Parents, children, and other citizens gathered outside City Hall Park on New Year’s Day to hold an inauguration of their own: the beginning of Vision Zero, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pledge to eliminate pedestrian injuries and fatalities within ten years.
Volunteers young and old handed out bright yellow VISION ZERØ stickers and flyers. An on-duty NYPD sergeant leaned over the fence to ask about the initiative. Children fought shivers to hold homemade signs pleading for slower speeds and fewer deaths.
A few public supporters came over en route to the official ceremony, including incoming Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Council Members Mark Weprin and Brad Lander.
Also present were the parents of two children killed by cars just two days apart in October: Allison Liao and Samuel Cohen Eckstein. All four have pushed through their grief to advocate for safer streets in the three months since those tragedies.
“Just spreading the awareness helps,” said Hsi-Pei Liao, Allison’s father, as he handed out pink bracelets reading, “Pause. Ask. Is It Worth It?” His goal for 2014 is to see increased enforcement of traffic laws.
His wife, Amy Tam-Liao, shared this view. “The person who killed Allie is a reckless driver, and he’s still out there,” she said. “Our lives are turned upside-down, while his goes back to normal.”
Eighteen children were killed by cars in New York City in 2013. The driver responsible for three-year-old Allison’s death was issued two summonses – for failure to yield and failure to use due care – and retained his license. This favorable treatment of drivers who kill is the rule, rather than the exception – something the Liaos and many others want to see changed in the de Blasio administration.
Several aspects are out of Mayor de Blasio’s control, however, a weakness many advocates plan to target. “My priority this year is to get home rule from Albany,” said Amy Cohen, Samuel’s mother, referring to implementation of traffic laws. The Legislature approved the installation of 20 speed cameras around schools last year, but has nixed several other City-centric initiatives, including congestion pricing.
Ms. Trottenberg, who is coming from the United States Department of Transportation, empathized. “I’ve seen this at the federal level,” she said. “In every city there are city-state clashes over laws like these.”
Early reviews of Ms. Trottenberg were favorable in the livable-streets community, both from organizations and from those who met her on Wednesday. “She didn’t talk over us, trying to tell us what’s right,” said Eric McClure, co-founder of Park Slope Neighbors. “She listened to what we had to say.”
Ms. Trottenberg had made a point of stopping by, and stayed for 15 minutes. She was intent on continuing the conversation, to the delight of those present. “As soon as I’m here,” she said, “you’re one of the first groups I want to meet with.”