

“She just had a lot of ambition and plans for the future,” Judy Kottick said. “She wanted to make a difference in the world. Not this way, but we have to do it for her.”

The family is working with Councilwoman Reyna to make sure the city makes safety improvements. “In light of the accident in January, this is a time to make sure we can prevent something like that from happening again,” said Reyna’s spokesman, Malcolm Sanborn-Hum. “Unfortunately, it seems to take these types of accidents to get something done and get the community involved.”

The Department of Transportation would not comment on the specifics about its analysis. “We were onsite to examine the location and continue to review it for possible future safety enhancements,” a DOT press representative said in a written statement to The Brooklyn Ink.

The DOT will likely study both traffic volume at various times and the locations where the most conflicts occur between vehicles and pedestrians, said Juan Martinez of Transportation Alternatives, a pedestrian, cyclist and public transit advocacy group. The department can also look for a way to make traffic move in a less confusing manner and give pedestrians more opportunities to cross safely, he added. But getting results is going to be tricky.

“If this was an ordinary ‘t’ intersection, then we could expect they would have an answer relatively quickly,” Martinez said. “This is probably one of the most complicated intersections in Brooklyn. It’s going to take a lot of study to avoid creating more problems than they solve.”

The Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District has also suggested the city install countdown signals.

Fixing poor lighting at night is also something the DOT can do to improve safety at the intersection, said Sanborn-Hum of Reyna’s office. Ella’s accident happened shortly before 11 p.m.

Ella Bandes' parents, Judy and Ken, hold a self-portrait Ella drew at age 14 or 15. (Michaelle Bond/The Brooklyn Ink)
Ella Bandes’ parents, Judy and Ken, hold a self-portrait Ella drew at age 14 or 15. (Michaelle Bond/The Brooklyn Ink)

The family continues to hope something will be done to protect people at the intersection where Ella died.

“I want to do anything I can to make that corner safer and prevent this kind of heartbreak,” said Ella’s brother, 26-year-old Ian Bandes of Manhattan.

“At this point, you just want them to make it better. It’s too late for Ella, but not for other people,” her mother said.

Doing something for others is apparently something Ella would have appreciated. At the hospital, the family found out that she had registered to be an organ donor. “We were proud of her, but heartbroken,” her mother said.

Five people received organs from Ella. “We were so glad she’d been so thoughtful and generous about that. And that’s what she was all about,” said her brother. “It really was a gift that she gave other people and to us. It’s the only thing that gave us any comfort in this whole thing.”


Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that eight people received organs from Ella. To date, five people have received her organs. Ella also donated bone tissue and both corneas, which have not yet been given to any patients.

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