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OPINION: A Street-Safety Plan for Brooklyn and Beyond

The dangerous intersection of Coney Island Avenue and Church Avenue, where a driver hit and killed a 49-year-old woman in 2019. It is in the 40th Council District. Photo: Zainab Iqbal.

A fifth of the way through the 21st century, many New Yorkers largely rely on cars instead of using modern, safe, and environmentally conscious transportation. For a number of reasons, that’s wrong for the city and for New York’s Council District 40, which I’m running to represent.

Rita Joseph
Rita Joseph
Rita Joseph

A single car emits 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year. Cars regularly kill hundreds of New Yorkers every year and injure tens of thousands. District 40 saw 660 injuries during 2020. Ours is indicative of many city neighborhoods, with car ownership rates at above 40 percent. Because higher car usage has been linked to more deaths, lowering the car ownership figure and getting cars off the road must be a key component of making our streets safer.

To do that we must:

    • improve bus and train service
    • invest heavily in speed cameras
    • rededicate our streets to public transit with projects like the 14th Street busway.

District 40 residents who have long suffered delays on the unreliable B12 and the B16 deserve quality bus service as much as folks in lower Manhattan. A number of Central Brooklyn roads should be looked at for converting into busways, including Coney Island Avenue and Flatbush Avenue. The city must expand Select Bus Service with dedicated lanes, which reduce travel times by an average of 10 to 20 percent and increase ridership. Expanding SBS is a common-sense reform that will get people out of their cars.

Now is the moment we must save the MTA, which has for too long teetered on the brink of financial disaster. Even with the recent influx of federal funds, we must ensure New York’s wealthy are paying their fair share of taxes to support our subways. I support a variety of revenue raisers, including a pied-à-terre tax that will bring in $232 million annually, per the Independent Budget Office. Combined with federal funds, that will help cover the state’s portion of the MTA Capital Program.

The capital program calls for 60 percent of subway stations to be ADA-accessible, but it’s not enough. We need all subway stops to be wheelchair accessible. As someone who takes care of a wheelchair-bound mom, I’ve witnessed the crushing inaccessibility of our subway system first-hand. In the greatest city in the world, we have no excuse for not providing basic accessibility to our neighbors who are mobility-impaired. Accessible subway stations will also help to make our streets safer for folks in wheelchairs, who are 36 percent more likely to die from being hit by a car than non-mobility impaired individuals.

Council District 40 in Brooklyn
Council District 40 in Brooklyn
Council District 40 in Brooklyn

By the same token, to keep our city’s pedestrians safe, we must invest in automated traffic enforcement. Automated traffic enforcement has proved that it reduces deaths and its implementation will take away a responsibility from the NYPD. Cameras do not care if you’re Black or white — only if you are driving recklessly. With automated traffic enforcement, I don’t have to worry about my son being cuffed for driving a car registered in my name, something that’s already happened. Moms like me will not have to worry that a simple traffic stop will result in a needless death.

Biking — a cheaper, more environmentally friendly and comparably time-efficient alternative to cars — must be made more convenient. If I were to drive from my place of employment, P.S. 6 in Brooklyn, to where I hope is my next place of employment, City Hall, it would take me 35 minutes. The same trip on a bike would be 38 minutes. But there are not nearly enough bike lanes throughout the five boroughs — and many bike lanes are not protected. Simply painting a strip of asphalt green does not do enough to protect cyclists. We need concrete barriers separating bike lanes and vehicular traffic.

I’m fortunate to live close to Prospect Park, and I enjoy biking there. But I don’t ride my bike to the park, just inside of it, because I don’t feel safe due to reckless drivers and lack of protected bike lanes. My bike riding is purely recreational, but I know what it means to not feel safe on the road. The solution: more protected bike lanes.

Bike riding will not be convenient until we treat bike storage with the same seriousness as car parking. People should not have to be able afford an apartment with bike storage or a Citi Bike subscription to avoid having to lock their bikes on their streets. You should be able to lock your bike in a secure, parking-lot sized pod; the city should partner with the BIPOC-owned company Oonee to establish an infrastructure of these facilities.

Street safety is personal for me. In 2009, a student of mine, Kyle Francis, was killed by a reckless driver while walking home. Major reforms are needed to prevent such tragedies. We must get cars off the road by making other forms of transportation more appealing. Every day that New York fails to take action on the crisis of car-centered streets is a day when lives are needlessly endangered and people are not incentivized to use non-automobile forms of transportation.

Rita Joseph (@RitaJosephNYC), a teacher at P.S. 6 (Norma Adams Clemons Academy), is running to represent District 40, the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Ditmas Park, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Lefferts Garden and Southern Crown Heights.

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