The growing movement to make New York’s streets safer for pedestrians took another step forward Sunday night, as scores of people filled the sidewalk on the corner of Myrtle, Wyckoff, and Palmetto Avenues in Brooklyn, where Ella Bandes died, to honor her memory and push for safety in her name.
Ella was 23 when the driver of a B52 bus making a turn in the complicated Bushwick intersection hit her around 11 p.m. one night nearly a year ago. She was taken off life support a few days later.
<>“It was the worst day of our lives and unfortunately, we have come to find out, we are not alone in this tragedy,” said Ella’s mother, Judy Kottick. Behind her, friends of Ella’s held up a large white banner with several columns of black type, listing in chronological order the names and ages of men, women and children who, on foot or on bicycles, have lost their lives in New York City traffic collisions since Jan. 1, 2013. The font was small and the list long.
The event — which drew and sustained a large crowd despite frigid temperatures — honored the memories of 285 other pedestrians and bicyclists killed in 2013, as well as 17 more killed already in 2014. Less than an hour after the crowd dispersed, another pedestrian — 67-year-old James Benedict — was fatally struck on Staten Island.
Reports of traffic fatalities are so frequent, Kottick said, that it’s difficult to grasp the toll they take. “The accident has left a devastated mother, father and brother whose lives are forever altered. It is impossible to believe we have survived a year without hearing her voice, feeling her loving embrace, sharing her laughter,” she said. Her husband, Ken Bandes, and son, Ella’s older brother Ian — his face red from the cold and the tears — stood close by her side. “While the rest of the world can go on as if nothing ever happened,” she said, “our planet has stopped spinning.”
Cristina Furlong, a Jackson Heights resident who helped found Make Queens Safer after a child was killed in her neighborhood, worked with other advocacy groups and families and friends of victims to organize the vigil and rally. The event was part of a larger effort to call communities throughout New York City to action around pedestrian safety. Furlong hopes these groups will unite “with a common mission, a common cause, and a loud and strong voice to make change in city policy.”
The friends and family members, advocacy group representatives, and members of the community expressed support for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan. The mayor’s plan to reduce traffic fatalities to zero by 2024 includes promises to improve dangerous intersections, reduce speed limits, prioritize enforcement of speeding and failure to yield, and transfer power over red light and speed cameras from the state to the city.
Legislation to prevent future fatalities is on the table at the state level. Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell introduced a bill in Albany earlier this month that would reduce the New York City speed limit from 30 to 20 miles per hour except where otherwise marked. State Sen. Mike Gianaris and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, both of whom spoke passionately at the vigil, said they put in a bill that would make the death or injury of someone by a driver who is unlicensed or carrying a suspended license a felony.
“The stories are too many and it’s time to stand up and say the pedestrians have the right of way in this city,” said Gianaris.
One of Ella’s closest friends, Gabrielle D’Angelo, designed banners and tracked down the names on the list of fatalities in preparation for the event. Since the spring, she has also helped Ella’s parents push the Department of Transportation to take steps to make the maze of crosswalks and traffic lights outside the Myrtle-Wyckoff subway station safer for pedestrians. However, the DOT has yet to implement traffic-calming measures in that intersection.
Also at the vigil was Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son, Samuel Cohen Eckstein, was struck by a van in front of his Park Slope home in October. He died of his injuries a few hours later. “These tragic deaths, that affect rich and poor, black, white, Latino, and Asian, could have been prevented,” Cohen said. “We hope we can count on all of you to keep up the pressure until our streets are safe for all New Yorkers, so that no one else has to endure the crushing pain we feel every day.”
Daniel Hurewitz, a fellow Park Slope resident who has been pushing for change since Sammy’s death, left the crowd with three ways to take action. He encouraged everyone to sign petitions for the citywide speed-reduction bill, and to continue to be both visible and vocal about pedestrian safety. Finally, he asked everyone to take a pledge to drive safely and to urge friends and family as well as taxi and bus drivers to do the same.
“We can’t undo the tragedies that have already happened around us, the tragedy that happened a year ago here,” said Hurwitz. “But what we can do, what we must do, and what we will do, is slow and finally stop this epidemic in our city.”
“No one moves legislation, no one moves government, faster than those who have gone through some type of traumatic experience,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “Let’s turn pain into purpose.”