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Hundreds of Parents and Children Demand Action From de Blasio to Stop Drivers From Killing Kids

The rally at the Ninth Street entrance to Prospect Park. Photo: Bahij Chancey

Hundreds of people marched in Park Slope last night to demand an end to the vehicular killing of children. Seven days after Dorothy Bruns ran over and killed 4-year-old Abigail Blumenstein and 20-month old Joshua Lew as they crossed Ninth Street at Fifth Avenue, these parents and children had a message for Mayor de Blasio and Albany legislators: You have to do more.

New York's traffic safety efforts weren't enough to prevent the loss of Blumenstein, Lew, or 13-year-old Kevin Flores, who was killed by an oil truck driver with a suspended licensed while biking on Lewis Avenue in Bed-Stuy on January 26.

"Today it was my son, today it was these kids, but tomorrow it could be yours," Margarita Flores, Kevin's mother, told the crowd in Spanish. "We don't know who's going to be impacted, that's why we're here to speak out."

The de Blasio administration's street redesigns have made a difference, but the program is limited by City Hall budgets that are too stingy when it comes to quick-build traffic safety improvements, and a willingness to let the community board process delay or stop basic street upgrades.

Albany, meanwhile, has failed to the expand the city's speed camera program for years now, despite its proven track record of saving lives.

"We are here tonight to demand action, because these were preventable deaths, and because these were not the only children we have lost," said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. "No more will we allow dangerous drivers to threaten our families."

Photo: Ben Fried
Photo: Ben Fried
Photo: Ben Fried

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told the crowd he would do everything in his power to increase the pace of change at both the city and state level.

"We know what to do. This is not rocket science. We have seen what has worked in other neighborhoods across the city," he said. "This City Council will do everything we can within our power, within our legislative purview, within our budgetary authority, through our oversight, through our advocacy, and with our bully pulpit, to ensure more children and more New Yorkers are not killed on the streets of New York City."

As budget season heats up, one area where Johnson could lead real change is to press City Hall to ramp up resources for DOT's "operational" street redesigns -- safety improvements that can be built with low-cost materials in a matter of months, not years.

The march down Ninth Street. (Citing the lack of a parade permit, NYPD corralled everyone onto the sidewalk.)
The march down Ninth Street. (Citing the lack of a parade permit, NYPD corralled everyone onto the sidewalk.) Photo: Ben Fried
The march down Ninth Street. (Citing the lack of a parade permit, NYPD corralled everyone onto the sidewalk.)

While DOT will quickly redesign Ninth Street, other streets await changes. DOT says it will improve safety on Lewis Avenue, where Kevin Flores was killed, but details are still scarce. Even a major project in the pipeline -- the next phase of safety improvements for the Grand Concourse -- will go years without upgrades because DOT is forgoing a fast, low-cost version of the project. The permanent reconstruction of the street remains far in the future.

In Albany, state legislators have put forward a package of bills to prevent speeding and keep dangerous drivers off city streets. Phil Monfoletto did not have a valid license at the time he struck and killed Flores, and Dorothy Bruns had racked up eight violations for speeding or running red lights in less than two years. Neither should have been driving. Johnson said he would lead a City Council delegation to press for the Albany legislative package this session.

Parents who walk with their kids, meanwhile, continue to feel the inherent danger of NYC streets on a daily basis. "Every parent who lives in the city has scary moments when your kids almost get hit by a car," said Wanyi Chow, who lives with her two kids, ages 6 and 9, a few blocks away from the site of last week's crash. "I feel like the system is failing us."

Motorists have killed no fewer than 24 children age 14 and under since the 2014 launch of the city's Vision Zero program, according to crash data tracked by Streetsblog.

Flores and other parents who have lost their children led the march down Ninth Street from Prospect Park West to the corner where Blumenstein and Lew were killed. At the crash site, Council Member Brad Lander led a short memorial service.

Hundreds of people were still gathered in the cold because they don't want anyone else to endure the loss of a loved one in a violent car collision. Redesigning one street will help, but they weren't there just to fix one street. They want Mayor de Blasio and their elected representatives to finally take action that matches the scale of the traffic violence problem in every neighborhood.

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