VISION ZERO RALLY
CANDLELIGHT VIGIL FOR THOSE LOST TO TRAFFIC VIOLENCE AND RALLY FOR VISION ZERO
January 27, 2014
At the intersection of Myrtle, Wyckoff, and Palmetto Avenues in Brooklyn, advocates for safer streets held a vigil for those lost to traffic violence in 2013. “It was at this site, one year ago, that Ella Bandes was hit by an MTA bus and later died of her injuries,” said Keegan Stephan, an organizer with Right of Way.
Earlier this month, Ella’s family reached out to other families of victims and transportation advocates to plan a memorial for Ella. “In that short time, the memorial for one person grew to a vigil for everyone killed in traffic in 2013, then into a rally for Vision Zero, the goal to eliminate traffic fatalities,” said Stephan.
More than one hundred supporters gathered at the intersection in sub-freezing temperatures and stayed for over 2 hours as temperatures dropped even lower after nightfall. Behind the speakers, organizers hung a vertical banner from an elevated subway pillar with the names of everyone killed by drivers in 2013 and 2014. “Each one of these deaths is unique,” said Hilda Cohen, organizer with Make Brooklyn Safer. “Each one is preventable. And each one makes me mad!”
The chaos of the intersection was palpable, with police corralling pedestrians, busses making turns sharper than 90 degrees, traffic lights tucked under the elevated train platform, cars speeding through them, and no traffic calming measures besides white paint in one crosswalk warning pedestrians to “Look!”
“It has been more than a year since Ella was killed,” said her mother, Judith Kottick. “We have been pleading with the city to fix this intersection ever since, and still nothing has been done.”
Four other families who lost children last year spoke in solidarity with Ella’s: the families of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, Allison Tam-Liao, Luis Bravo, and Renee Thompson. While filled with grief, each expressed the desire and dedication to end these tragedies, to make sure this does not happen to even one more family. They echoed the refrain that the city needs better engineering, education, and enforcement, with calls for 20mph speed limits, traffic cameras, a crackdown on deadly traffic infractions, better legislation, and prosecution of reckless drivers.
The families were supported by more than a dozen politicians, medical experts, and spiritual leaders. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams promised, “Brooklyn will lead the push for 20mph speed limits,” City Councilmember Mark Weprin promised to pass legislation that would make it easier to prosecute reckless drivers, and Freshman City Councilmember Antonio Reynoso said, “We need to make the city safe for people, not for cars,” and pointed out the perils of the intersection.
Emergency Medical Doctor Kaushal Shah described the trauma of being struck by a vehicle in graphic, first hand detail, and Tad Carter, who has suffered traumatic brain injury twice as the result of motor vehicle collisions, spoke of the difficulties of relearning simple tasks on a daily basis. “In addition to the hundreds of people killed every year, thousands more have their have their lives irreparably altered by traffic violence,” said Laura Newman, organizer with Make Queens Safer.
The vigil ended with songs and prayers from spiritual leaders, then a stirring call to action from community organizer Daniel Hurewitz: “Every time you drive, you can slow down, then the traffic behind you will slow down too,” he said. “And even if you are not driving, if you are a passenger, or in a cab, or in a bus, you can tell the driver to slow down. Don’t be afraid. Do it. You might save a life.”
“Lastly, you can be the people who are seen,” he added. “You can attend these rallies, you can show up at city council hearings, and you can demand Vision Zero.”
“We are so honored to have been part of this event,” wrote Juddith Kottick in an e-mail afterward. “Thank you for the support and strength you gave us. We look forward to continuing the effort.”