Sarah Goodyear is a Brooklyn-based contributing writer to CityLab. She's written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog.
A robust turnout at a recent rally indicates progress in terms of public awareness and support.
On Monday morning, 35-year-old Alejandro Moran-Marin became the latest person to die when hit by a driver on the streets of New York City.
Moran-Marin was riding his bike near the busy intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues in Brooklyn when he was reportedly hit by Claudio Rodriguez, 37. According to witness accounts, Rodriguez had rear-ended another vehicle before crossing the yellow line to collide with Moran-Marin, dragging his bicycle under the SUV’s wheels and killing him on the spot.
The driver apparently traveled about three blocks from the initial impact, hitting a second car before running into a bollard outside the Long Island Railroad Station and finally coming to a halt. Six people ended up in the hospital—including Rodriguez, who according to the Brooklyn Eagle told police he had skipped taking the medication that controls his seizures.
The crash happened at a hellish intersection near the Barclays Center, where Mayor Bill de Blasio wanted to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Already this year, according to DNAInfo, more than 150 crashes have happened in the surrounding area.
On Tuesday evening, in a rally planned well before this latest horrific crash, about 1,000 people gathered in Union Square in Manhattan to call for swifter, more decisive action to make the city’s streets safer. The latest fatality was acknowledged by a moment of silence as those present raised yellow flowers in tribute. So far this year, 123 New Yorkers have been killed and nearly 24,000 injured in traffic crashes. Traffic deaths overall were down over the first six months of this year compared to last, but the number of pedestrians killed was steady.
The Tuesday rally was organized by a group called Families for Safe Streets, founded by New Yorkers who have lost those dearest to them—their children, their parents, their spouses—to traffic crashes. It is a group of people from vastly disparate backgrounds who have come together to demand that the city do better, that the Vision Zero policy adopted by de Blasio at the beginning of his administration be more than an empty promise to end traffic fatalities.
The robust turnout for the rally (documented by Streetfilms) indicated that the group might be getting somewhere in terms of raising public awareness and support on this issue. Not only was there a sea of participants wearing yellow shirts, a color Families for Safer Streets chose to symbolize optimism and hope. Several government officials were in attendance as well, including Letitia James, the city’s public advocate; Polly Trottenberg, commissioner of the city’s department of transportation; taxi and limousine commissioner Meera Joshi; eight city council members, among them Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the city council’s transportation committee; and three state assembly members.
The Families for Safe Streets group, in coalition with Transportation Alternatives, has also been a persistent force in Albany, where they lobbied for a 25 mile per hour speed limit and against an attempt to relax the city’s new Right of Way law, which was designed to make it easier to prosecute drivers who seriously injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way.
In the Netherlands in the 1970s, families who had lost children to traffic crashes were a decisive force behind reforms to that nation’s streets. They began a mass movement that used the slogan “stop the child murder.” Today, streets in the Netherlands are a global model for safety and pleasantness. Families for Safe Streets echoes the Dutch approach in its emphasis on the human cost of failing to design streets for people rather than vehicles, and not holding drivers accountable for their actions.
The message seems to be getting through. Just hours before the rally, another elected official, Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, had ridden his bicycle to the crash site near Barclays and called for the department of transportation to fast-track design improvements to the hazardous intersection.
“Vision Zero is not a slogan,” said Adams, according to DNAInfo. “It is a mandate that we allow all to utilize our roadways in a safe fashion. The days of vehicles [being] the only traffic on our roadways are over.”
Adams also held up a car part that was left on the site after the crash. “This car part is replaceable,” he said, according to Gothamist reporter Lauren Evans. “The life that was lost here is not.”