TRAFFIC JUSTICE ADVOCATES INSTALL MEMORIAL FOR 264 VICTIMS KILLED BY NYC TRAFFIC IN 2014 TO DEMAND SAFER STREETS
On Saturday, April 18, safer-street activists with Right of Way installed a 450-foot-long mural memorializing everyone killed in a New York City traffic crash last year. The mural, comprising 264 five-foot-high, twenty-inch wide panels, covers two-and-a-half sides of a full-city-block construction fence near the Brooklyn waterfront, two blocks north of the Williamsburg Bridge — the block bounded by South 3rd and South 4th Streets, Kent and Wythe Avenues. (The developer granted permission to Right Of Way to mount the artwork.) The 264 people memorialized are believed to be every pedestrian, bicyclist and motor vehicle user killed in a traffic crash in 2014 in the five boroughs. Each is represented by a black silhouette with their name and the date they were struck and killed, mounted on white panels 60 inches high and 20 inches wide, arranged in chronological order. “We call it Vision 264 because it forces people to visualize all 264 people killed by NYC traffic last year,” said Keegan Stephan, an organizer with Right of Way. “We hope witnessing the magnitude of this public health crisis will inspire people to take action and help the city realize its goal of Vision Zero – no one killed by NYC traffic.” (At the time we created the artwork in January, 264 people were known to have been killed by NYC traffic in 2014. Since then, the total has risen to 269 because of crashes reported late by NYPD and victims dying of their injuries.) Approximately five hundred pounds of material — paper sheets with the art, oil board backing, wheatpaste and screws, all transported to the site by bicycle — were involved in the assembly, which was executed yesterday by Right Of Way members and supporters. Members of Families for Safe Streets, including family members of some individuals being memorialized, attended the installation. Statements from two — Dana Lerner, mother of Cooper Stock, and Franci Brenner, mother of Matthew Brenner — are included below.
Data source for the mural was WNYC’s Transportation Nation Mean Streets database, which categorized those killed as 140 pedestrians, 20 bicyclists and 95 users of motor vehicles, including motorcycles. (An additional nine of the 264 fatalities compiled by WNYC were not categorized due to incomplete NYPD records.) The memorial panels do not differentiate by mode of travel.
The mural, believed to be New York City’s largest street-art installation in years, is the latest in a series of street memorials to victims of traffic created by the activist group Right Of Way. Other memorials include theRemembrance and Hope series, consisting of angel’s wings with inscriptions chosen by grieving families, the Elderloss seriescommemorating seniors killed by drivers, and the 3 Children Too Manyand 8 Under 8 series, memorializing the city’s youngest traffic victims.
The new installation departs somewhat from earlier Right Of Way memorials by including motor vehicle (and motorcycle) users along with pedestrians and bicyclists killed by drivers. It also includes Irv Schachter and Jill Tarlov, the two pedestrians who died when they were struck by bicycle-riders in separate incidents in Central Park. Prior to those crashes, which took place in August and September, respectively, no pedestrian had died from a bicycle collision in New York City since 2009.
“We’ve moved from saying ‘Killed By Auto’ to saying ‘Killed By Traffic’ because we believe it better conveys that traffic violence is a systematic problem, larger even than reckless driving,” said Keegan Stephan. “To end the carnage on our streets, it must ultimately be addressed holistically, from redesigning our streets, to addressing the over-density of motor-vehicles.”
The new memorial, like its predecessors, seeks to keep alive the memory of victims of vehicular-traffic violence while spurring the authorities to transform street-engineering, traffic enforcement and criminal adjudication to protect all road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists who face the greatest perils. The memorial is also intended as a reminder that the downturn in fatalities trumpeted during the winter by city officials was modest, at best, a mere 2% less than the 2009-2013 average.
“City and other officials have miles to go before they or anyone can declare our streets safe,” said Charles Komanoff, another organizer with Right Of Way. “While enactment last year of the 25 mph speed limit (down from 30 mph) was a good start that showed strong leadership by the mayor, there is little evidence that the police commissioner and the city’s five district attorneys are committed to preventing or prosecuting dangerous driving.”
Among the members of Families for Safe Streets attending the installation were Dana Lerner, whose 9-year-old son Cooper Stock was struck and killed on West End Avenue in January 2014 by a left-turning cab driver; and Franci Brenner, whose 29-year-old son Matthew Brenner was struck by a motorist on Sands Street near the Manhattan Bridge bike path in Brooklyn in July 2014.
Dana Lerner said, “On Monday April 13, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance and Judge Erika Edwards diminished my son Cooper Stock’s life to nothing more than a $580 traffic ticket. Traffic violence is not accidental. It can be prevented if NYC redesigns its streets, enforces its traffic laws and holds reckless drivers accountable. I am grateful that Right Of Way is acknowledging our loved ones with the dignity that they deserve.”
Franci Brenner said, “My beloved son, my only child Matthew Brenner, was tragically taken from this earth. His death could have been prevented. We must hold accountable those who are reckless and cause injury or death. The justice system has our loved ones’ blood on its hands. I miss him every day and only hope that his memory, being honored with this memorial, will make drivers remember that they operate a multi-ton weapon and need to drive with the utmost care.”
“Indeed, we experienced this as we were installing the memorial,” said Keegan Stephan. “As we were installing the mural, a driver crashed his truck into the wall we were working on. He did what truck drivers do every day in New York City, taking a turn too sharp, letting his rear wheels roll up onto the sidewalk. This time, there was a wall there, so he just got stuck. If there had been people standing on that sidewalk, they would have been killed, crushed against a wall memorializing traffic fatalities.”
(Footage of the crash can be seen around minute 1:10 of the first video)
Charles Komanoff, 347.961.9684, firstname.lastname@example.org
Keegan Stephan, 907.244.6426, email@example.com