Stop Killing Us Now

SOUTHERN BROOKLYN – Whether you are out shopping, waiting for a bus, riding your bicycle – these days on the streets of Southern Brooklyn, you are more likely to be killed by a speeding and inattentive driver than a bullet – or anything else.

So far this year, Brooklyn South has logged the deaths of 36 neighbors due to traffic fatalities – ten more than this time last year – an increase of almost 40%. More people were killed in Brooklyn South than in all of Manhattan (36 versus 28), and no other patrol borough comes close in numbers of neighbors killed:

Citywide traffic fatalities, October 2019 TrafficStat PBBS = Patrol Borough Brooklyn South, followed by Bronx, Queens South, Queens North, Brooklyn North, Manhattan North, Manhattan South and Staten Island.

Two ten-year-olds were killed in the last month – one was waiting for the bus after school in Midwood when he was mowed down by an out of control driver. Another was crossing the street on his bicycle with friends. Two elderly residents were mowed down just last week – one in Sheepshead Bay (Ford and V) and one in Kensington. A teenager was orphaned when an out of control driver killed her mother on Coney Island Avenue in July. A bicyclist was killed when a car ran a red light at high speed and collided with another this Summer. A few other bicyclists were doored sending them into oncoming traffic. A toddler was killed in Bath Beach at a crosswalk with a STOP sign. I could go on.

Keeping track

We have been trying our best to keep track of all who have been killed in Brooklyn, but that information is not always easily available.  Police still have not released the name or whether the driver was charged in the crash that killed a neighbor on Cortelyou Road right by PS139 this summer, despite numerous requests, or name or details in the crash on East 5th and Church Ave from earlier this summer.  Streetsblog keeps track and has a spreadsheet that tallies fatalities up for the city, but its editor Gersh Kuntzman warned it is not accurate – “these are just the ones we know about”- he said.  There are no monthly reports like on other crime stats for Vision Zero, though in Southern Brooklyn more people are killed by cars than guns.

What we have is TrafficStat and Vision Zero maps. Vision Zero Map has a lag of months. Similarly, the TrafficStat Map the NYPD maintains embedded below claims to be accurate as of October 13, yet does not seem to map the deaths on East 4th and East 5th Streets along Church Avenue. What’s worse, the old data available disappears as new data is added, so there is no way to compare or analyze. There is no public list of deadly traffic crashes with publicly available information.

Traffic Fatalities mapped for Brooklyn South as of October 13, 2019, TrafficStat.

Neighbors have been identifying dangerous intersections for years, requesting traffic calming measures that would allow for better visibility, and safer crossings.  Why is it there are no crosswalks or traffic lights along a busy stretch of Newkirk Avenue that has a post office, elementary school and a very busy subway stop, and one of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians in the borough? Why are pedestrian and bicyclist injuries not taken seriously unless the person is unlikely to make it?

Do Your Job, Keep Brooklyn Residents Safe!

One common thread when we talk to a neighbor after neighbor – online and off -is: why won’t the NYPD do their job and enforce the traffic rules? And not just against the bicyclists and skateboarders blowing red lights, but cars and buses and trucks blowing through stop signs, red lights and going off truck routes, endangering all along the way as well. Let’s move those trucks that park in and by crosswalks blocking visibility – how about we start with the ones that park by schools, parks, libraries, senior centers, and subway stops?

We asked NYPD how many traffic enforcement agents they had assigned to Brooklyn, and were told by Detective Annette Shelton that the “NYPD does not discuss the specifics of staffing deployments for security reasons.  The Department is committed to addressing all traffic conditions citywide and ensures there is adequate staffing on all tours. We encourage residents to report conditions and complaints through 311, attend Build the Block meetings and make their Neighborhood Coordination Officers aware of any traffic violations so they can be corrected. Our goal is to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers and we are committed to Vision Zero.”

Access – A – Ride driver going through solid red light to turn onto Ocean Parkway from Church Avenue. Screenshot from video below.

Vision Zero in Brooklyn is a bit of a joke, locals agree, more like “Zero Vision”.

This morning I walked by the 6 spots where a neighbor was killed in the last 6 years – all within 6 blocks of each other. This past Saturday a 60-year neighbor was killed and her 72-year-old husband injured on Church and East 4th Street. Three months ago a man was killed one block away at Church and East 5th Street, within a week of a woman killed at Church and Coney Island Avenue.

Neighbors had set up a memorial following this latest death – asking – when will Vision Zero come to Kensington and reminding us of Ngozi Agbim, Mohammed Uddin and Faustino Garcia‘s deaths, all within blocks.

After every death, there is outrage. Mohammed was killed on a school block, soon there was traffic calming street redesign by the new PS130 building. Yet within a couple of years, the city opened a new elementary school on a truck route with not a single marked crosswalk or traffic light around it – just blocks away. It took until February of that school year to get a crosswalk by the school.  Maria Del Carmen Porras was killed a block from that school, at a crosswalk with crossing guards.

Many of the new schools coming to Sunset Park are along truck routes – largely due to difficulty finding an appropriate site for a school – does the city have a plan for safe routes to every school? Why do we seem to always be reacting rather than being pro-active when designing and siting schools, senior centers and libraries?

Crosswalk where Maria Del Carmen Porras was killed. New school in the background.

Following the two most recent deaths at Ocean Parkway and Church Avenue,  DOT redesigned the intersection. But is it working? Not without enforcement.

Documenting just one light cycle this morning, I witnessed 6 cars, including an Access-a-ride and a trailer, run a solid red light to turn onto Prospect Expressway from Church Avenue. While the big trailers are taking their time making a much tighter turn, turning on red seems to be near-constant, and not a cop car in sight.

Stop Reckless Driving

Let’s look at the contributing factors in these deadly traffic crashes in Brooklyn South:

Contributing factors

Unsafe speed – 11, driver not paying attention – 10, failure to yield – 4, traffic control disregard – 3. No amount of speed cameras by schools will make a difference until there is both – a massive change in NYPD mentality when it comes to traffic safety – something akin to keeping us safe from gun violence (which has claimed 27 lives so far this year in Brooklyn South, down 25% from last year) – and serious consequences for killing people, regardless of how.  Brad Lander’s reckless driver bill is a good start, and it is unfortunate that so many innocent neighbors have had to die for it to be considered.

Mayor De Blasio announced back in July a big push to make riding bicycles safer in Brooklyn, as the city is looking at record numbers of dead bicyclists. I no longer ride mine, and I know of many friends and neighbors who have decided similarly. It is simply too dangerous. Of the two dozen bicyclist deaths this year so far, more than half were in Brooklyn. But walking is not optional. We should be able to cross the city’s streets safely, wait for the bus – in peace, and not feel like it’s open season for pedestrians.

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Liena Zagare

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  1. Another “hot” spot is Glenwood and Bedford: 4 schools (Midwood HS, Midwood Montessori, Brooklyn College and an elementary school w/in a block from each other. I walk this intersection daily and watch speeders round the corners at speed to beat the light, blow through the yellow-red to beat the light. It’s only a matter of time and ill-luck before someone joins your list of fatalities. The crossing-guards are helpless against speeding cars. I’m guessing that the cops see traffic control and ticket-giving as beneath their rank and roll. But, in my opinion, to serve and protect includes protecting against multi-ton vehicles and their impact on flesh.

  2. Much needed alert and alarm call to this horrible situation!! Thank you. Please, everyone, proceed with caution in these neighborhoods as and until safer traffic mitigations/conditions are put in place.

  3. Time for another meeting…I’m hearing one will be held in November. Or possibly another study of the intersection(s)?
    Yes, the NYC DOT sent crews to pour new concrete to extend curbs. And paint new lines across Church Avenue. And instituted a “No Left Turn” from West-bound Church Avenue onto Ocean Parkway. At a recent Kensington community meeting, our Councilmember stated that it simply wasn’t enough.
    Your video CLEARLY AND BRILLIANTLY indicates that, despite every attempt at mitigating (or eliminating) the extreme risks of personal injury and death, absolute chaos remains!
    Ideas for modifying traffic signals, improved signage and enforcement have been respectfully submitted by our electeds and concerned community members (including myself) to both NYC and NYS DOTs. Perhaps it’s time to EXPERIMENT with those suggestions, including a SEPARATE and distinct VEHICLE “turning-only” phase, from both East and West-bound Church Avenue, complemented by RED-LIGHT CAMERAS recording violators – in BOTH directions!
    Add in another disturbing development – a recent elimination of the East 5th Street stop on the B35-LIMITED bus, causing bus riders to now exit on the OTHER (East 7th Street) SIDE of Church Avenue – thereby requiring a perilous WALK ACROSS the Prospect Expressway’s 8-lane great divide – in light and in darkness. Our MTA needs to answer for this blunder.
    If pedestrian, rider, bicyclist, senior and child safety is truly a concern, let’s have the will to act…NOW.

  4. I want to echo the issue MJ from Kensington raised about the removal of the B35-Limited stop from East 5th, it absolutely increases the number of people crossing on the north side of Church Avenue. I would also argue that in addition to being reinstated that a Eastbound stop on the southside of Church at E 5th should also be created since crossing Ocean Parkway on the southside is still challenging with the right-turning cars.

  5. Many of these deaths would not have occurred were it not for bike lanes, which lull cyclists into a false sense of security. You snooze, you lose.

  6. How about some more speed bumps. If we cannot rely on people to make better decisions, our only option is to slow them down.

  7. Thank you for this powerful piece, and thank you for your dogged efforts to bring attention to the terrors of being a pedestrian or cyclist in South Brooklyn. It’s curious that the police seem to so often try to shift blame onto the victims of these crashes, when their own data shows that pedestrian and cyclist error caused about 5% of recent fatal crashes. I live on the east side of Ocean Parkway and had no idea that the E. 5 stop had been eliminated from the B35 Limited. I can’t understand how that could even be contemplated when there’s been so much attention to how dangerous that intersection is.

  8. I’ve lived in Kensington for 5 years, right on the corner of Ocean Parkway and Church Ave. I witness drivers breaking traffic laws every day, running reds, speeding through turns, just narrowly missing pedestrians. One driver aimed his BMW at my wife when she asked him to slow down while turning left onto the parkway. I’ve been “bumped” by a car while walking my dog across Church Ave on the West side of the intersection—the driver tried to take off until I yelled their license plate number while chasing them down Church Ave. The cops came but didn’t do anything. They said to my wife when she complained about driver negligence, “whadda you want me to do lady?” In 2018, I crossed the parkway with my one-year-old exactly 1 hour before Faustina Garcia was hit and killed by a driver at around 8:30pm, and I was sitting in my living room when I heard the car hit him. The drivers are animals—they have no value for human life. The drivers are reckless and the city just doesn’t care and won’t do anything to fix it beyond extend some curbs as the other reviewer mentioned. It’s really sad. One last tidbit—there’s a driving school in the area and they take their students on Albemarle to do their training and I consistently see them making illegal u-turns as part of their training (instead of obeying the traffic laws and making legal turns). And the instructor? I frequently see them sitting in the passenger seat looking at their phone vs. paying attention to the road. We’re breeding more bad drivers and the situation is only getting worse. What can we do to stop this??

  9. My husband and dog were hit (and luckily not injured) by a woman turning from ocean onto church. My husband chased down the woman’s car (who tried to flee the scene) and when the cops came they said to me “lady, what do you want me to do about it.” To which I said, this street is so unsafe, I want you to do your job. After several calls to 311 and lots of near misses, we’ve had it. The city doesn’t care about this area. We’ll be moving this coming year.

  10. There are two types of road users in this city. Drivers, and Everyone Else. NYPD are overwhelmingly drivers so they are never going to properly enforce traffic rules in favor of Everyone Else.
    That’s why they park all over our sidewalks and in the crosswalks. That’s why cops’ personal cars rack up $1000s in speed camera tickets. That’s why they reflexively blame pedestrians and cyclists for their own deaths.

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