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Posts from the Letitia James Category


Traffic Violence Victims’ Families Tell Their Stories at City Hall

The family of Kelly Gordon, killed on York Avenue three weeks ago, joined council members and other victims' families outside City Hall today. Photo: Stephen Miller

The family of Kelly Gordon, killed on York Avenue three weeks ago, joined other victims’ families and City Council members outside City Hall today. Photo: Stephen Miller

Before the big City Council hearing on street safety legislation this afternoon, elected officials joined families of traffic violence victims outside City Hall to push for speed camera and speed limit bills in Albany, along with more traffic enforcement and better street designs from the de Blasio administration.

Three weeks ago, 22-year-old Kelly Gordon was struck and killed on York Avenue. She was going to graduate from Boston College in May. Today, her family came to City Hall to tell her story.

“To clear up the record, it was reported in the press that Kelly was jaywalking. She was not. The police report reflects that. Witnesses reflect that. Kelly was not jaywalking,” said Gordon’s aunt, Lori Centerella. “She was standing just off the curb when a driver sped through the yellow light, struck her, and sent her into the path of another driver.”

Both drivers were operating yellow cabs. “These two taxi drivers left that scene with not even a single summons,” said her father, Donald Gordon. “For all we know, they could’ve picked up another passenger a block away.”

Centerella was overwhelmed by the number of families at City Hall this afternoon who had also lost loved ones to traffic violence. “When we came here today, we thought we would be the only ones,” she said. “Look at all the families that have walked this road before us.”

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Pratt Center Suggests Eight Routes for Robust BRT — Is de Blasio Listening?

The Pratt Center is recommending eight BRT routes, primarily for outer-borough trips beyond the subway’s reach.

The Pratt Center is recommending eight BRT routes, primarily for trips beyond the subway’s reach. Image: Pratt Center

In 2008, a coalition led by the Pratt Center for Community Development laid out a vision for 12 Bus Rapid Transit lines across the city. Nearly six years later, NYC DOT and the MTA have installed six Select Bus Service routes in four boroughs, with plans for more. At a panel discussion this morning, the Pratt Center unveiled a new report [PDF] showing eight routes that are ripe for Bus Rapid Transit, featuring upgrades like separated busways and stations with fare gates and platform-level boarding.

During the mayoral campaign, Bill de Blasio promised to build a BRT network of more than 20 lines citywide. The big question is whether he’ll follow through after January and turn recommendations like the Pratt report into real policy.

“Select Bus Service is a breakthrough for our city,” said Joan Byron of the Pratt Center. But SBS routes, criticized as “BRT-lite” for relying on striped bus lanes instead of dedicated busways, can only do so much for riders making longer trips in the outer boroughs, she added. “What the neighborhoods that are outside of the reach of the subway need is to put the ‘rapid’ into Bus Rapid Transit.”

The report, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, identifies eight routes along corridors where 2.3 million people currently live within a half-mile. The routes are split into two phases: The first four are along wide rights-of-way with the capacity to host dedicated busways and stations, Byron said, while the final four are along trickier routes that could be easier to implement after the public judges the success of the first four.

The eight routes in the Pratt Center report are:

  • LaGuardia Airport to the Rockaways via Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard
  • Jamaica to Flushing via Main Street, continuing to Hunts Point in the Bronx via the Whitestone Bridge and Bruckner Boulevard
  • Conversion of a rail corridor on Staten Island’s North Shore to a multi-leg BRT route, currently in planning at the MTA
  • Sunset Park to JFK Airport via Linden Boulevard, connecting with a cluster of medical centers in central Brooklyn
  • Far Rockaway to Jamaica via Nassau Expressway and Rockaway Boulevard
  • Sunset Park to JFK Airport via Kings Highway and Flatlands Avenue
  • East Harlem to Co-Op City via a cluster of medical centers along Eastchester Road in East Bronx
  • Richmond Avenue in Staten Island to Manhattan via Jersey City and the Holland Tunnel

Byron said the Pratt Center focused on these routes because many outer borough neighborhoods are seeing population changes as low-income households are priced out of areas closer to Manhattan with better transit access. “We’ve had population shifts that we’re just beginning to understand,” she said. “When I was growing up, this was the land of Archie Bunker.”

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Park Avenue in Clinton Hill Awaits Fixes as Another Crash Caught on Camera

Last September, local elected officials joined the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership and students from Benjamin Banneker Academy on Brooklyn’s Park Avenue to clock speeding drivers. The Partnership released a report offering suggestions to city agencies about how to improve pedestrian safety on the dangerous avenue, which has a crash rate higher than three-quarters of Brooklyn streets. More than a year later, the city has yet to advance any significant changes.

In the meantime, the crashes continue. One hotspot is the intersection with Washington Avenue, which in the span of 20 days saw two drivers run red lights and crash into other vehicles, sending vehicles onto the sidewalk or through the crosswalk. Last month, a driver heading north on Washington Avenue ran a red light and struck another vehicle traveling west on Park Avenue. The westbound driver careened onto the sidewalk, and the car smashed through the front door of the Fresh Fanatic supermarket. The store captured the crash on its security camera.

Then last Tuesday at approximately 11:20 a.m., a northbound driver on Washington ran the same light, crashing into a westbound van driver before spinning through the crosswalk and into a bike-share station (above). Immediately after this crash, a third driver began driving the wrong way on the eastbound lanes of Park Avenue, crashing head-on into an SUV. FDNY says four people were transported to Woodhull Hospital after last week’s back-to-back crashes, including one person with serious but nonfatal injuries.

“We are puzzled that DOT isn’t taking the next logical step and prioritizing this project,” the Partnership said in a statement last week.  In addition to NYCHA’s Ingersoll and Whitman Houses, there are eight schools along this short stretch of Park Avenue. Community Board 2 unanimously supported the plan in June 2012 and a petition has gathered more than 1,000 signatures. The project is also supported by Council Member Letitia James, Assembly Member Joe Lentol, and Borough President Marty Markowitz.

“The traffic along Park Avenue has been consistently dangerous,” James said in a statement. “It is time DOT take action to address safety along the strip.”

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After Street Safety March, Ken Thompson Talks Tough on Traffic Justice

After street safety demonstrators packed last night’s 88th Precinct community council meeting to demand action after the death of 9-year-old Lucian Merryweather on a Fort Greene sidewalk, elected officials spoke to the audience of well over 100 people. Brooklyn District Attorney-elect Ken Thompson, sitting quietly near the back, only spoke after an audience member asked him if he would combat traffic violence more aggressively than his predecessor, Charles Hynes. Although he didn’t reveal many details, Thompson offered a small glimpse into how he views the DA’s role in combatting dangerous driving.

Ken Thompson. Photo: Daily News

Ken Thompson. Photo: Daily News

“What I intend to do is take these cases very seriously,” he said. “I intend to do things differently. I can’t tell you right now how that’s going to play out, but there’s going to be a change with me.” Thompson encouraged people concerned about traffic violence to reach out to him before he takes office in January. (Streetsblog reached out to the Thompson campaign twice during the race for DA. The campaign did not respond to our queries.)

“Maybe there needs to be certain prosecutors assigned to these cases,” Thompson said, “so we don’t have every fatality blamed on the victim.”

After the meeting, Streetsblog pressed Thompson for details about his plans: Would he review all NYPD crash investigations? Would he seek to make more use of the state’s reckless driving law? Thompson avoided offering specifics: “We should thoroughly investigate and follow the evidence wherever it leads us. And when I’m Brooklyn DA, I intend to investigate and prosecute motorists that deserve to be investigated and prosecuted,” he said. “I’m going to take an aggressive approach to this issue.”

Thompson’s most substantive responses came after I asked if he will increase the size of the vehicular crimes unit. “That’s something I’m thinking about,” he said. “You have to think long and hard about when there were other prosecutions under the current administration.”

Hynes has filed charges against the driver who killed Merryweather. He has prosecuted a handful of cases in recent years against other drivers involved in fatal crashes that did not involve alcohol or fleeing the scene.

“There’s all types of criminality that could be committed by somebody driving a vehicle that hits and kills someone,” Thompson said, emphasizing that “criminality” does not just include leaving the scene and drunk or impaired driving. “It’s not just fatalities. Beyond fatalities, somebody can be seriously injured, and not killed, but they still need justice.”

Thompson, who lives in Clinton Hill, said he was saddened by Merryweather’s death. “I have a 9-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son. I’m here to learn more about this because the DA’s office has to change,” he said. “The DA has to play a role. That’s why I’m here.”

Thompson was followed by Public Advocate-elect Letitia James, who currently represents the area on the City Council and has made street safety a top issue before assuming her new office. “We need to put an end to this,” she said, “so running a red light does not result in death, it results in a ticket.”

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Families and Friends of Traffic Violence Victims March for Justice in Queens

In the past two weeks, four New Yorkers have been killed by reckless drivers while walking on the sidewalk. At least one senior has been killed in the crosswalk. The victims came from every walk of life, from many different corners of the city, and ranged in age from 9 to 79. Last night in Jackson Heights, family, friends, and neighbors of people killed by drivers joined elected officials and advocates to march for justice and demand action from the city.

The march covered a mile and a half along Northern Boulevard and 37th Avenue, from Corona to Jackson Heights. Along the way, the group of nearly 70 people stopped at crash sites to honor victims. The march was organized by Three Children Too Many, a Jackson Heights-based group that formed in response to the vehicular killings of young people in Queens, including Jahir FigueroaMiguel Torres, Luis Bravo, and Allison Liao.

Family members spoke about their loved ones, pleading with the city for action and asking drivers to stop engaging in reckless behavior. Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao spoke movingly about their daughter Allison, 3, who was killed by a turning driver while walking in the crosswalk with her grandmother on Main Street in Flushing.

Christina Lee of Elmhurst was there to remember Luis Bravo, 19, killed by a hit-and-run driver in Woodside in September. “It hurts. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about him,” she said. “He was my daughter’s boyfriend. He was always at the house; he was like one of my own children.”

Bravo’s mother does not speak English, so Lee has been acting as the intermediary between her and the police, who have still not caught Bravo’s killer. “I tried to talk with a detective on the case,” Lee said, “but he just told me basically if they haven’t caught the guy who did it after a week, then it’s going to be really hard to track down the person.” Lee has not heard anything from the detective in about three weeks and is planning to return to the 108th Precinct with Bravo’s mother to make sure NYPD hasn’t given up on the case.

At the corner of Junction Boulevard and Northern Boulevard, where Jahir Figueroa was killed by an alleged drunk driver, Bravo’s mother pleaded with State Senator José Peralta. “Yo quiero justicia… Ayúdame Señor Peralta, ayúdame!” she said. “Ya no queremos más muertes.” (“I want justice… Help me, Mr. Peralta, help me! We don’t want any more deaths.”)

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At Merryweather Vigil, Public Advocate-Elect Pledges to Push for Safe Streets

About 150 people gathered at Clermont and DeKalb Avenues last night to remember Lucian Merryweather, 9, who was killed on the sidewalk by a reckless driver. Photo: Stephanie Keith/DNAinfo

About 150 people gathered at a vigil last night for Lucian Merryweather, the nine year-old killed on the sidewalk by a reckless driver who jumped the curb at the intersection of Clermont and DeKalb Avenues in Brooklyn.

Speakers at last night’s vigil included Merryweather’s family and friends, Council Member Tish James, who was elected to the Public Advocate’s office yesterday, Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley, council member-elect Laurie Cumbo, and neighborhood residents, including actress Rosie Perez.

At the rally, James said that she has spoken to mayor-elect Bill de Blasio about the importance and immediacy of improving street safety. “There was a lot of grief and anger,” James told Streetsblog today. “Clearly something has to be done.”

Merryweather was at least the tenth child age 13 and under to be killed by a New York City driver so far this year, according to data compiled by Streetsblog. Anthony Byrd, 59, the driver who killed Lucian Merryweather, faces felony assault and a number of other charges brought by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. He is scheduled to appear in Kings County Criminal Court on Friday.

James told Streetsblog that she spoke with DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly about Merryweather’s death, and is expecting the 88th Precinct to announce new traffic enforcement plans soon. James said she’d like to see stings using undercover officers for speeding, texting, and reckless driving on DeKalb, Lafayette, Washington, and Lafayette Avenues.

In August, the latest month for which data is available, the 88th Precinct issued six speeding tickets and did not issue any tickets for failure to yield to pedestrians [PDF]. The precinct’s next community council meeting will be held on November 19 at 7 p.m. at the French Speaking Baptist Church at 209 Clermont Avenue, a block from the site of the crash.

Community members interested in safer streets are also invited to a meeting this Saturday hosted by Make Lafayette Safer, organized by Hilda Cohen, who lives three blocks away from where Merryweather was killed. “I just wanted to give community members a way to see that they can become the people who make changes,” she said. “It’s one thing to be at the vigil and say something, and it’s another to get out there and do something.”

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Last-Minute Voter Guide to the Public Advocate Run-Off

Have you voted yet?

The Democratic runoff election for public advocate is happening right now. Candidates Tish James and Dan Squadron each have impressive bona fides when it comes to livable streets. In his four years in Albany, Squadron took the lead in shepherding a number of street safety bills through the State Senate. StreetsPAC-endorsed James has been a reliable voice of reason in the City Council, a proponent of street redesigns in her district, and has pledged to use the public advocate’s office to draw attention to NYPD traffic enforcement. In a televised runoff debate, both reiterated their support for congestion pricing.

Despite having a relatively tiny budget and limited power, the public advocate has bully a pulpit that can be used to highlight whatever issues s/he deems important. The public advocate steps in if the mayor is unable to complete a term, and the job often serves as a springboard to run for higher office.

Here’s an overview of positions taken by James and Squadron on street safety, transit, parking and related issues.



Turnout today is expected to be very low, so your vote can help make the difference for either candidate. The polls close at 9 p.m.


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.

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Scenes From Last Night’s Bike-Share Forum in Fort Greene

Last night, Council Member Tish James held a public forum after receiving complaints about bike-share stations in her district, covering Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. The event, held inside Sacred Heart Church on Clermont Avenue, attracted an audience of about 100, with a small majority there to show support for bike-share. For two hours, residents expressed support or vented frustration at the microphone, with James and NYC DOT Policy Director Jon Orcutt stepping in to provide information.

At the start of the meeting, James said she was saddened to see that bike-share stations had been defaced with posters. “You don’t have the right to deface public property,” she said.

Although the flyers glued onto stations focused heavily on corporate sponsorship and historic preservation, James dismissed this argument from the start. “Tonight’s meeting is not about corporate branding. Not going there,” she said. “Tonight’s meeting is not about, ‘Should this be in a landmarked district?'” Despite her ground rules, the issue came up repeatedly from audience members.

The issue that commanded the most discussion last night, however, was on-street parking.

First, some facts: There are 6,800 on-street parking spots in the area bounded by Classon Avenue, Fulton Street, Flatbush Avenue and Flushing Avenue. In that zone, 22 bike-share stations were installed, adding 600 public bike docks. Two-thirds of the stations are on the sidewalk, after community meetings revealed a preference for that type of installation. Stations that were installed in the roadbed took 35 parking spaces, Orcutt told the audience — one half of one percent of the total number of spaces in the neighborhood.

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Last-Minute Venue Change for Fort Greene/Clinton Hill Bike-Share Meeting

This just in: Council Member Tish James has moved the location of tonight’s neighborhood forum about bike-share. The meeting starts at 6:30 and the new location is: Sacred Heart Church, 30 Clermont Avenue between Flushing and Park.