A Growing Movement to Slow Down the Cars

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In Park Slope, some 200 residents push two plans for safeguarding pedestrians.

Neighborhood Forum Street Safety Flyer. Photo: Kenley Haggart

 

Park Slope United Methodist Church was standing room only last Tuesday, as residents gathered to address the growing trend of traffic fatalities in Brooklyn and initiate the Park Slope Street Safety Partnership. The partnership connects Park Slope residents and civic groups with elected officials with the goal of creating a new traffic strategy that will help deter pedestrian fatalities.

This past October, Samuel Cohen Eckstein, 12, was killed by a van while playing outside. Investigators reported that Eckstein was retrieving a ball that went into the street. Then a man diving 2006 Chevrolet van did not see him and ran him over. Other traffic fatalities this year that helped to magnify traffic concerns were the death of 9-year-old, Lucian Merryweather, in Fort Greene on November 2nd and 3-year-old, Allison Liao, in Flushing, Queens on October 6th.

Eric McClure, A spokesman for Park Slope Neighbors, talked about how the partnership is pushing for new laws and traffic device improvement plans to be approved by New York State government in Albany. Also, he stressed that traffic safety needs to be an ongoing conversation in both the Park Slope and New York City community.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that traffic-related injuries are highest for children from age 5 to 19 years.  Also, the Center reported that more than 500,000 children visit hospital emergency rooms every year due to motor vehicle accidents. McClure made clear that the death of children by motor vehicles is an issue that affects the entire city.

The Park Slope Street Safety Partnership is framed around two campaigns- one developed in Sweden called “Vision Zero,” and Britain’s “20’s Plenty for Us” campaign. Both are aimed at reducing city traffic fatalities.

Sweden developed Vision Zero in 1994. The goal was to create a traffic plan and road infrastructure that anticipates human mistakes. This means that the road system is prepared to handle major motor vehicle accidents.

The plan is based upon four principles:

  1. Human life and health are paramount and take priority over mobility and other objectives of the road traffic system.
  2. Providers and regulators of the road traffic system share responsibility with users.
  3. Road traffic systems should take account of human fallibility and minimize both the opportunities for errors and the harm done when they occur.
  4. Providers and regulators must do their utmost to guarantee the safety of all citizens, cooperate with road users, and all three must be ready to change to achieve safety.

Vision Zero founders have designed specific infrastructure, traffic plans, and traffic speeds to be taken into account when re-designing the roadways for safety.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio endorsed this plan during his campaign for mayor. His outline of Vision Zero reflected a belief that would reduce city traffic fatalities to zero within ten years.

“Many New York City roads have not been updated to handle current traffic patterns and Vision Zero would update these roads and traffic devices. However, the state government in Albany has to give approval to make these changes. Drivers make mistakes, but Vision Zero proponents say those mistakes will be minimized,” McClure said.

Along with Vision Zero, the Park Slope Street Safety Partnership is also focusing on Britain’s 20’s Plenty for Us campaign. Created by Britain’s Rod King, the campaign was initially to protect cyclists, lowering the speed limits in residential neighborhoods to protect pedestrians has become its new focus. The campaign goal is to lower speed limits from 30 mph to 20 mph.

Rod King was praised by this safety design and received the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) award by the Queen in November 2013. King believes that reducing the speed to 20 mph will significantly lower traffic fatalities.

The European Cyclists’ Federation quoted King saying, ”To be honored with an MBE for “Services to Road Safety” is a significant not only as recognition of my personal efforts but also of the enormous progress which has been made in establishing lower speeds as the norm on community roads.

During the town hall, Eric McClure showed two videos on ways to improve traffic safety. The second video showed a visit to New York by Rod King, in which he met with Brooklyn State Senator Eric Adams about his 20’s Plenty For Us campaign. He stressed that the street is not just a place for motor vehicles. Senator Adams walked with him around Brooklyn and shared his traffic concerns.

Elizabeth Dorsey, A mother of three elementary school students, came to the town hall meeting to voice her opinion on traffic safety. She believes in the Vision Zero plan, “My children play outside all the time, and deserve to be in a safe environment,” Dorsey said. SHE was one of many mothers who voiced similar concerns. Other issues voiced during the meeting were reckless driving and speeding. Many said they witness drivers not stopping at stop signs, going through red lights, speeding thorough residential streets, and ignoring school zone speed limits.

The death of Samuel Cohen Eckstein may have created enough of an impact to improve safety in Park Slope and around other neighborhoods in New York. “If one child is prevented from a motor vehicle death, then this was all worth it,” Eric McClure said.

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