Hundreds Gather to Launch the Park Slope Street Safety Partnership

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Photo: Doug Gordon

Last night, nearly 200 neighborhood residents gathered for over two hours in the Park Slope United Methodist Church for the launch of the Park Slope Street Safety Partnership, a consortium of civic groups, elected officials, and private citizens created to advance traffic calming efforts in the neighborhood.

Framing the partnership’s goals in terms of Vision Zero and the UK’s “Twenty is Plenty” campaign, Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors displayed a slide with this mission statement: “To initiate an ongoing conversation about, and action plan for, eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries from our street…”

“The ellipses are intentional,” said McClure, noting that this would be just the first in a series of meetings. “We’re not going to fix this tonight.” But with the recent death of 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein in Park Slope, along with crashes that claimed the lives of 9-year-old Lucian Merryweather in Fort Greene and 3-year-old Allison Liao in Flushing, McClure highlighted a growing sense of urgency.  “Sixteen children have been killed in traffic crashes this year,” he said. “We need to fix that not just here in Park Slope, but citywide.”

Council Member Brad Lander emphasized the sense of passion in the church, relating the forum to other projects that succeeded on the strength of community involvement, from the redesign of Grand Army Plaza and Prospect Park West to improvements at Bartel Pritchard Square and along Fourth Avenue. “This crowd is very hopeful and inspiring,” he said. “By acting together, we can save lives.” Lander’s call was later echoed by Public Advocate-elect Letitia James, who said that in her new role she would “remind Bill de Blasio that this is a priority… so that we never have to light candles, sing songs, and bury individuals prematurely.”

Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri of the 78th Precinct gave a brief speech, remarking that his nearly two-year tenure has coincided with some of the biggest challenges to pedestrian safety the neighborhood has faced, most notably the opening of the Barclays Center last year. “I’m here to help the community,” he said.

Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White noted a perceptible change in how issues pertaining to traffic safety are now discussed even outside of government and policy circles. “There is a tidal wave of enlightened citizens working to make our streets safer,” he said, adding that the “three E’s” — engineering, enforcement, and education — provide “all the tools in the tool box needed to achieve Vision Zero.”

But the Cohen-Eckstein family, speaking about the loss of their son Sammy and re-emphasizing their call for 20 mph speed limits, put that goal in a sobering reality. “Even with Vision Zero,” said Amy Cohen, thousands of people will lose their lives on NYC streets before fatalities are eliminated. Gary Eckstein said it will take a sustained effort to make a safer city a reality. “Where there is political will and pressure from voters, change happens.”

Amy cited the example of her son, a young man with a reputation for a commitment to justice. “Were Sammy still alive, he certainly would want to know about this meeting.”

Following the speeches, smaller breakout groups brainstormed ideas related to physical infrastructure improvements, enforcement efforts, and educational campaigns. The forum also had a virtual component, with the concurrent launch of Kids Rely on Safe Streets in the 78th Precinct, a website that allows users to identify the most significant street safety concerns in the neighborhood.