Sammy Cohen Eckstein, 12, was killed by a van on Prospect Park West in Park Slope in 2013. Joie Sellers, also 12, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Flatlands the following year.
Just a few months later, 14-year-old Mohammad Uddin, a freshman at Brooklyn Tech who had graduated from MS 51, was run over by a hit-and-run driver on Caton Avenue in Kensington.
In March, four-year-old Abigail Blumenstein and one-year-old Joshua Lew were fatally struck by Dorothy Bruns, a driver who had been ordered off the road by her doctor, at the intersection of 9th Street and 5th Avenue in Park Slope. Sophia Rosemary, the Blumenstein family’s unborn baby, also died from the incident.
Bruns’ license was taken away, and she now faces up to 15 years in prison.
Lenore Berner, the principal at MS 51, said the school community has rallied for street safety changes in Park Slope, including adding speed bumps on 5th Street, having more crossing guards and participating in the Department of Transportation (DOT)’s pedestrian safety program. But none of those actions appear to be enough, she said.
“Everyday, we witness speeding cars and trucks on 5th Avenue,” Berner said, “running red lights right in front of our school as students are crossing.”
That’s why last Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio, joined by DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and other city and elected officials, announced a proposed redesign of the 9th Street corridor.
Focusing on improved pedestrian and cyclist safety, the redesign would add nearly one mile of protected bicycle lanes from 3rd Avenue to Prospect Park West. DOT also plans to shorten pedestrian crossings, add pedestrian “refuge islands” and modify loading regulations to reduce double parking.
The plan will be presented to Brooklyn Community Board 6 in June, and is slated for installation this summer.
Trottenberg said DOT previously redesigned the avenue in 2007 and 2009, but there have still been fatalities and crashes since then.
“We hope these redesigns will keep streets functioning for all users, for pedestrians, for cyclists and for vehicles,” she said.
The DOT commissioner said they will take a look at the 9th Street stretch from 3rd Avenue to Smith Street “for the next phase,” but acknowledged that the street narrows after 3rd Avenue, which presents some challenges.
“For this phase, we’re starting up at this end, it’s a little easier to work with,” she said. “Once we get the treatments here and we see how they work, it’ll help inform what we do toward Carroll Gardens.”
Trottenberg said DOT has been speaking with the community board already, which called on the agency to do the redesign. She believes they will be supportive of the proposal.
On Wednesday, the mayor also pressed the State Legislature to pass legislation that would both reauthorize and expand the speed-camera program near schools. Currently, the state allows for the city to operate speed cameras in 140 school zones, but the program is set to expire this month.
Proposed legislation would extend the program until 2022 and allow the city to install speed cameras at another 150 school zones. It would also revise the definition of a school zone to include side streets near a school.
According to de Blasio, studies have shown that speeding has gone down 63 percent in school zones. The fine for the violation is a $50 ticket.
“We will do everything in our power to protect New Yorkers from dangerous drivers,” de Blasio said. “It’s time that leaders in Albany did the same thing.
“If Albany doesn’t act, hundreds of thousands of children will be in danger,” he added. “We can’t wait any longer.”
Trottenberg said the bill is already gaining momentum. The Assembly passed it twice in the last two years, while State Senator Martin Golden, previously an opponent of the legislation, recently signed on as a co-sponsor.
“The next few weeks are crucial, both for the continued survival of the program and our ability to expand it,” she said.
Park Slope Councilman Brad Lander said the community has been “in a real state of grief and mourning” since the March crash, but implored lawmakers to act.
“We can’t bring them back, but we can, we must and we will do everything in our power to turn their memory into a blessing that saves future lives,” he said. “We know what those steps are, and we’re going to stick together and keep pushing them until we get those things done.”
Amy Cohen, Sammy Cohen Eckstein’s mother and a founding member of the advocacy group Families for Safe Streets, said in just a few weeks Sammy’s friends are graduating high school and planning their futures. But her son won’t get to join them because of his tragic death.
“It’s a day that’s etched into my memory,” Cohen said.
She noted that there’s not even a word that describes someone who lost a child.
“If you lose a spouse, you’re a widow, if you lose your parents, you’re an orphan,” she said. “But if you lose a child, your heart is broken in a way that does not even have a name.”
Cohen said she has gone up to Albany the last three years to advocate for more speed safety cameras in school zones. More than 300 organizations have signed on to the legislation, she said.
“We do not want to lose another child, another sibling, another spouse, another parent, another friend,” Cohen said. “We can and we must do more.”