NEW YORK -- In the spirit of the "baby carriage blockades" of the 1950s and 60s, parents with strollers, Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives gathered with parents from across the five boroughs on Saturday to demand safe streets in the wake of spate of pedestrian deaths.
Along with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and several members of the New York City Council, participants called for a vote on the Reckless Driver Accountability Act, which would put consequences in place for drivers who repeatedly break the law.
Since Thanksgiving, there have been more than two dozen pedestrian fatalities in New York City, including two children: 3-year-old Bertin DeJesus, who was in his stroller crossing 116th Street in East Harlem with his mother when he was struck and killed by a habitual reckless driver who had no valid license, and 10-year-old Srijan Panthee, who died after he was struck by the driver of a Department of Sanitation truck in Corona, Queens.
This action echoes the baby carriage blockades of the 1950s and 1960s, in which parents led protests in the streets to demand changes -- sometimes after children were killed by drivers.
“In the mid twentieth century, women from cities and suburbs all over America organized street blockades to demand safe conditions for children,” said Peter Norton, a professor in the Department of Engineering and Society at the University of Virginia and the author of “Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.” “New York women staged some of the biggest protests of all in East Harlem, Brooklyn and Queens. Some of the protesters pushed baby carriages, so reporters called these demonstrations ‘baby carriage blockades.’ When authorities prioritize cars they want us to forget this history and think that ‘safe’ just means ‘safe for people inside vehicles.’ But a street isn’t safe until people of all ages can walk or bike without putting their lives at risk. We have such a long way to go. So that’s why parents are coming out today, like they did decades ago.”
The Reckless Driver Accountability Act, introduced by Council Member Brad Lander, would help save lives on New York City streets by making sure chronic offenders are unable to get behind the wheel. After racking up a certain number of moving violations in a 12-month period, drivers would be required to attend safety courses, have their cars impounded or lose driving privileges. The bill has broad support, but has been stalled due to concerns that it may face legal challenges.
A vote on the Reckless Driver Accountability Act can’t come soon enough: since it was introduced in June 2018, at least 362 people have died on the streets of New York.
“I know all too well the consequences of reckless driving. In 2006, my son Bryan was killed by a driver. More than a decade later, my goddaughter Luz Gonzalez was killed by a hit-and-run driver. There are countless others across our city whose lives have been upended due to reckless driving,” said Families for Safe Streets member Fabiola Mendieta. “It’s too late for my family. It’s too late for Luz’s and Bertin’s families. But it’s not too late for the millions of families across New York. This bill needs to be passed immediately.”
“Traffic deaths are on the rise for the first time in years—and that fact keeps me up at night,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “New Yorkers should be able to cross the street, or ride their bicycles, without fear of losing their lives. The time to act is now, and I thank Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives for drawing attention to this crisis.”
“Earlier this week, a truck driver struck and killed 10-year-old Srijan Panthee in Queens, the seventh child under the age of 11 to be killed on city streets since January of last year. These aren’t just names or statistics on a monthly report: they’re people who had their whole lives ahead of them, until a reckless driver tragically cut them short. We have a safe streets crisis in our city, and children are some of the most vulnerable. The City and State must take aggressive action to stem the bloodshed, which is why I partnered with District Attorney Gonzalez to push for the passage of Assembly Member Lentol’s Hit-and-Run Prevention Act this session. I thank Transportation Alternatives and all the other advocates in this space for leading this moral crusade against these horrific deaths, and pushing to make our streets safer for all,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
“How many more children will be killed on New York City streets before we pass the Reckless Driver Accountability Act?" said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. "We must do more to protect our children from future crashes and tragedies. The Reckless Driver Accountability Act would get dangerous drivers off of our streets and then use a data-driven, restorative approach to help drivers break their bad habits. It is time for New York City to take proactive measures to make our streets safer by passing the Reckless Driver Accountability Act. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of the Act, and I thank Council Member Brad Lander, my council colleagues, and safe street advocates for championing this vital, common-sense legislation.”
“Every child lost on our streets to dangerous drivers is a severe tragedy that we as elected officials must act on to prevent any further loss of life,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the Committee on Public Safety. “Vision Zero has made progress but it has gone far enough to protect the children in our city, which is why we must use every tool we have at the City Council to hold dangerous drivers accountable and provide the infrastructure necessary to ensure that pedestrians and cyclists can travel our streets without fearing for their life. I’d like to thank Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives for leading the effort to stop every preventable tragedy we can.”
“How many more children need to die at the hands of reckless drivers for us to pass the Reckless Driver Accountability Act?” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “It is beyond time for us to remove the most dangerous and reckless drivers from the streets. We have the tools to do this. We just need to pass this bill.”
"Every time a child is struck by a car we are reminded that pedestrians have lost control of our streets -- we travel at our own peril. As a society we have the tools to address so many of these senseless tragedies. Why are we waiting? For starters, I am joining with Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and so many New Yorkers in urging passage of the Reckless Driver Accountability Act now," said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.