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At Jean Chambers Vigil, Urgent Pleas for Action Before Another Life Is Lost

John Chambers addresses last light's vigil for his wife Jean, killed last week by a turning driver at West End Avenue and 95th Street. Photo: Stephen Miller
John Chambers speaks at the vigil for his wife Jean, who was killed last week by a turning driver at West End Avenue and 95th Street. Photo: Stephen Miller
John Chambers addresses last light's vigil for his wife Jean, killed last week by a turning driver at West End Avenue and 95th Street. Photo: Stephen Miller

Yesterday evening, more than 100 people gathered on the corner of 95th Street and West End Avenue to remember 61-year-old Jean Chambers, killed last week by a turning driver while she had the "walk" signal. Jean's husband and other traffic violence victims spoke at the vigil, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal announced that in the wake of this latest death, DOT will soon redesign at least 10 blocks of West End Avenue.

Jean Chambers is the fourth person killed in traffic within a two-block radius on the Upper West Side since January. After two nearby deaths at 96th Street and Broadway, DOT quickly implemented recommendations that had been developed last year. But it took yet another death to bring more street safety changes to the neighborhood.

"Jean came to 95th Street expressly to avoid 96th Street, because 96th Street and West End is especially treacherous," said John Chambers, Jean's husband. "There's an irony there. She was very conscientious."

Last night, Rosenthal said DOT has committed to a redesign of West End Avenue, a wide street with ill-defined lanes that handles lots of car traffic going to and from the West Side Highway. "It will be at least ten blocks, and I think it's going to be longer," she said, adding that DOT will be making big changes soon. "It's going to be faster than you've ever seen," she said. DOT said it hopes to work with Rosenthal and Community Board 7 to develop the project in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, there are a number of smaller changes DOT is making. Another speed hump on 95th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive is planned, and a leading pedestrian interval at 95th Street and West End Avenue will be installed next week, DOT says. A ban on left turns from 95th to West End, the maneuver made by the driver who killed Chambers, was approved just days before Chambers's death and implemented very recently [PDF]. The ban is only in effect from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays, however. Rosenthal hopes DOT will make it around-the-clock and install signs reminding drivers coming off the West Side Highway at 95th Street to drive carefully.

Many of these changes have been requested for years by parents at PS 75, where Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his Vision Zero action agenda in February. John Decatur is a father of three and has two children at PS 75, where he serves as co-president of the PTA. "Many parents have told me about nearly getting hit by cars. At the crosswalk where Jean was killed, I had my kids in the crosswalk. A driver leaned out and said, 'Get your fucking kids out of the crosswalk," he said. "I had the light."

Photo: Stephen Miller
Photo: Stephen Miller
Photo: Stephen Miller

There were some sour notes at last night's vigil. Rosenthal spent much of her time talking about texting while walking, and the "preliminary traffic safety action plan" her office handed out last night called for "more ticketing" of jaywalkers and cyclists [PDF]. I asked Rosenthal why she supports more tickets for vulnerable road users, especially considering the disastrous jaywalking crackdown the 24th precinct launched in January at 96th Street and Broadway.

"[I am] tracking these ticketing numbers for pedestrians and drivers," she said. "I want to see them all move up. We need a shift in behavior. So everyone has to change their behavior -- pedestrians, bikers, drivers." According to DOT, driver behavior is the main cause of 78.5 percent of serious pedestrian crashes.

NYPD refused to say if the driver who struck Chambers was issued any summonses. The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is investigating Chambers's death, saying this morning that the investigation remains open and that no decisions have been made about filing charges against the driver. John Chambers said he has not yet watched video of the fatal collision and declined to discuss his interactions with law enforcement.

Intro 238, signed into law last month, makes striking a cyclist or pedestrian with the right of way a criminal misdemeanor, with escalating fines for causing serious injury or death. The law takes effect in mid-August.

Six months to the day before Chambers' death, 9-year-old Cooper Stock was killed two blocks away at West End Avenue and 97th Street. Like Chambers, he was in the crosswalk with the signal when a left-turning driver ran over him. In that case, Vance did not pursue any charges against the driver.

Dana Lerner, Stock's mother, spoke passionately at last night's vigil. "Both my son's death and Jean's death were completely preventable," she said. "Although we are taught that pedestrians have the right of way in New York City, this is not the case. The rules do not apply here."

"There are people in this city whose job it is to protect pedestrians, and they are not doing this," she said, calling out DOT and CB 7 for years of foot-dragging on safer street designs for the Upper West Side. "They have been ignoring suggestions since 2008. If these plans had been changed, if my son would be alive today, every day I wonder: Why didn't they do this?"

Lerner also asked the media to keep covering traffic safety issues, and had a special request for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. "Laws are signed but they do not get enforced," she said, naming Hayley and Diego's Law and Elle's Law as examples. "I don't understand it. Again, how many people have to die before this is done? Commissioner Bratton, what are you going to do about this? I want to talk to you."

Elana Shneyer, policy director for Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell, said he is considering introducing a bill with State Senator Brad Hoylman to bring elements of Cooper's Law to all DMV-licensed drivers statewide. That law, introduced by Rosenthal and signed by Mayor de Blasio last month, allows the Taxi and Limousine Commission to suspend or revoke the licenses of taxi and livery drivers who break traffic laws and cause critical injury or death.

Rosenthal said last night that she will be hosting a traffic safety town hall during the week of July 28. Details, including a date, time, and location, will be released in the coming days.

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