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A Grove Grows In Brooklyn: Finally, New York Has a Memorial to Road Violence Victims

Volunteers planted saplings at the Memorial Grove for Victims of Traffic Violence last week.

It's a different kind of memorial to a different kind of war.

On Sunday, members of Families for Safe Streets and other road safety advocates will join with Adams administration officials to formally open the Memorial Grove for Victims of Traffic Violence, what might be the first monument to the victims of road violence in the United States, where more than 40,000 people die every year in crashes.

The grove is located inside Lincoln Terrace/Arthur S. Somers Park where Crown Heights meets Brownsville in Brooklyn:

Wars have them. Historic movements have them. Nations have them. But outside of Barcelona and in Budapest (photo below), there are almost no other specific memorials for one of the world's leading causes of preventable death: car crashes, which kill roughly 1.2 million people annually — more than murder, war, malnutrition and fire combined.

The crash victims monument in Budapest. Photo: VinceB
The crash victims monument in Budapest. Photo: VinceB

Mayor Adams said the grove is crucial for showing "every New Yorker who has lost a loved one to traffic violence ... that this entire city stands with you."

"I was proud to support this memorial as borough president, and I’m even prouder that I will see it come to fruition as mayor," Hizzoner added in a statement to Streetsblog. "As we honor those we’ve lost, we must be as clear as ever: My administration has zero tolerance for traffic violence.”

SIDEBAR: Why Are There So Few Monuments to Traffic Victims

Zero tolerance is the goal, but it's not the reality yet in this war on cars. Since the Vision Zero initiative began in 2014 in New York, more than 2,100 people have been killed and another 480,794 people have been injured, or more than 53,000 per year, according to city stats. (Through Nov. 15 of this year, 219 people have died and another 37,621 have been injured on the roads in New York City.)

Activists believe the memorial grove will focus attention on that.

"This is a public health crisis that demands action, and the victims of traffic violence deserve acknowledgement. The Memorial Grove is a place to remember and honor and inspire action. It is a place for all people to connect, away from city streets." said Robin Middleman Filepp, who is on the Families for Safe Streets steering committee.

But it's more than a place to mourn. It's an important symbol, added Filepp.

"We need a memorial for victims of traffic violence because far too often, crashes are treated as 'accidents,' as the 'cost of doing business in a car culture.' But we know this isn't the case. Traffic violence is preventable," she added. "We hope other cities will take inspiration and create their own spaces to remember, support, and inspire action to prevent traffic violence. Remembering our loved ones is central to our motivation for doing this work: ultimately, we fight because we remember. Sacred places dedicated to honoring our loved ones are so important, and we deeply appreciate Mayor Adams for recognizing that."

The Adams administration was central in the creation of the grove. At last year's event commemorating World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, then-incoming Deputy Chief of Staff Ryan Lynch (who is now the chief of staff for the Department of Transportation) announced the administration's commitment to establish a first-of-its-kind memorial grove in honor of the victims of traffic violence.

The Parks Department set aside the space in the park, and volunteers and city workers started installing saplings earlier this fall.

Families for Safe Streets volunteers have been working with the Parks Department on the grove since January. Photo: Families for Safe Streets
Families for Safe Streets volunteers have been working with the Parks Department on the grove since January. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

World Day of Remembrance event in Lincoln Terrace/Arthur S. Somers Park (Eastern Parkway at Rochester Avenue), Sunday, Nov. 20, noon-4 p.m. Park is one block from the Crown Heights-Utica Avenue 3/4 subway station. To attend, RSVP here. For more information about World Day of Remembrance, click here.

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