A downpour didn’t prevent a crowd of Brooklyn residents, community organizers and officials from gathering under umbrellas on Saturday to demand safety improvements to one of the city’s most dangerous streets, Atlantic Avenue.
The mood was somber as friends and relatives tearfully shared their memories of the thoroughfare’s most recent victim, Katherine Harris. Harris, 31, was mowed down two weeks ago by an alleged drunken driver — Bensonhurst resident Erick Taxilaga Trujillo, 27 — who sped through a red light on Atlantic Avenue at Clinton Street.
The crash took place at the same intersection where Brooklyn Heights resident Martha Atwater was struck and killed in 2013, and where local store owner Muyassar Moustapha was run down in 2015.
Speakers pointed out that literally hundreds of crashes, injuries and deaths have taken place over the years on the avenue, which they said was designed more like a highway than a neighborhood street. In 2014 the speed limit was lowered to 25 mph — yet the design of the street itself encourages rampant speeding.
Speeches were followed by a solemn walk along Atlantic Avenue, with a stop to lay flowers on an ad hoc memorial to Harris that has appeared in a tree pit near the deadly intersection.
‘What are we doing?’
“What are we doing? What is our city doing? What are our leaders doing? Why do we have to be here on the city’s
deadliest road two weeks after yet another one of our neighbors lost their lives, to call for things that are so easy and simple?” state Sen. Andrew Gounardes asked the crowd gathered under the BQE overpass at Furman Street.
Gounardes said his district, which includes Atlantic Avenue from Furman Street to Fourth Avenue, has been calling for safety improvement on the avenue for years.
Officials and activists are calling for traffic-calming- measures to be implemented by NYC DOT such as the following:
• Install mid-block traffic lights to slow traffic and create more efficient pedestrian crossings.
• Redesign pedestrian crossings using “daylighting” and/or raised crosswalks to improve pedestrian visibility. Raised crosswalks were specifically recommended by community members of the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic-Calming Task Force (empaneled in 1999) for the intersections at Hicks, Henry, and Clinton. DOT refused to pilot them at that time.
• Extend the curbs at intersections to calm traffic
• Redesign the sidewalk and pedestrian space surrounding the BQE entrance/exit ramps near the entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park
Borough President Antonio Reynoso said the city prioritizes “car culture.”
“This city knows that Atlantic Avenue has been a problem for a long time,” Reynoso said. “They drag their feet because they don’t want to do the inevitable — which is that we might have to take some lanes away from vehicles. We might have to design crosswalks for people. We might have to rethink the way this city thinks about how we move around. It doesn’t want to do it, because those vehicles are more important than the people who are walking. And I’m over it.”
“It is time we take traffic violence just as seriously as gun violence,” Councilmember Lincoln Restler said. “This is a public health crisis … We’ve lost seven people in just the last decade, and dozens more to serious injuries.
“Right down at the end of this block is one of the most magical parks in the world,” Restler said, referring to
Borough President Antonio Reynoso said, “We should be prioritizing pedestrians, folks going to school, folks going to work, dentist appointments, going to the park. Instead, we
Brooklyn Bridge Park. “And every day kids and families put themselves at risk on these blocks, crossing highway ramp entrances, with no sidewalk space at all, to get to the park.”
As Restler and the others spoke, the sounds of heavy traffic, trucks and horns nearly obscured their words. At one point a car stopped, a man jumped halfway out and began yelling at another driver.
We’ve been working on this for decades
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon called the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Clinton Street particularly dangerous. Simon noted that she and the other long-time community activists in attendance have been working to make Atlantic Avenue safer for decades.
“In 1997, we finally got the mayor to give us a traffic calming project, which was the first one in New York City. Once we got that in gear — it was Mayor Giuliani, by the way — city DOT sat on the contract for a year and a half.” It took five more years to get the project rolling, she said.
Simon added that she also wants to lower the blood alcohol content for DWIs to help prevent drunk driving.
“We know the design solutions are out there,” said Kelly Carroll, executive director of the Atlantic Avenue BID. “We call on DOT to fix this road once and for all, including this interchange. Give it back to the people — connect us back to our waterfront, our park. Give us a public plaza. These are all things Atlantic Avenue does not have, and it’s dangerous for people.”
It’s ‘beyond sadness’
Harris’ boyfriend Chris Kosar was too upset to attend the walk, said Katherine Dallacqua, a friend who worked with Harris. Dallacqua read out loud a letter that Kosar wrote.
“Imagine losing the person that means the most to you. The person that knows more about you than any other person. The person that loves you and all your faults unconditionally … It’s unimaginable until it happens. It’s beyond sadness. It’s all loss of joy,” Kosar wrote.
“It shouldn’t take 20 years to fix Atlantic Avenue,” said Amy Cohen, co-founder of Families for Safe Streets, who lost her own son Sammy to traffic violence. “I have been fighting for three years for a law honoring my son, Sammy’s Law.” The law would lower the city speed limit by 5 mph.
“The bill was introduced on what would have been his twentieth birthday. He didn’t even get to graduate middle school,” Cohen said.
“I’m shocked that so many people showed up. It just goes to show you that a lot of people are starting to realize, ‘Hey, this is really messed up, we have to fix this,’” said Caleb Pen, a volunteer with the Brooklyn branch of Transportation Alternatives. “I’m hoping that at some point it hits this critical mass where people say, ‘We have to change how we get around, and cars are not the way to get around.’”
Other speakers included Kim Glickman representing the Brooklyn Heights Association, Harris’ aunt Jennifer Richtmyer Barton, Councilmember Shahana Hanif, and more. In attendance were members of the Cobble Hill Association, Boerum Hill Association, Willowtown Association, Transportation Alternatives, representatives of officials including Representative Dan Goldman and others.