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Sunset Parkers react to Vision Zero

Vision Zero is a great step forward for public street safety, but we need to take advantage of the plan’s momentum in order to make real change, say southwest Brooklyn advocates.

“We have been working on this issue for years down here and it’s been a real struggle to get people to take this issue seriously,” said Bob HuDock, a Community Board (CB) 10 board member and former PTA President at P.S. 503, which is located at 59th Street and Fourth Avenue—one of the most accident-prone intersections in this part of Brooklyn.

“[People and community leaders], especially in the outer boroughs, tend to have a motorist mentality and don’t seem to understand the gravity of this issue,” explained HuDock. “As the father of an elementary school child, I find it morally reprehensible that current traffic policies effectively sacrifice children’s lives in the name of smooth traffic flow.”

Citing a steady stream of pedestrian injuries and fatalities, many of them children, and the ongoing problem of cars blowing through lights, Community Board 7 sent a letter to 72nd Precinct Captain James Grant requesting “the same focus and dedication” that he and his officers have shown for crime prevention, only directed towards “equally important public safety issues [of] dangerous driving [and] pedestrian fatalities.”

“Up to seven pedestrians” were killed by cars in the 72nd Precinct—which stretches from 63rd Street in Sunset Park up to 15th Street in South Park Slope—between 2010 and 2012, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

Nearly 90 people were killed or injured between 2006 and 2010 along Fourth Avenue between 15th and 65th Streets, according to the city Department of Transportation (DOT).

On February 18, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his Vision Zero plan to tackle issues of street safety and traffic law enforcement across the city.

His 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 NYPD, DOT, the Taxi and Limousine Commission and more.

This is all a good start, agreed area residents, who recently spent years working with the DOT to implement a redesign of the Fourth Avenue traffic corridor and are just now potentially beginning to reap the rewards.

“We demand a clear timeline, including annual benchmarks and annual death-and-injury-reduction goals from each agency in the task force,” said Park Slope’s Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed by a van on Prospect Park West on October 8, 2013.

Cohen, who is part of newly-formed advocacy group Families for Safe Streets, testified along with other still-grieving parents at a City Council oversight hearing on February 24.

Joining them at the hearing were HuDock and long-time Sunset Park senior Gene Aronowitz, who came to testify on behalf of Brooklyn and New York senior citizens.

“I am concerned about the traffic lights and the speed that older people are allowed [to cross],” said Aronowitz, who ended up speaking instead at a CB 7 Transportation meeting after being unable to wait the over four hours to testify at the Council hearing.

“The way most traffic signals are timed is based on an assumption that people can walk four feet per second,” Aronowitz said. “I’ve done presentations for seniors and they can’t walk that fast. The city does elongate traffic timing where there is a concentration of older people, but people don’t just walk in one place, so I propose a change from four-feet-per-second to at least 3.5-feet-per-second.”

That signal change is also one of several requests brainstormed by CB 7 members for possible submission to the city for Vision Zero consideration. Other ideas include more enforcement, sidewalk extensions, local speed limits, roadway engineering and mindfulness education for both drivers and pedestrians.

Reporting contributed by Meaghan McGoldrick

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