At Merryweather Vigil, Public Advocate-Elect Pledges to Push for Safe Streets
About 150 people gathered at a vigil last night for Lucian Merryweather, the nine year-old killed on the sidewalk by a reckless driver who jumped the curb at the intersection of Clermont and DeKalb Avenues in Brooklyn.
Speakers at last night’s vigil included Merryweather’s family and friends, Council Member Tish James, who was elected to the Public Advocate’s office yesterday, Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley, council member-elect Laurie Cumbo, and neighborhood residents, including actress Rosie Perez.
At the rally, James said that she has spoken to mayor-elect Bill de Blasio about the importance and immediacy of improving street safety. “There was a lot of grief and anger,” James told Streetsblog today. “Clearly something has to be done.”
Merryweather was at least the tenth child age 13 and under to be killed by a New York City driver so far this year, according to data compiled by Streetsblog. Anthony Byrd, 59, the driver who killed Lucian Merryweather, faces felony assault and a number of other charges brought by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. He is scheduled to appear in Kings County Criminal Court on Friday.
James told Streetsblog that she spoke with DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly about Merryweather’s death, and is expecting the 88th Precinct to announce new traffic enforcement plans soon. James said she’d like to see stings using undercover officers for speeding, texting, and reckless driving on DeKalb, Lafayette, Washington, and Lafayette Avenues.
In August, the latest month for which data is available, the 88th Precinct issued six speeding tickets and did not issue any tickets for failure to yield to pedestrians [PDF]. The precinct’s next community council meeting will be held on November 19 at 7 p.m. at the French Speaking Baptist Church at 209 Clermont Avenue, a block from the site of the crash.
Community members interested in safer streets are also invited to a meeting this Saturday hosted by Make Lafayette Safer, organized by Hilda Cohen, who lives three blocks away from where Merryweather was killed. “I just wanted to give community members a way to see that they can become the people who make changes,” she said. “It’s one thing to be at the vigil and say something, and it’s another to get out there and do something.”
James is organizing a street safety forum with Transportation Alternatives and council member-elect Cumbo for January, when she will hold citywide office. James expressed interest in combining the forum with efforts underway in Park Slope after the death of 12 year-old Sammy Cohen-Eckstein, who was hit by a driver on Prospect Park West.
During her campaign for public advocate, James highlighted traffic safety as an issue she would like to take on, and said today it’s important that de Blasio continue traffic calming measures begun under the current administration. “I know Mayor de Blasio is agnostic,” she said, adding that she spoke privately with de Blasio about street safety after his comments about pedestrian plazas during a debate last month.
“The office of public advocate could organize and come up with a platform for the next DOT commissioner and the next police commissioner,” James said, adding that she would prefer NYPD’s transportation bureau chief position, vacated by James Tuller this week, be filled not by Ray Kelly but by de Blasio’s police commissioner.
I asked James if she would dedicate staff in the public advocate’s office to street safety issues. “That’s a good question,” she said, but then pointed out the office’s small budget. “Hopefully the mayor[-elect], who I’m sure is sympathetic to my plight, will increase the budget so we can dedicate some staff to this issue.”