Why the advocacy of traffic-victims’ families is so critical

Over at WNYC, Jim O’Grady digs into the death of Allison Liao, the 3-year-old who was killed crossing the street in Flushing last year. The story, both written and as recorded for radio, will probably make you tear up.

I’ve gotten to know Allison’s parents, Hsi-Pei and Amy, over the past few months. They’ve been courageous in their calls for safer streets, fighting what must be incalculable amounts of grief in the hope that no family will have to suffer the same.

I have yet to meet Allie’s grandmother, who was holding Allie’s hand as she crossed the street that final time. There’s good reason for that, it appears: she’s barely able to leave the house, according to O’Grady.

I did meet her older brother, Preston, a shy but precocious little boy. Once he warms up to you, he’s very liberal with the high-fives. It makes you wonder what Allie would be like today, were she still with us. Or if he might be more outgoing were his sister by his side.

And that’s why the work of these devastated families – the Liaos, the Cohen-Ecksteins, the Lefevres, and so many others – is by far the most important in the livable-streets community, today or ever. Advocates have long used statistics to make their case, to varying degrees of success. But numbers are no match for a grieving father, a heartbroken grandmother, a confused best friend. Their testimony makes you realize that although “only” 156 pedestrians were killed in traffic in 2013, the ripple effects were far, far greater.

Whenever I hear about a pedestrian death, I choose a proxy to try to understand the grief it might cause. For Allie, it was my best friend’s 3-year-old daughter. For Cooper Stock, it was one of the kids I tutor. For each, I can think of scores if not hundreds of people – friends, family, teachers, neighbors, witnesses – whose lives would be permanently altered.

There’s no reason to think it’s not the same when it does happen. And thanks to the work of families like the Liaos, we see that the consequences of a pedestrian death extend far beyond a single tally in a statistician’s book.

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