In fight for safer streets, injured pedestrians eager to be heard

Paula Katinas

March 05, 2020

Originally published in Brooklyn Reporter on March 05, 2020.

BAY RIDGE — Victims who have been struck and injured by vehicles are turning out to be among the strongest advocates of a movement to make streets safer for pedestrians and bike riders.

At a press conference State Sen. Andrew Gounardes held outside P.S. 185 in Bay Ridge on Feb. 28 to promote bills he is sponsoring to crack down on dangerous drivers and create safer pedestrian crossings, it was the voices of victims speaking in support of the proposed legislation that appeared to resonate with onlookers.

Debbie Herndan recalled how she was hit by a car four years ago while crossing the street in Kensington. “I am one of the ‘lucky ones.’ I was injured in a crash four years ago, one of several thousand that year to suffer a serious injury,” said Herndan, a member of the group Families for Safe Streets.

“I work at Maimonides Hospital which serves so many crash victims. A total of 39 New Yorkers have been killed in crashes so far this year. This is an epidemic that requires a multi-faceted approach,” Herndan said.

Bay Ridge resident Maureen Landers has had experience with dangerous drivers twice in her life. Landers was struck by a car in 2009. Nine years later, her son was hit by a car.

“Sen. Gounardes’ proposed legislation is a critical component in combating pedestrian fatalities on our streets,” said Landers, who co-founded the group Bay Ridge Advocates Keeping Everyone Safe (BRAKES). “As a resident of Bay Ridge, whose family has now twice been personally injured by reckless drivers, I welcome these life-saving initiatives.”

Gounardes announced his legislative package following the deaths of six pedestrians in five days on New York streets.

Gounardes has introduced three bills:

•The Dangerous Driver Act: This bill clarifies traffic laws to make it easier for drivers to be charged by district attorneys. The bill clarifies that dangerous driving that causes injuries does not need to require that the individual committed a minimum number of violations in order to be charged.

•Expanding pedestrian rights: This bill would deem every intersection, marked or unmarked, to be a crosswalk. The measure has been adopted in Oregon, Washington and Georgia, and has been shown to increase driver awareness and reduce pedestrian injury and death, Gounardes said. 

•Safety rating: This bill would create a pedestrian safety rating for all vehicles based on how likely these vehicles are to cause injury or death to others on the road.

“New Yorkers of every age and from every walk of life were devastated by traffic violence in 2019. Their families were forever torn apart because of our city’s inability to keep its people safe in our streets. In memory of those we lost, we must do everything in our power to make our streets safe for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike,” said Gounardes, a Democrat representing several neighborhoods in Southwest Brooklyn.

The year 2019 was a deadly year in Brooklyn and across New York City for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike, Gounardes said. There were 219 traffic deaths in New York City in 2019.

There were 7,916 collisions with injuries in NYPD Brooklyn South, the highest of any patrol borough in the city.

Senior citizens and the physically disabled are particularly vulnerable, according to two advocates.

“Street safety has been a focus of the disability community since we organized in the 1970s. Sometimes the best way to cross the street is through the legislature,” said Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York.

CIDNY member Monica Bartley, who appeared at the press conference in a wheelchair, said street safety is a personal issue for her because she acquired her disability when she was hit by a car.

Beth Finkel, state director of AARP New York, said older adults are killed at the highest rates.

“We’re working to make New York City and all communities better and safer places for people of all ages to live, and key to that goal is our ability to walk safely in our neighborhoods,” she said.