SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS: City in Outrage Over Brooklyn Baby’s Death by Reckless Driver
1:55 PM EDT on September 12, 2021
Grieving New Yorkers aired their anger on Sunday hours after a 3-month-old baby was killed by a reckless driver who remained on the road despite scores of camera-issued speeding tickets — making the innocent tot the latest victim in the bloodiest year of Mayor de Blasio's seven-plus-year Vision Zero program.
The outrage centered around reports that the driver of a 2017 Honda Civic — who had been racing the wrong way up Gates Avenue in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn seconds before the 6:20 crash on Saturday — had 91 camera-issued speeding tickets issued against it, according to reporter Liam Quigley. [Streetsblog turned the car's Howsmydriving rap sheet into the photo that runs along the entire right side of this story.]
Police have arrested the Pennsylvania-registered Honda's driver, who they say was speeding eastbound on the one-way portion of Gates between Vanderbilt Avenue and Fulton Street before he slammed into another car that was heading northbound on Vanderbilt. The crash sent both cars into a family — two parents in their 30s and their 3-month-old, killing the child and sending both caregivers to the hospital, where they are expected to survive.
The baby was later identified as Apolline Mong-Guillemin.
Urban designer Mike Lydon, who lives in the neighborhood, pointed out that the entire crash might have been avoided if the city hadn't redesigned that very triangle in a way to preserve parking spaces.
"Given the 'wrong-way' driving, ... the driver must have careened off Fulton and sped up the slip lane, as that's the only one-way leg of this intersection," he posted on Twitter. "The city recently rebuilt the triangle and presumably kept it open to traffic to preserve six parking spots.
Mostly, people vented their anger on Twitter, with some pointing out that more people have been killed so far this year than in any year of Mayor de Blasio's tenure, despite seven-plus-years of Vision Zero.
"Absolutely gutted at the loss of such a new little life and so furious at the abject disrespect for human life that drivers like this show on NYC streets every day," said Noah Hurowitz.
The mayor has tried to make roadways safer with protected infrastructure for cyclists, but the pace is grindingly slow, activists pointed out, and car-free streets are virtually non-existent, despite decades of experience in Europe with large urban areas that are off-limits to drivers.
Meanwhile, the NYPD has dramatically cut its enforcement of moving violations, which could be a possible explanation for how a driver with 91 camera-issued speeding tickets was never caught — and taken off the road — by a police officer. (Camera-issued tickets to not count against a driver's record, per the state Department of Motor Vehicles, but earlier this year, the city finally began funding a program designed to get the worst drivers off the road, but punishment does not kick in until a driver receives 15 camera-issued tickets in any one year period.)
It is clear that police “enforcement” is not working — partially because there isn’t enough of it. As Streetsblog reported last week, NYPD officers are not taking road recklessness seriously.
In June, 2021 (the last month for which there are full-month stats), cops citywide wrote just 39,777 total moving violation tickets, which is down 51 percent from the 82,229 moving violations cops wrote in June 2019. Specifically, in June, 2021, cops wrote:
- 2,308 failure-to-yield tickets (down 55 percent from 5,208 in June 2019)
- 7,777 speeding tickets (down 35 percent from 11,993 in June 2019)
- 2,623 tickets for running a red light (down 56 percent from 5,933 in June 2019)
- 1,882 tickets for improper turn (down 72 percent from 6,857 in June 2019)
We asked City Hall if the mayor had ordered that slowdown or whether it was initiated by the NYPD, but did not get an answer.
Council Member Brad Lander, who wrote the bill that will punish drivers who accrue 15 or ore camera-issued speeding tickets in any 12-month period, said that numbers like those above show that the city cannot enforce its way to safety anyway.
"We are all angry that we have not acted with enough urgency and speed and comprehensiveness on street redesign," he said. "But it is also a problem that we do not have a strategy for confronting or changing the behavior of, or simply removing the worst drivers. Cameras make it possible to get the worst drivers off the road, but other than the [bill punishing drivers with 15 or more camera violations], we don't have a strategy."
City Hall did not immediately respond to a barrage of questions from Streetsblog on Sunday, and the mayor had no public schedule.
But City Hall sent over a comment, attributable to the mayor, which referred to a package of stalled legislation in Albany:
“The killing of this child not only brings profound sadness — it brings parents and good people across this city an unshakable anger — anger that careless, reckless drivers continue to take innocent lives," he said. "It goes against the core of our Vision Zero commitment. And while it does not bring this child back, we must pass Crash Victims Rights and Safety Act in Albany as a tribute to this child and every New Yorker killed by a car.”
The mayor's statement turned attention quickly to the future mayor.
"This is a horrifically sad but powerfully significant chance for Eric Adams to outline a very bold, crystal clear, Safe Streets plan which rids us of both bad drivers and the bad design that allows even well intentioned drivers to cause such harm," said Dave Abraham on Twitter.
Adams quickly responded that he will do something, though he did not say what:
“My heart breaks for the family who lost their baby last night to a hit-and-run driver," said future city mayor, Eric Adams, in a statement posted to Twitter. "There is an epidemic of reckless driving on our streets. We will be standing at the site of this horrific crash with elected leaders and advocates [on Monday] to discuss how to prevent these tragedies and make our streets safer for all.”
That statement only made some activists more angry.
"I'm thinking of going to that vigil with a sign that says, 'I'm fucking sick of going to all these vigils because nothing gets done,'" said one street safety activist, adding that she might bring baby shoes to the event. Other activists were discussing dumping baby dolls and toys en masse on the driveway of Gracie Mansion on Monday morning.
Activist Doug Gordon suggested that the problem might be the mayor's signature initiative itself. In a lengthy thread, he pointed out many of the blurry spots in Vision Zero:
- The driver had 91 speeding tickets, yet was never stopped.
- The driver's car is registered in Pennsylvania, suggesting that authorities here and in the Keystone State are not coordinating their efforts.
- The slip lane itself is dangerous and was created to protect parking, not people.
- Vanderbilt Avenue itself had one of its painted bike lanes removed as part of an effort to redirect cyclists elsewhere, though there is no protected bike lanes in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, partly because Council Member Laurie Cumbo opposes them. The result of the Vanderbilt repainting has been reckless driving.
"It's enraging, tragically sad and, worst of all, terribly predictable," Gordon concluded. "All of it, from beginning to end, is the result of policy choices."
Amid calls for direct and aggressive action, Transportation Alternatives issued a powder-saving statement that hinted that more activism by the group and others is coming:
“We’re heartbroken and angry by the deadly and daily occurrence of traffic violence on Mayor de Blasio’s streets," said Danny Harris, the group's executive director. "The deadliest year under Mayor de Blasio’s tenure shows no sign of letting up after crashes this weekend killed six people, a 3-month-old baby, a pedestrian, a moped driver, and two motorcyclists. The crashes injured five people, including putting one person in critical condition.
“From babies to teachers to police officers, no one is immune to the dangers of a city that continues to prioritize the convenience of drivers over saving human life," Harris added. "In his remaining months, Mayor de Blasio must fight back against the deadliest year of traffic violence during his tenure, including a record breaking wave of hit and runs.
“We need our next mayor and city council to chart a new path forward for NYC built on safe streets for people by putting the vision of NYC 25x25 - repurposing 25% of our streets to better use by 2025 - in action. This must include opening streets to people, redesigning dangerous corridors, and building safer streets across every corner of this city.
“New Yorkers don’t need any more statements or empty promises or go-nowhere task forces — we need immediate action to save lives.”
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