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Bronx Zoo crash: Modern barriers installed on road where 7 died

May 03, 2012|By Tina Susman
  • Skid marks lead to the spot on the Bronx River Parkway where an SUV carrying seven members of one family went out of control and tumbled over the railing, killing everyone inside. Transit workers have begun installing new barriers to improve safety in some elevated sections of the parkway.
Skid marks lead to the spot on the Bronx River Parkway where an SUV carrying… (Louis Lanzano / Associated…)

New concrete barriers are being erected along elevated stretches of a New York City roadway after a weekend crash that killed seven members of a family. The accident occurred when the family's SUV toppled over one of the original railings and crashed upside-down into the Bronx Zoo.

As transit workers continued their work Thursday morning on the Bronx River Parkway, relatives were preparing for a wake in the afternoon and a funeral Friday for the dead; they ranged from an 85-year-old grandfather to his 3-year-old granddaughter.

All of the people inside the 2004 Honda Pilot died Sunday afternoon when it clipped a center divider while heading south in the left-hand lane. The driver, 45-year-old Maria Gonzalez, then veered across three lanes of southbound traffic, hit a curb and a 4-foot-high railing on the elevated parkway, and tumbled about 60 feet into a section of the Bronx Zoo. Nobody on the ground was injured.

Police have said Gonzalez, whose died along with her parents, sister, daughter, and two nieces, was traveling at about 68 mph in an area where the speed limit is 50. But many drivers routinely drive at least 60 mph on the road, and officials have speculated that Gonzalez may have been driving fast simply to keep pace with traffic.

The crash has drawn new attention to the Bronx River Parkway, which AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair has noted was conceived in 1907 and opened in 1925. The 19-mile parkway, one of the country's first limited-access highways, lacks many modern engineering features, Sinclair has said. The six-lane roadway is on the federal Department of Transportation's "5 Percent Report," a list of thoroughfares from each state deemed most in need of improvements. 

Transit officials say many of the country's parkways, conceived in the early 20th century as America's car culture took hold, are incompatible with the fast-moving, powerful SUVs that now streak along their narrow, winding, often tree-lined lanes. But efforts to modernize them often clash with preservationists' desires to maintain the historic roadways.

The new barriers will be less than three feet high, but they will be concrete and will be placed inside the curb that currently runs parallel to the outer lanes and that critics argue could send vehicles airborne, over the outer railing, if they hit the curb. That is what happened to Gonzalez's SUV; a similar accident occurred last June when a vehicle toppled over one of the 4-foot-tall railings, but the two occupants in that crash survived.

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tina.susman@latimes.com

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