June 6th Memorials

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On Saturday, June 6th, members of Right of Way bicycled to Riverdale in the Bronx; into Manhattan to Morningside Heights, Hells Kitchen and East Midtown; and to Bushwick, Crown Heights and Midwood in Brooklyn to install 7 street memorials for people killed by drivers.

Three of the memorials were “re-installations” requested by families whose loved ones we commemorated in 2014. The other four were new. Those memorialized ranged in age from 23 to 87. Many family members traveled from site to site to lend and receive support from others similarly bereaved. Participants came from Brookline, MA and Montclair, NJ as well as from neighborhoods around New York City.

This “Ride of Remembrance and Hope” was the third citywide action in which Right of Way has installed memorials in conjunction with families, many of whom have affiliated with the advocacy and support group, Families for Safe Streets. The two earlier rides were staged in August and October 2014. At each site, an image of wings, flowers and rays of light is painted on the sidewalk or street where the person was killed, along with the person’s name, the date she or he was fatally struck, and a commemorative phrase written by the family.

Following are details about each individual, including observations made by family members while we installed the memorials:

DSC_0353_Ida Rosenblatt _ w inscription _ 6 June 2015Ida Rosenblatt, 87, was crossing Netherland Avenue at West 232nd Street in the Riverdale section of the Bronx on March 24, 2014 at around 3 p.m. when she was struck by a driver who may not have halted or even slowed at the stop sign at the T-intersection before making a left turn into Ida’s path. Ida was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital with severe injuries including head trauma that left her brain-dead, and was taken off life support on March 26.

Although a newspaper account reported police as saying that the vehicle was a Toyota sedan, Ida’s daughter Irma described it as an SUV. According to Irma, until the moment her mother was struck and killed she was active in mind and body — she practiced yoga and tai chi and “was in better shape than me.”

Guler Ugur, a 44-year-old immigrant from Germany of Turkish descent who lived in Brooklyn, was on her way to a New Year’s Eve concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine when she was struck and killed by the driver of an SUV who fled the scene, according to dnaInfo.

The New York Times subsequently reported that the driver, who turned himself in a week later, was unlicensed. The Times quoted police authorities as saying that Guler was walking in the crosswalk but against the traffic signal and was propelled 80 feet by the impact, suggesting that the SUV was being driven at dangerously high speed. Guler’s death, just hours before the end of 2014, was the last of the 264 traffic fatalities officially recorded for that year, although several other individuals struck by drivers in 2014 died in early 2015 from their injuries.

Painting memorial for Emma Blumstein.Painting memorial for Emma Blumstein.

The next three memorials, for Seth Kahn, Rubin Baum and Ella Bandes, were re-installations from last year — our painted images fade over time from weather, footprints and tire friction. Their 2014 memorials may be seen here and here.

Seth and Ella were struck by MTA bus drivers who turned into them as they crossed the street with the right of way, Seth in Hells Kitchen in 2009, Ella in Bushwick in 2013 — grim reminders of the failure of city authorities, the MTA and TWU Local 100, the bus drivers’ union, to respond pro-actively and possibly forestall the further tragedy of eight pedestrians with the right of way killed in city crosswalks by MTA drivers in 2014 alone.

Emma Blumstein, a native of Brookline, MA who had recently graduated from Tufts, was cycling in the Bedford Ave. bike lane across Empire Blvd. in June 2012 when a truck driver turned left and ran over her. “She was just coming so fast and I was already into the turn; I just could not stop,” the driver told a reporter, inadvertently revealing his failure to scan the road and exercise due care on one of Brooklyn’s major bicycle thoroughfares.

Excepting the bike lanes on either side of Bedford, that locale of auto parts stores, 24-hour food marts and oversized, barren streets is nearly indistinguishible from any other American arterial desert. The leafy oases of Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park, mere blocks away, have no presence there.

The final stop was at Ocean Parkway and Avenue O in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. Alan Halter, 68, died there in May 2014 when he was struck in the crosswalk by a driver executing a turn. Alan’s next-of-kin, his sister Roberta Gettler, lives in the Bronx and joined us at the day’s first installation, for Ida Rosenblatt, in Riverdale. At the memorial for Alan she said:

Alan was my older brother. He was born April 14, 1946 in Brooklyn and was much loved. Just a regular guy. He was always careful — he knew about timing and lights. This is harder than I thought but I want him to count — his death is still hard for me to deal with. He had a regular life, worked as senior clerk for a life insurance company. The owner sold it and Alan had to go to driving for a living. Our father and uncles all drove cabs, now Alan had to do that. He loved driving and was really good at it so this is ironic. He was enjoying retirement. He led a healthy lifestyle. Our grandparents lived into their 90’s. Our Aunt Rose is 101. So this whole thing is so so horrible.

DSC_0840 _ Alan Halter _ w inscription _ 6 June 2015 _ cropped by CK

Roberta noted via e-mail that “Alan was hit by the car on 5/5/14 and died on 5/7. I was notified after the fact.” Consistent with the authorities’ evident lack of effort, Alan was — and perhaps still is — recorded in NYPD fatal-crash records as “Unknown.” Alan’s anonymous designationwas in WNYC’s worthy “Mean Streets” database which we used to generate the names and dates for the silhouette images in our AprilVision 264 installation.

“A Real New Yorker, Thru & Thru” is the commemorative inscription Roberta chose for her brother. The same surely applies to all seven of those we memorialized on June 6th. Sadly, since the start of the “auto age” there has been another brand of “Real New Yorkers” who drive with reckless intent or obliviousness to the rights and vulnerabilities of people on foot or bike, and with few consequences for themselves. A new element in the equation is the rising up of families and friends under the banner of Families for Safe Streets. Right Of Way is honored to have the opportunity to help carry them through their grief and demand change.

Photography by John Craver.



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