Trottenberg Meets Parents of Traffic Violence Victims at Inauguration

Incoming transportation commissioner Polly Trottenberg, right, speaks with Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son was killed by a driver on Prospect Park West. Photo: Stephen Miller
Incoming Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, right, speaks with Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son was killed by a driver on Prospect Park West. Photo: Stephen Miller

A group of street safety advocates braved the cold yesterday outside Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inauguration and received an impromptu visit from Polly Trottenberg, de Blasio’s pick for transportation commissioner.

A total of about 15 people, organized by Make Queens Safer and Make Brooklyn Safer, gathered on Broadway outside City Hall yesterday, holding signs and handing out yellow “Vision Zero” stickers and pamphlets. The group held a large yellow banner aloft. It read, “Vision Zero Begins Today — Congratulations Mayor de Blasio.”

Incoming transportation commissioner Polly Trottenberg speaks with parents of traffic violence vicims before yesterday's inauguration. Photo: Stephen Miller
Photo: Stephen Miller

The big banner attracted Trottenberg’s attention. “I saw you as I was walking across the street,” she told the group, adding that she hadn’t known about the demonstration and was on her way to the inauguration. Before heading to the ceremony, she stopped and spoke with the parents of traffic violence victims and advocates who asked her to put the campaign’s street safety promises into action.

Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son Sammy was killed by a driver on Prospect Park West, asked Trottenberg if the administration would prioritize automated traffic enforcement in its Albany agenda. (De Blasio’s campaign platform included a bid for local control of speed and red light cameras.) “We are ready to all go to Albany with you,” Cohen told Trottenberg. “We are here to do whatever it takes.”

Trottenberg didn’t offer specifics, but emphasized the administration’s commitment to street safety. “Working with the mayor’s office and his team that will be up in Albany, we’ll be having some input into shaping what his agenda’s going to be up there. He’s obviously got a lot of things he needs to get done in Albany, so I can’t tell you yet where this will fit in,” Trottenberg told Streetsblog. (De Blasio’s top priority in Albany is an income tax on the wealthy to fund universal pre-kindergarten.) “At the mayor’s announcement yesterday when he talked about transportation, Vision Zero was the first thing he mentioned. It is on the top of his agenda and mine,” Trottenberg said.

Trottenberg added that she is still searching for an apartment in New York and would be moving from Washington to officially start work by the end of the month. “As soon as I’m here, you’re definitely one of the first groups I want to meet with and talk about what our agenda’s going to be,” she told the parents and advocates. “I want you all to come in, and we’ll sit down and strategize.”

“It sounds like we need some home-rule help in Albany,” she said. “I think a lot of things are going to need a group effort.”

Trottenberg noted that New York is not the only city struggling with state control over transportation policy. “I’ve seen it from the federal perspective in every big city I can think of. There’s a whole clash of city-state issues,” she said, hinting that she has tired of tackling the problem from above with federal policy. “The climate in Washington right now has been frustrating in terms of getting any federal action,” she said.

I asked Trottenberg how her federal policy experience will translate to the local level here in New York. “As number three at DOT, I have had some experience in running a big agency, but there’s no question I’m going to have a learning curve here,” she said, adding that her experience with the political strategy behind policy shifts will be valuable in New York. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said of heading NYC DOT.

Amy Tam, whose 3-year-old daughter Alison Liao was killed by a turning driver in Flushing, was happy Trottenberg stopped to speak with them. “We didn’t expect it at all, so that was a really nice surprise,” she said. “She expressed how much she wants to work with us, so that gives me hope.”

Tam said she and her husband, Hsi-Pei Liao, have met with other families who have lost children to dangerous drivers, including the mother and sister of Luis Bravo, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Woodside, and the father of Noshat Nahian, the 8-year-old killed last month by a tractor-trailer truck driver operating on a suspended license.

Trottenberg wasn’t the only official who stopped to speak with the group: Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Council Members Brad Lander and Mark Weprin also stopped by before heading in to the inauguration.

  • LyleLanley

    Having slept on it a few days, I’m really excited about the Trottenberg pick. Not only is she already saying/doing mostly the right things, but more importantly, she really stands out from the rest of DeBlasio’s appointments so far. Almost everyone DeBlasio has hired has been a long-time NYC insider, usually a city government type. (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/12/31/nyregion/the-de-blasio-administration-so-far.html?ref=nyregion). Trottenberg is perhaps the sole outside hire. Optimistically, that’s a real signal that DOT will continue to be an agency expected to innovate rather than one where the goal is keeping potholes filled.

    Obviously only time will tell what the relationship between DOT and City Hall looks like in the new administration, but I think this is a great sign.

  • Eric McClure

    That was a tremendous gesture by Polly Trottenberg. Definitely a signal that Mayor de Blasio’s DOT will make traffic safety a priority.

  • Voter

    This is an unbelievably amazing gesture. The de Blasio transition team has been almost Clintonesque in its messaging, rarely going off script. So for Trottenberg to make an impromptu stop to talk to these families and allow herself to be interviewed is a great sign.

  • Joe R.

    All I can say is wow! This gesture will hopefully set the tone for her tenure. It’s about time that the continued pedestrian/cyclist carnage is recognized as the huge public health issue it is. More people die in this city from motor vehicles each year than from firearms.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Highest praise to Stephen Miller for braving the cold and being in the right place at the right time to get this scoop for his livable streets readership! I expect his “Vision Zero”-lapelled Polly Trottenberg shot will be the go-to photo for all future posts concerning DoT street safety policy.

    As I mentioned to the shivering Stephen yesterday, I’d like to retroactively earmark a portion of our firm’s year-end contribution to Streetsblog to go to the “Ace Reporter Winter Gear Fund.” But if that’s not possible…I urge everyone who didn’t get a chance to do so by Tuesday, to pop a back-dated check (eligible for the matching program) to OpenPlans today!

  • JamesR

    This is hugely encouraging and bodes well for the incoming DOT team, for sure.

  • Kevin Love

    This is such a positive sign! Like so many other people I had concerns about the sincerity and energy with which “Vision Zero” would be pursued.

    Steve Vaccaro is right. The photograph of Polly Trottenberg wearing the “Vision Zero” lapel sign needs to become the iconic photo of our new DOT Commissioner.

  • Keith Williams

    Great post, Stephen! It was an incredible gesture of Ms. Trottenberg to come by, and you could tell she was deeply empathetic to what the Cohen-Eckstein and Tam-Liao families have endured when she spoke with them. A fantastic pick by BDB.

  • JK

    These family based street safety advocacy groups could be the biggest story of 2014. The NYC livable streets movement has never had something like this — like MADD. These families have the morale authority to put enormous pressure on Albany to give NYC enough speed and red light cameras to make a noticeable difference. We are seeing something new and potentially politically powerful here. Bless these families for taking their grievous losses and turning them into force for good.

  • Komanoff

    Amen, John. The speed and red light cameras, important as they are, should be just the leading edge of a wholesale reconfiguring of policing, prosecuting, adjudication, and acculturation involving drivers and driving in NYC … and beyond. But I’m totally with you in welcoming and blessing the gift these families are giving to NYC and all who live here.

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