Spate of pedestrian deaths prompts calls for traffic safety

lucian merryweather
Chalk messages, flowers and police tape remain at the Fort Greene street corner where 9-year-old Lucian Merryweather was killed by an SUV two weeks ago.
Credit: Bess Adler, Metro

So far this has been a bloody week for pedestrians in New York City.

On Tuesday morning, a 47-year-old man was struck and killed by a car while crossing the street in Queens. On Monday, a 65-year-old woman in East Harlem was hit and killed by a box truck. A few hours before that, two pedestrians were killed when a 22-year-old lost control of his Camaro and jumped the curb on Queens Boulevard.

With a seeming uptick in traffic injuries and fatalities, some are wondering if the city could do more to prevent such tragedies.

Some safety advocates, like Transportation Alternatives, argue that the city is not doing nearly enough. They’re calling for a two-pronged approach: an increase in police response and more expansive infrastructural change.

The deaths that have garnered the most attention have been those of young children.

Lucian Merryweather, 9, was killed Nov. 2 on a quiet street corner in residential Fort Greene. A few weeks earlier, 12-year-old Sammy Cohen-Eckstein was killed right off Prospect Park. Both of those deaths brought the issue of pedestrian fatalities back into the spotlight. The chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, Jimmy Vacca, even said Cohen-Eckstein’s death prompted him to call an emergency traffic safety hearing.

Mayor-elect Bill De Blasio has touted the Vision Zero plan, a list of safety recommendations recommended by Transportation Alternatives and the Drum Major Institute, which aims to eliminate traffic injuries and deaths over the course of the next decade. Future Public Advocate Letitia James has also signaled that traffic safety is an issue she will fight for.

And on Wednesday night, Queens residents took to the streets with the message “Three Children Too Many,” citing the deaths of three young children that happened in just one Queens neighborhood, all run over by cars. The group called on the city to enact more traffic-calming measures citywide.

The Bloomberg administration has already taken steps to implement some of the measures outlined in the Vision Zero plan. The Department of Transportation has already established fourteen 20 mile-per-hour slow zones in residential areas, and is finalizing plans for 15 more. The city received its first speed cameras this fall, and several arterial streets have undergone the “road diet” plan, which calls for cutting down on multiple lanes, adding bike lanes and adding pedestrian plazas where appropriate.

The NYPD seems to be taking the problem of speeding seriously as well: In an anti-speeding initiative last month, officers issued 736 summonses to drivers in the span of just one weekend.

Paul Steely White, the executive director at Transportation Alternatives, acknowledged a “new sense of urgency” and expressed hope that propelled by that sense, further progress in safety measures can be expected.

“We’re in a new era,” White said. “The new public safety imperative is traffic safety.”

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


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