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Halloween: A Lot Less Scary If Drivers and Roads Were Safer

Halloween is fun because we get to be afraid of things that we know aren’t really scary. But for little trick or treaters in the United States, the danger posed by reckless drivers and unsafe roads is real.

A 2012 study by insurance company State Farm found that motorists kill more children on Halloween than on any other day of the year. Reported LoHud:

From 1990 to 2010, 115 pedestrians under the age of 18 were killed by motor vehicles on Oct. 31, an average of 5.5 fatalities a year during that period.  There are an average of 2.6 child pedestrian deaths other days of the year, the report found.

Above is a tweet from the Maryland State Highway Administration, which is loaning reflective vests for kids to wear tonight. The agency has a tip sheet for pedestrians and motorists, but holiday-themed PR campaigns are not a substitute for streets that are safe for walking 365 days a year.

Yet that doesn’t stop us from victim-blaming. ”Crowds of trick-or-treaters traveling the streets contribute to the increased risk,” wrote LoHud.

The State Farm study also noted that more than 70 percent of crashes that kill kids on Halloween “occurred away from an intersection or crosswalk,” implying that unsafe pedestrian behavior, rather than lack of pedestrian infrastructure, is the issue. State Farm advises parents and kids to “stick to neighborhoods with sidewalks.” While this advice is easy to follow in some major cities, complete streets are not the norm in most of the country.

Suggesting pedestrians wear reflective tape and asking motorists to not kill people isn’t getting the job done. To keep kids safe every day, we need streets designed to accommodate them.

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It’s Still Legal to Run Over a Child on a New York City Sidewalk [Updated]

An 8-year-old girl run over on the sidewalk outside her Bronx school Friday was one of at least two New York City pedestrians killed by motorists over the weekend. A woman struck while walking to work in Brooklyn Sunday morning was the second victim. No charges have been filed in either crash. NYPD and the Post blamed the Brooklyn victim for her own death.

Rylee Ramos. Photo via Daily News

A driver fatally struck 8-year-old Rylee Ramos and injured several others, including two more children, on the sidewalk outside a Bronx school. No charges were filed. Photo via Daily News

On Friday afternoon, Sonia Rodriguez backed onto a sidewalk adjacent to PS 307, striking 10 people, according to reports. At least two victims, including third-grader Rylee Ramos, were students who had just been dismissed from school. From the Daily News:

Rylee and her friend, Genesis Rodriguez, were only paces away from the school’s front door along Eames Place in Kingsbridge Heights when a blue Honda Accord hopped the curb and hit them about 2:45 p.m. The 55-year-old woman behind the wheel then tried to drive forward but all that did was “hit more people,” said Eliasser Lopez, 11. “It was something out of this world,” Eliasser said of the horror.

When the driver finally stopped, Rylee was injured beyond saving, though some tried to give her CPR. The car hit the girl so hard it crushed one of her lungs, family members said.

“[Sonia] Rodriguez hit a chain-link fence,” the Daily News reported, “a wrought-iron gate and a parked vehicle before pinning little Rylee to a pole, police said.” 

Ramos was pronounced dead at St. Barnabas Hospital. Genesis Rodriguez was hospitalized, as was a 4-year-old girl and four women.

Video posted by the Daily News, embedded after the jump, shows the car backing onto the sidewalk as Rodriguez appears to accelerate. Friday’s incident was reminiscent of a 2013 crash in which a motorist hit five children on a sidewalk near a school in Maspeth. Several children sustained severe, life-altering injuries as a result of the Queens crash, and one victim died days later from a reported asthma attack. The driver, identified as Francis Aung Lu, was not charged by NYPD or District Attorney Richard Brown.

Rodriguez was questioned and released by police after the Bronx crash, according to the Times. Streetsblog has asked DA Robert Johnson’s office if charges are being considered. Update: A source with Johnson’s office says the crash is under investigation.

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Maximum Penalty for Cab Driver Who Killed Cooper Stock: 15 Days and $750

The cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock last January was charged this month with failure to exercise due care, a traffic infraction that carries a maximum 15-day jail sentence and a small fine.

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via ##http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/treat-reckless-driving-like-drunk-driving/##New York Times##

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via New York Times

According to court records and the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, an arrest warrant was issued for Koffi Komlani on October 1. He was arraigned in criminal court on October 7, pled not guilty, and was released on his own recognizance.

Here’s how the Daily News described the latest developments in the case, in a story that ran today:

The cabbie who hit and killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock, as the child crossed the street with his father, has been charged in the boy’s death, the Daily News has learned.

Driver Koffi Komlani was arrested Oct. 8 and charged with failure to exercise due care by the Manhattan district attorney, sources said Thursday.

It’s common for the tabloids to make it seem as if law enforcers are seeing justice done for victims of traffic violence when, in actuality, the motorist in question faces relatively mild consequences. The Daily News story looks like another example.

Failure to exercise due care is a violation of VTL 1146 — Hayley and Diego’s Law. Though Komlani was arraigned in criminal court, this is a traffic violation, not a criminal offense. Drivers summonsed for careless driving are subject to jail time of up to 15 days, fines of up to $750, a license suspension of up to six months, and a mandatory drivers’ ed course. These are maximum penalties. The minimum is no penalty at all.

Prosecutors with Vance’s office told Cooper’s family last spring that they would not be filing criminal charges against Komlani.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission opted not to renew Komlani’s probationary hack license when it expired in July. Vance’s office said the judge suspended his drivers license pending the outcome of the case. Komlani’s next court appearance is scheduled for December.

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TLC Commish: It’s Up to NYPD to Get Reckless Cab Drivers Off the Streets

Dana Lerner, Cooper Stock's mother, before today's TLC hearing, with City Council Member Helen Rosenthal at left. Photo: Brad Aaron

Dana Lerner, Cooper Stock’s mother, before today’s TLC hearing, with City Council Member Helen Rosenthal at left. Photo: Brad Aaron

The success or failure of a Vision Zero law intended to get reckless cab drivers off the road will depend on how often NYPD issues summonses and charges after serious crashes, the Taxi and Limousine Commission confirmed today.

Cooper Stock, 9, was killed last January by a cab driver who failed to yield on West End Avenue. Signed by Mayor de Blasio in June as part of a package of street safety bills, Cooper’s Law allows the TLC to suspend or revoke hack licenses of cab drivers who cause critical injury or death as a result of breaking traffic laws.

The law takes effect Sunday, but as we reported when the bill passed the City Council, since action against a cab driver’s TLC license hinges on a conviction for a traffic violation or a criminal charge, its effectiveness may be severely compromised. Of thousands of crashes annually in which pedestrians and cyclists are injured and killed, NYPD investigates only a few hundred.

At a public hearing this morning on TLC rule changes necessitated by new Vision Zero laws, Dana Lerner, Cooper’s mother, asked TLC board members and Commissioner Meera Joshi how the law would be enforced. Joshi said the TLC “works closely” with NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan and the Collision Investigation Squad, which according to Joshi has for the past few months contacted the TLC “within minutes” of any serious crash involving a for-hire driver. Upon getting the word from NYPD, Joshi said, the TLC dispatches inspectors to crash scenes.

The problem with this protocol is that it doesn’t necessarily involve CIS, which still handles a tiny fraction of crashes. And even in cases where known information points to driver behavior as the primary cause of a serious crash, CIS investigations rarely result in summonses or charges.

Despite an unprecedented push from the mayor and City Council to reduce traffic violence, NYPD has shown no signs of reforming its crash investigation policies. This is evident in the department’s failure to enforce another new law, known as Section 19-190, that makes it a misdemeanor for a motorist to harm a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way.

Since Section 19-190 took effect in August, New York City motorists have killed at least seven pedestrians and injured countless others. To date, no drivers have been reported charged under the law.

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In Jackson Heights, Kids Learn About Bike Safety and Document Speeding

On Saturday, Make Queens Safer kicked off the school year with a safe streets fair at Travers Park in Jackson Heights, next to the 78th Street play street. DOT distributed 723 bike helmets, more than half of them to children, and 70 kids swapped out their old bikes for right-sized models provided by Recycle-A-Bicycle. Hundreds of kids also participated in learn-to-ride classes from Bike New York and had their bicycles repaired by the Bike Yard.

At the event, Make Queens Safer hosted a “kid engineers” traffic study, where local students used speed guns on traffic along 34th Avenue. The students documented speeding, red light running, and near-collisions. They found that up to 17 percent of drivers were speeding, with a maximum observed speed of 41 mph.

Council Member Daniel Dromm was one of the adults supervising the kids performing the study. “I applaud Make Queens Safer for putting together this important event,” he said in a statement. “Providing the tools and knowledge on how to safely navigate the streets of our neighborhoods can help reduce accidents and improve the quality of life for all members of our community.”

Can’t get enough bike events for kids? Join Kidical Mass for its September ride along five miles of the Brooklyn waterfront, starting at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. An RSVP on Facebook is requested.

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NYPD’s Back-to-School Street Safety Tips: The Good, the Bad, and the “Huh?”

It’s back-to-school time, and NYPD has some advice for drivers. Image: NYPD

Occasional tweets (and actual policing) aside, NYPD has gotten savvier with its traffic safety messages under Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. For the start of school, the police blasted out information aimed at both drivers and kids. While there’s room for improvement, it’s a step up from some of the department’s previous traffic safety tips.

The latest round of street safety information began popping up on NYPD Twitter accounts in the final days of August as city agencies began sending out material for the start of the school year. The information for drivers is about as spot-on as one could hope for, with explanations of how to drive safely near school buses, as well as reminders to keep an eye out for kids and to not block crosswalks. The flyer also includes an admonition against revving the engine or honking to intimidate children crossing the street, something that’s not a tip so much as a marker of basic human decency.

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De Blasio and DOT Ring In the New School Year With More Speed Cameras

Mayor de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg today officially announced the expansion of the city’s speed camera program, which will eventually bring automated enforcement to 140 school zones across the boroughs. Today’s event also underscored the fact that streets around schools won’t be as safe as they could be, thanks to restrictions imposed by Albany.

All 140 speed cameras allowed by Albany will be operational next year. Will state lawmakers lift constraints that prevent cameras from saving lives? Photo: ##https://twitter.com/NYCMayorsOffice/status/506813044467728384##@NYCMayorsOffice##

All 140 speed cameras allowed by Albany will be operational next year. Will state lawmakers lift constraints that prevent cameras from saving lives? Photo: @NYCMayorsOffice

At a press conference this morning at PS 95, on Hillman Avenue in the Bronx, de Blasio and Trottenberg were joined by NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan and State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein, a key supporter of legislation that brought the first 20 speed cams to NYC streets last year.

“Our kids are going to be safer walking to school and coming home because of this new enforcement,” said de Blasio via a press release. “We are sending a powerful message that we take safety near our schools seriously, and we will enforce the law to keep children safe.”

With the new school year set to start Thursday, DOT is on its way to deploying the 120 additional cameras authorized by state lawmakers earlier this year. Twenty-three cameras will be up and running this week, according to a de Blasio spokesperson, with 40 to 50 cameras operational by the end of 2014. All 140 cameras are expected to be online by the end of 2015.

Speeding was the leading cause of traffic deaths in NYC in 2012, contributing to 81 fatal crashes. Automated enforcement is vital to reducing traffic casualties, but NYC’s cameras come with a bevy of conditions that limit their effectiveness. Per today’s press release:

DOT is permitted to place cameras within a quarter mile of a corridor passing a school building, entrance or exit of a school on the corridor. The cameras are only active on school days during school hours, one hour before and one hour after the school day, as well as during student activities at the school, and 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after school activities.

In addition, cameras can only ticket drivers who speed by 11 or more miles per hour, and the penalty for speed cam tickets is a nominal $50 fine, with no license points. According to a Transportation Alternatives analysis of DMV data, the majority of fatal speeding-related crashes statewide occur on weekends or between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weeknights — hours when speed cameras aren’t normally allowed to operate. To prevent as many injuries and deaths as possible, state lawmakers should remove these restrictions.

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Kidical Mass NYC and Summer Streets Bring Out the Tykes on Bikes

kidical_mass_cadman

This just about captures the mood on the ride from Borough Hall to Astor Place. (Note: Biking on the sidewalk is legal in NYC if you’re under 13.) All photos: Ben Fried

Mission accomplished for the first Kidical Mass NYC ride: The all-ages Saturday morning bike convoy from Brooklyn Borough Hall to Summer Streets was a ton of fun.

Moms, dads, and kids — about two dozen people all told — made the trip with an assortment of box bikes, child seats, trailers, and kiddie cycles. The self-propelled children were super impressive. No one had training wheels, and they all made it over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Here are some photos of the ride, plus some shots of Summer Streets, which seems to be drawing more families with kids every year. To plug into the next Kidical Mass NYC ride, follow them on Facebook.

kidical_mass_staging

At Kidical Mass, everyone got their cues from ride organizers Ali Loxton and Doug Gordon.

kidical_mass_cadman2

First leg: Cadman Plaza.

kidical_mass_brooklyn_bridge

Tourists all over the place on the Brooklyn Bridge? No problem.

Summer Streets itself has turned into a great family event and on-the-ground classroom for precocious cyclists. It is simply amazing to see kids as young as 4 pedaling down Park Avenue and Lafayette Street. And there are a ton of them…

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Tomorrow: It’s Kidical Mass NYC!

Tomorrow brings the first official ride for Kidical Mass NYC, an opportunity for adult cyclists of varying skill levels to hit the streets with their little ones.

Galit Gordon is ready for the inaugural Kidical Mass NYC ride. Photo: Dmitry Gudkov via ##https://twitter.com/BrooklynSpoke/status/498895992528601088/photo/1##@BrooklynSpoke##

Galit Gordon is ready for Kidical Mass NYC. Photo: Dmitry Gudkov via @BrooklynSpoke

As the name implies, Kidical Mass brings together kids and parents for group rides. Many cities — including Washington, Philadelphia, and Portland —  have chapters. The local effort was inspired by the relatively recent proliferation of kid-carting cargo bikes in Brooklyn, says Doug Gordon, who founded the group with Alexandra Loxton and Hilda Cohen.

“It used to be that such bikes were rather uncommon in New York, but that’s not the case so much anymore,” says Gordon. “So we started talking about other families who ride with their kids or who have these kinds of bicycles and thought it would be fun to get a lot of them together.”

While the rides are intended to help young cyclists gain experience, Cohen says having strength in numbers is good for parents as well.

“We all three ride with our kids, and as they grow older, they are wanting to ride by themselves,” says Cohen. “We as parents are comfortable on our bikes, but there are many that are not, so we are trying to find a way to make parents more comfortable too.”

Participants in Saturday’s ride will meet up at Brooklyn Borough Hall at 8:45 a.m., then head over the Brooklyn Bridge for the last week of Summer Streets. A second ride is planned for September 20 in Gowanus and Red Hook. “We are all three based in Brooklyn,” says Cohen, “but to have these branch out into other boroughs would be ideal.”

The plan is to do one ride per month through fall, take a winter break, and pick things up next spring.

“Biking is probably the first situation for many kids where they are independent of their parents but able to keep up based on their own efforts,” Cohen says. “We feel that every kid should have this opportunity to experience this, regardless of where they live.”

“The main goal, no matter the location, is fun,” says Gordon. “Hopefully this will grow into something that, much like Critical Mass, becomes an event that any interested parent in the five boroughs can organize without much effort.”

There will be snacks tomorrow, along with stickers and “other goodies.” Check out the Kidical Mass NYC Facebook page, RSVP for the ride here, and if you plan to join, see Cohen’s short list of pointers after the jump.

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Off-Duty NYPD Officer Seriously Injures Child in Jackson Heights Crosswalk

The crosswalk where Chunli Mendoza, age 5, and her mother were injured by an off-duty NYPD officer on Tuesday. Photo: Stephen Miller

The crosswalk where Chunli Mendoza, age 5, and her mother were injured by an off-duty NYPD officer on Tuesday. Photo: Stephen Miller

Just after 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, 5-year-old Chunli Mendoza was walking to P.S. 228 with her mother. They were midway across Northern Boulevard at 92nd Street, just a block away from the school, when they were struck by an off-duty NYPD officer. Chunli was seriously injured and remains at Elmhurst Hospital after undergoing surgery on her leg. Her mother, hospitalized for a foot fracture, was released on Thursday.

NYPD says the mother and daughter were struck by an off-duty officer driving a white pickup truck. The driver has not been charged and no summonses were issued. ”We hope the girl makes a full recovery,” an anonymous police official told DNAinfo. “Unfortunately it was a tragic traffic accident.”

Witnesses offered their version of events to reporters yesterday at a rally held by Make Queens Safer at the intersection.

Maria Jose Penaherrera, 37, has a daughter in the first grade at PS 228. She was driving to school that morning and was three cars back from the intersection when the crash occurred. While she did not see a white pickup truck, she does remember a black sedan making a U-turn in the intersection before traffic inched forward and she could see a girl down in the street.

“I knew it was a girl from PS 228 because of the uniform,” she said.

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