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Bay Ridge Mother Stirs Street Safety Awakening at Brooklyn CB 10

Maureen Landers was walking to pick up her son Max from P.S. 127 in Bay Ridge last April when she was struck by a motorist turning onto Fourth Avenue. Her stroller -- thankfully empty -- was flattened. She was rushed to the hospital but did not sustain major injuries. As for the driver, he didn't even receive a ticket.

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For many Bay Ridge parents and children, walking to school means crossing some of the most dangerous intersections in the neighborhood. Map of pedestrian and cyclist crashes: CrashStat.

Afterward, Landers started talking about the crash with her neighbors. As parent after parent shared their personal stories about car crashes, it became clear that they didn't feel safe walking on their own streets.

Her group decided to do something about it. Bay Ridge Residents Fed Up With Reckless Driving was born.

Wednesday night, Landers and the other parents who have rallied around street safety presented their concerns to the traffic and transportation committee of Brooklyn Community Board 10. Parents "like living here, but they live in fear of the cars," she told the committee.

The CB was ready to listen. Just this past Sunday, 37-year-old Natalie Assee was killed crossing Fort Hamilton Parkway. In January, all of New York heard the story of 104-year-old Joe Rollino, the World's Strongest Man, killed as he crossed Bay Ridge Parkway. One committee member's grandmother was recently killed by a car in the neighborhood. Everyone in the room was perfectly aware that the neighborhood has a safety problem.

Maureen_Landers.jpgMaureen Landers and her kids, Max and Leila.

"We all know that our streets are more dangerous than they should be," said Doris Cruz, the transportation committee chair. Until Landers began her activism, however, each crash had been addressed separately. "We've just always seen it in isolation," said Cruz. She opened the meeting by calling for a comprehensive approach to pedestrian safety.

The discussion focused first on enforcement. While a police officer in attendance said the 68th precinct didn't have the capacity to increase traffic enforcement, residents and CB members didn't take "No" for an answer. One resident, Jean Solomon, proposed targeted crackdowns at the worst intersections. "Bay Ridge is the Wild West," she said, "we need to change its reputation." One CB member proposed a "Crosswalk Day" targeted at failure-to-yield violations, modeled on NYPD's periodic crackdowns on distracted drivers.

When the committee moved on to potential engineering solutions, everything was on the table. They weighed the merits of more stop signs and traffic signals, leading pedestrian intervals, neckdowns, and other traffic calming treatments. At one point someone passed around a link to DOT's Street Design Manual with instructions to look at the traffic calming section. The committee also decided to approach local business improvement districts about sponsoring pedestrian improvements. 

The discussion wrapped up with a unanimous vote to form a pedestrian safety subcommittee and start observing street conditions immediately. CB members want to see specific implementation strategies follow from their data, which they plan to present to both DOT and Transportation Alternatives.

This is a first for the community board. "Traffic, as it applies to people and not just cars, has never been addressed before," said Cruz. She doesn't expect to encounter resistance when she brings the committee's initial ideas to the full board.

Safer streets in Bay Ridge are "clearly needed," said a spokesperson for Vincent Gentile, the local City Council representative. Gentile, who has historically made motorist convenience a top priority -- often at the expense of pedestrians -- would be open to any safety improvements, the spokesperson said. 

Of course, it's easy to support pedestrian safety before the specific solutions come into focus. There's always the chance that the current consensus will fracture if parking spaces are threatened. Calls for extensive enforcement and innovative safety treatments from the Street Design Manual might get watered down to a request for a new stop sign.

But thanks to committed advocates like Maureen Landers, the community board is ready to act, and electeds are now more aware of the magnitude of the problem. For perhaps the first time, there is a gathering grassroots campaign for safer streets in southwest Brooklyn. 

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