Demonstrators from Families for Safe Streets hold a sign during a protest outside Gov. Cuomo's office. Credit: TransAlt

TransAlt executive director arrested with families of people killed by reckless drivers during protest

By Clarissa Sosin

Amy Cohen should have been snapping photos of her son Sammy at his high school graduation on Thursday. Instead she was part of a group protesting outside of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown office in support of legislation that could have saved his life. After a speeding driver crashed into and killed her 12-year-old son while he was walking from his middle school to soccer practice in Park Slope four years ago, Cohen is pushing for the state Senate to vote on a bill that would install more cameras to catch and ticket speeding drivers.

“People are dying and they are treating this like a game. They are playing Russian Roulette with people’s lives,” said Cohen. “It’s really incomprehensible. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.”

When the Senate’s legislative session ended this week without the bill being brought to the floor for a vote, Cohen and other members of Families for Safe Streets, a project that Cohen helped co-found with the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, took to the streets outside of Cuomo’s office in Midtown Manhattan demanding that he order the Senate to reconvene for a vote. The group blocked traffic and nine people were arrested, including Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives who was there along with other staff members to stand in solidarity with the families.

“They are willing to put themselves on the line,” said Thomas DeVito, Transportation Alternatives director of advocacy and one of the nine people arrested that day about the families protesting. “This isn’t about their kids. Their kids have already suffered the greatest consequences. This is about protecting every other person’s kids.”

DeVito and the other eight protestors arrested were released around 11 p.m. that night DeVito said. This is not the first time that the higher ups at Transportation Alternatives have been arrested for protesting. Former President Ann Sullivan and former Executive Director Jon Orcutt were arrested during a rally in 1992 according to a press release on the advocacy group’s website.

The legislation that they are fighting for would extend and expand a four year old pilot program that placed cameras throughout the city to catch and ticket speeding drivers from 140 cameras to 290 cameras citywide according to a New York Post story.

Data from Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office shows that the ticket issuing cameras reduce speeding by 63% and pedestrian injuries by 23 percent.

“It has undoubtedly saved lives,” DeVito said about the program. “The lack of action and leadership to make sure that this program is expanded is breathtaking.”

The program is set to end on July 25 and it is unclear whether the cameras will be removed or remain unused where they are.

In the meantime, Cohen and the others plan to keep fighting.

“It was a pilot. The pilot was working. If you have an epidemic,” Cohen said. “You pass out the vaccine!”

Transportation Alternatives also campaigns on several Queens-related safety issues, including a push to build pedestrian crosswalks, a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands on 111th Street, which runs along the western edge of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

“111th street is needlessly wide and encourages dangerous driving, while providing no safe space for people walking and biking,” the organizations states on its website.

In addition, the organization has long advocated for traffic-calming measures along Queens Boulevard, nicknamed the Boulevard of Death for a series of accidents that have killed eight people and injured at least 218 pedestrians and cyclists since 2013.

To foster a safer thoroughfare, Transportation Alternatives calls for pedestrian safety improvements, protected bike lanes and Select Bus Service.

“These critical improvements will save lives, boost foot traffic to local business and will dramatically improve local quality of life along the boulevard,” their website states.

Pedestrian and cyclist safety also managed to infiltrate the Congressional primary season once Rep. Joe Crowley (NY – 14) and challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez both began to tweet their opinions about protected bike lanes along Skillman Ave. and 43rd Ave. on the way to the Queensboro Bridge in Long Island City.

Earlier this month, Ocasio-Cortez said she supported the lanes and called on developers to build parking lots. The next day, Crowley tweeted that he disagrees with a Department of Transportation proposal to build the bike lanes. Organizations like StreetsBlog and Transportation Alternatives have hailed the lanes, but they remain unpopular among car owners who say the lanes will reduce the number of parking spots in the region.

At a hearing June 8, Community Board 2 members voted against the DOT plan 27-8, though the DOT later signalled that it might proceed with the plan despite the advisory vote

Nevertheless, Crowley’s tweet enabled Ocasio-Cortez to get in a political dig at the incumbent Congressman and chair of the Queens County Democrats. She accused Crowley of using her statements to gauge important issues.

“Hey Joe, funny I just tweeted about this very specific local issue yesterday,” Crowley said. “If you’re going to follow my  conversations, why don’t you just let me have the seat?”

Demonstrators from Families for Safe Streets hold a sign during a protest outside Gov. Cuomo’s office. Credit: TransAlt

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