Families for Safe Streets — a group of families who have lost loved ones to reckless driving and dangerous conditions on New York City streets — came together on Sunday, February 23 on the steps of City Hall to announce the organization’s formation and to demand an end to traffic fatalities and serious injuries through a rapid implementation of Vision Zero.
“We are parents, children, partners and siblings who represent the full breadth of New York’s diversity,” said Park Slope’s Amy Cohen, who lost her 12-year-old son Sammy Cohen Eckstein in 2013, as she called for a clear timeline of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan, announced February 18. “We envision a city where pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers safely co-exist, and children and adults can travel freely without risk of harm – a city where no loss of life is acceptable.”
De Blasio’s action plan – compiled by an interagency task force – includes increasing enforcement against speeding; developing borough-specific street safety plans; reducing the citywide speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph; expanding neighborhood “slow zones;” applying stiffer penalties on taxi and livery drivers who drive dangerously; and other initiatives to spread across the New York Police Department, the Department of Transportation, the Taxi and Limousine Commission and more.
“We demand a clear timeline, including annual benchmarks and annual death-and-injury-reduction goals from each agency in the task force,” Cohen contended.
Families for Safe Streets, with support of Transportation Alternatives, delivered that message on Monday, February 24 in its testimony at the City Council’s oversight hearing on Vision Zero.
“New York needs Vision Zero,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White, echoing the sentiments of New York City residents who had stood, the day before, in memory of lost sons, daughters, mothers and fathers.
“Our son was a warm, loving, energetic and bright child,” said Cohen of her son. “If the speed limit had been 20 mph, the driver likely would have been able to stop and Sammy would likely still be alive today. He was just two months shy of his 13th birthday.”
Cohen – like others – stressed the importance of reevaluating the speed limit, an issue Brooklyn State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan has already gotten behind, sponsoring legislation in the State Senate to empower city officials to make speed limit changes as they deem necessary.
Monday’s testimony also came in wake of another Brooklyn-based pedestrian fatality. At 9:10 a.m. Sunday morning, 25-year-old Gedalia Gruntzwig was fatally struck at the intersection of Kingston Avenue and Carroll Street by a New York City Department of Sanitation truck attempting to make a right onto Carroll Street.
“Sadly, this incident once again underscores the need for motorists, as well as cyclists and pedestrians, to take extra precautions in hazardous weather conditions, such as we have experienced this winter,” said Borough President Eric Adams. “We must also act with even greater urgency towards the implementation of Vision Zero, the city’s plan to prevent traffic fatalities, improve pedestrian safety and protect our most vulnerable populations. Events such as these emphasize how we cannot allow any distractions, political or otherwise, to stand in the way of keeping New Yorkers safe.”