Brooklyn educators, students and elected officials devastated by the loss of a popular school teacher demanded on Thursday greater action from the city to increase street safety.
Matthew Jensen, who taught at nearby P.S. 110 on Monitor Street, was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in a black Rolls Royce sedan on May 18 at the corner of Bayard Street and McGuinness Boulevard in Greenpoint. On May 27, youngsters and elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, held a march and vigil in the teacher’s memory while calling for safer streets.
Beginning at the central point of McGolrick Park, almost 200 community members held a protest calling for change to the intersection, where over 15 people have died in traffic collisions through the years.
“While I did not have the pleasure of knowing Mr. Jensen, I know that he was extremely special. He was warm and deeply engaged in our community. It seems to me that Mr. Jensen loved life from plants to animals to children and to his peers. He was a wonderful kind of person who was willing to fight to make it better for everyone,” Assemblymember Emily Gallagher said, adding that Jensen’s memory should be honored with action.
“Over 15 people have been seriously injured or killed on the McGuinness Boulevard,” she added. “Every single one of us knows that it could be any one of us to be killed there. If we don’t do something, something meaningful, there will be many more who will die on the McGuinness Boulevard.”
McGuinness Boulevard is infamous for being one of the most dangerous crosswalks in the city, according to surveys and studies conducted by the McGuinness Boulevard Working Group.
Now advocates and elected officials are saying enough is enough, and Mayor de Blasio agreed Thursday to their demand for immediate street changes.
“It is time for profound real change to protect the people of this city,” de Blasio said. “There have been too many crashes, too many deaths that didn’t have to happen.”
The mayor shared that he has made it one of his long standing platforms to push the citywide initiative, Vision Zero, to protect bicyclists, pedestrians, and reduce collisions on the streets. He recalled trying to shift from a car culture to pedestrian safety and is calling for more change starting with the Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act, which is a set of eight bills that focus on street safety statewide.
“This is about saving lives and unfortunately this community is feeling pain and loss at this moment. Everyone from P.S. 110, I’m so sorry that you’re gathered here in pain and mourning. Mathew Jensen wanted to help kids,” de Blasio said. “He is gone because of a hit and run crash. He is gone because someone killed him and left the scene, and this is what happens too often.”
Children held drawings memorializing a teacher they called kindhearted and a ray of happiness and positivity, while others clapped when the Mayor promised to keep working toward safer streets.
Jensen’s cousin, John, also addressed the crowd, holding a smashed phone and bent house keys that were found at the scene — the last remnants of his relative. With tears in his eyes, he talked about his last memories with Jensen.
“He would be so thrilled with this, and somehow he is here. He would be so happy with this attention and opportunity to speak. On May 17, we celebrated his 58th birthday,” John said, recalling his cousin’s affinity for cake, his humor, and devotion to Christianity.
Holding onto a banner with the words, “Make McGuinness Safe Now,” the group of mourners held a short procession from PS 110 down to the crash site where, with their heads bowed, the children took turns remembering a man who went above and beyond the role of teacher and cared truly about their education and personal lives.
“Mr. Jensen was really a great teacher, and he was very special to everyone. Everyone loved him and everyone thought he was a good teacher. He was just a good person in general. He made a lot of people feel better,” Benjamin Ginsburg said.
Another student chimed in sharing that while she was not acquainted with Jensen personally, his illuminating personality brought happiness to the school. She recalls being extremely sad one day, and although she was not his student, he offered her comforting words, an act she says she will always be grateful for.
After the memorial, the mayor laid flowers in the teacher’s memory.
“We need everyone in Albany to understand that this is their responsibility. They cannot leave Albany until they pass this act to protect our children, to protect our teachers, to protect our seniors, protect our lives,” de Blasio said, promising to put money into the city budget to redesign McGuinness Boulevard.