Families of NYC Traffic Violence Victims Band Together for Safer Streets

On Sunday, New Yorkers who’ve lost loved ones to traffic violence gathered on the steps of City Hall in Lower Manhattan to launch Families for Safe Streets, a new initiative advocating for street designs and traffic enforcement that will save lives. In this moving Streetfilm, members of Families for Safe Streets talk about their goals and why they’re speaking out.

The speakers included Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein, whose son Sammy was killed on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn; Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, whose daughter Allison was killed in a Queens crosswalk; Judith Kottick, whose daughter Ella Kottick Bandes was killed while crossing the street in Brooklyn; Mary Beth Kelly, whose husband Dr. Carl Henry Nacht was killed while riding his bicycle on the west side of Manhattan; Greg Thompson, whose sister Renee was killed by a turning truck driver on the Upper East Side; Dana Lerner, whose son Cooper Stock was killed by a taxi driver who failed to yield to Cooper and his father while they were in a crosswalk; and Dave Sheppard, whose fiancée Sonya Powell was killed crossing the street by an unlicensed, hit-and-run driver in the Bronx.

Their message on Sunday was about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths in New York. Families for Safe Streets supports the multi-pronged action plan de Blasio unveiled last week, while calling on City Hall to make firmer commitments with concrete benchmarks for reducing traffic violence.

The formation of a survivors group dedicated to reducing dangerous driving of all kinds is also a new development in New York, and perhaps a national precedent. While organizations like MADD have specifically countered drunk driving, the United States has not had an equivalent to the UK’s Road Peace, a traffic violence survivors group formed in 1992 that has become a national voice for overall street safety. Perhaps not coincidentally, since 1990, traffic deaths in Great Britain have dropped by two-thirds, while traffic deaths in the U.S. have fallen by only a quarter.

By turning their grief into activism, Families for Safe Streets is doing something new and powerful. And they are extending an outstretched hand to other victims’ families in New York. “There are thousands of other survivors,” Amy Cohen said at Sunday’s event. “We invite them to join us.”

Stephen Miller contributed reporting to this post.