At City Hall, Advocates Call on Mayoral Candidates to Tackle Street Safety

In the wake of a string of pedestrian fatalities, more than 100 people gathered on the steps of City Hall this morning at an event organized by Transportation Alternatives to demand that mayoral candidates step up to address street safety.

“Every 36 hours, a New Yorker dies in traffic,” TA Executive Director Paul Steely White said. In 60 percent of fatal crashes, drivers are breaking the law, White added, and most fatalities occur on major arterial streets. “Bike lanes, pedestrian refuge islands — all these safety improvements are not negotiable,” White said. “They’re not some window dressing. They’re not some flair. These are life-saving improvements.”

There were 451 pedestrian fatalities in New York City from 2009 to 2011, Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool told the crowd. “By 2014, we are on target to match that number, and we shouldn’t be,” she said, adding that traffic is the top cause of death for New York City children and number two for seniors. “Enough is enough.”

Greg Thompson, whose sister Renee was killed by a truck driver last week, joined his aunt and cousin at today’s demonstration. “I’m certainly going to miss my little sister,” he said. “It’s devastating.” After the event, he said that his sister’s death has changed the way he feels when crossing the street. “I am really afraid of the sound of cars now,” he said, noting that the family has not received a copy of the crash report from NYPD. “It’s something that I really didn’t think too hard about before.”

While the city’s transportation engineers have made safety a much higher priority in recent years, the same can’t be said of the NYPD. “It used to be that people thought this was an intractable problem. Streets are the way they are; people are going to die in traffic. It’s just life in the big city. DOT has proven otherwise,” White said. “We have yet to achieve that realization with our NYPD.” White said the belief that the police department is impervious to change is “unacceptable” and called on mayoral candidates to make NYPD reform part of their street safety agendas. ”They’re the boss of the city and they’re the boss of the police department,” he said.

City Council member and public advocate candidate Tish James was the only elected official at today’s event. “I really want to focus on the next police commissioner,” she said, adding that the public advocate’s office can draw attention to the need for improved crash investigations, issue performance audits, and conduct a precinct-by-precinct analysis of traffic enforcement.

Vanterpool thanked elected officials for the city’s recently-approved speed camera program. “That is one measure in a tool kit. Street safety need not end there,” she said, highlighting a transportation platform that street safety advocates, community groups, and environmental organizations are asking the mayoral candidates to support.

TA Deputy Director Noah Budnick told Streetsblog that the group will release the results of its mayoral candidate survey next week. “It’s clear that traffic safety is an issue that you must have positions on to run for mayor,” he said.