Pol pushes safety bills after pedestrian fatalities rise
BOROUGHWIDE — In the wake of a shocking increase in pedestrian fatalities on New York City streets, State Sen. Andrew Gounardes has announced that he is pushing a package of street safety bills aimed at giving walkers and bike riders equal footing with vehicles on roadways.
Gouanrdes held a press conference outside P.S. 185 on 86th Street near Ridge Boulevard on Feb. 28, where he was joined by the families of pedestrians who were killed, street safety advocates and the school’s students.
“When will all this end?” Gounardes asked after reciting the tragic roster of victims who have been struck and killed by cars and trucks on city streets.
The legislation Gounardes is sponsoring includes a bill that would establish all intersections in New York City as crosswalks, whether they contain painted markings or not, a bill to create a pedestrian safety rating for vehicles based on how likely vehicles are to cause injuries or deaths to pedestrians on roadways and a Dangerous Driver Act that would make it easier for district attorneys to hit motorists with serious charges even if the driver has not previously committed a large number of violations.
Gounardes said he also wants to see better driver education in place. One of his bills would require motorists to take a written test on the rules of the road when they renew their driver’s license.
Gounardes, a Democrat representing several neighborhoods in Southwest Brooklyn, spoke out in the wake of a series of crashes that killed six people in less than one week.
On Feb. 23, Jose Contla, 26, was mowed down by a hit-and-run driver while he was crossing the street at 19th Avenue and 86th Street in Bensonhurst.
Two children were struck and killed in East New York in separate tragedies.
A 10-year-old girl, Patience Heaven Albert, was killed by a school bus at Crescent Street and Wortman Avenue on Feb. 25. Two days later, seven-year-old Payson Lott died after he was hit by an SUV at Pennsylvania and Blake avenues.
Arleen Soto, the grieving sister of Jose Contla, spoke at the press conference, offering a portrait of her brother. Her presence served as a reminder of the human cost of roadway accidents.
“He was just simply crossing the street,” Soto said, describing her brother as a high school dropout who managed to straighten out his life. Contla was a student at Kingsborough Community College and hoped to enroll at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “He found his passion. He hoped someday to become a lawyer,” Soto said.
Gounardes said he was taking action because previous efforts, while commendable, have not stemmed the tragic tide of pedestrian deaths.
“Vision Zero is simply not enough,” he said, referring to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s major street safety initiative.
“Speed cameras are not enough,” he said.
“This keeps happening,” Gounardes said, blaming “a culture of reckless driving.”
The rise in pedestrian deaths should be treated as an emergency, according to Gounardes, who said urgent action is needed and needed fast. “This needs to move at the pace of our modern life, not five-year studies,” he said.
The press conference was attended by street safety advocacy groups such as Transportation Alternatives, Families for Safe Streets and StreetsPAC.
Also in attendance was Preston Ferraiuolo, a high school student who leads the Youth Pedestrian Safety Task Force, a group organized by Gounardes.
Debbie Herdon, a member of Families for Safe Streets, called the rash of crashes an epidemic.
Herdon, who was struck and seriously injured while riding her bike on a Kensington Street four years ago, said the streets are dangerous for pedestrians and bike riders. “Traffic violence is a public health crisis,” she said.
Assemblymember Felix Ortiz, a Democrat representing Sunset Park and parts of Bay Ridge, has sponsored a bill that would add pedestrian and cyclist safety to the pre-licensing course drivers are required to take.
“I would encourage my colleagues and the governor to step up to the plate,” Ortiz said. “We need to take ownership of our streets.”