Hundreds of traffic safety advocates and Park Slope residents made their demands for safer streets heard on Monday at a march and rally held exactly one week after two children were fatally struck by a car in the neighborhood.
Inspired by similar child-led protests in the Netherlands in the 1970s, organizers of the Kids March for Safer Streets said they hope the event will encourage the city to do more to protect pedestrians from traffic violence.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, one of a handful of elected officials to attend, said enacting measures to make the streets safer for pedestrians is “not rocket science.”
“I am heartsick and heartbroken to stand here tonight but I’m incredibly inspired by the families behind me who have turned their grief into activism,” Johnson told the crowd. “I commit to you that this City Council, we recommit ourselves in the wake of this tragedy, to push this administration to do more. In the upcoming budget, we’ll push for the Department of Transportation to make streets safer.”
"Is hitting people with cars okay?" Tracy Loh, 34, asked her three-year-old, Mayzie. "Not good, but hugging is nice," she said, getting ready to march in the NYC March for Safe Streets in Park Slope Monday. pic.twitter.com/3t47OsRosD— Rajvi Desai (@rajviedesai) March 12, 2018
"I'm trying to teach him that the city belongs to him too and we have the power to change things," Doug Gordon, 44, said, while marching with his five-year-old son, Zeb, on his shoulders down Ninth Street in Park Slope pic.twitter.com/Sb6exxlue0— Rajvi Desai (@rajviedesai) March 12, 2018
A teddy bear and flowers grace a post on the corner of Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue, which was the site of a fatal car crash that killed two children last week in Park Slope. pic.twitter.com/ORjTnbIjkR— Rajvi Desai (@rajviedesai) March 12, 2018
Three children have been hit and killed by vehicles in Brooklyn so far in 2018.
Abigail Blumenstein, 4, and Joshua Lew, 1, were killed on Monday, March 5, when a driver sped through the intersection at Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street in Park Slope. Their mothers were injured in the crash, as well as a 46-year-old man.
The driver, Dorothy Bruns, has not been charged, and sources said she suffers from seizures. Some elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have said Bruns should not have been allowed to drive a car.
In January, Kevin Flores, 13, was fatally struck by an oil truck in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The truck driver who hit Flores, Philip Monfoletto, was charged with driving without a license in connection with the deadly crash, and police said he has faced similar charges before.
Flores’ mother, while addressing the crowd in Spanish as City Councilman Carlos Menchaca translated for her, implored de Blasio for tougher consequences against drivers who break the law.
“Because if we don’t have deeper consequences, everybody is going to feel like they can continue to do what they’re doing,” Margarita Flores said while holding a photo of her son. “Today it was my son, tomorrow it could be yours. We don’t know who is going to be impacted, that’s why we are here to speak out. We cannot stay silent.”
Johnson, meanwhile, pointed to the successes of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative along Queens Boulevard as a recipe for how to improve other areas of the city that are plagued by traffic violence.
Once known as the “Boulevard of Death,” Queens Boulevard has not seen a traffic fatality in three years.
“We have seen what has worked in other neighborhood across the city. We have seen what has worked all throughout the borough of Queens,” he said. “We have seen the numbers – countless lives that have been saved.”
As the crowd gathered ahead of the march, signs that read, “How I wish this driver had been on an E-bike. Stop the murder,” and “Good design can change the world and driver behavior,” could be seen while organizers distributed fake yellow roses.
Borough President Eric Adams led the ralliers in chanting the young victims’ names, “Kevin Flores, Abigail, Josh,” and then spoke to his own firsthand experience with the city’s “vehicle use-only mindset.”
“I ride my bike through these streets all the time. I know how dangerous this is,” he said. “The trauma doesn’t stop when the vehicle hits the object; it doesn’t stop when it destroys the body. It rips apart the anatomy of our community.”
Park Slope resident Leticia Alonso, 47, who brought her 10-year-old daughter Camila to the march, said she has had a heightened sense of awareness since last Monday’s deadly crash.
“The cars are fast, and they don’t stop for pedestrians. I am very, very nervous,” she said. “Now I have to check more to see the cars are stopping.”
Attendees – many with small children on their shoulders – chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!” as they marched down Ninth Street toward the crash site at Fifth Avenue.
Evan Woollie, 37, pushed his 3-year-old son Miles in a stroller.
“My wife is the assistant principal of the school where Kevin Flores went,” he said. “We are here to support his family. We also want to support the notion that we should be safe in the streets of New York.”
Upon arriving at the crash site, children deposited the fake yellow flowers as mourners chanted, “Not one more!” Attendee Alison Collard de Beaufort picked up a teddy bear and tied it to the signal lamp post on the corner.
City Councilman Brad Lander, speaking to the crowd amid the makeshift memorial to Abigail and Joshua, promised city officials would do more to make New Yorkers feel protected before holding a moment of silence for the lost children.
“We will work to make sure that all drivers drive like their children live here,” he said. “We will demand change so that those who choose to drive recklessly lose their licenses before they kill any more children.”
Facing pressure from a slew of advocates and city officials, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said on Thursday that the agency would put out a “detailed plan” within the coming weeks to redesign Ninth Street corridor, where Joshua and Abigail were killed.