You are at a crosswalk behind a swell of pedestrians, waiting for an opening in the crowd to make your crossing.
As you throttle at top speed to cross a busy stretch of Fort Hamilton Parkway, you see the pedestrian countdown clock nearing zero. So you don’t slow down when you reach the cutaway sidewalk ramp, and due to its steep incline, your chair tips over backwards into the street. The next thing you know, you are lying in front of a stationary sanitation truck while traffic whizzes by just a few feet from your head.
This is no hypothetical scenario, but rather a first person account of Jean Ryan’s own harrowing experience as shared during the Vision Zero Town Hall Meeting at Brooklyn Borough Hall on April 1.
Ryan told the panel of city officials, “Almost all of my friends who use wheelchairs have been hit at least once, sometimes more than once. And that’s crossing with the light in the crosswalk.
“You might not know it, and you probably don’t, but across the city, curb cuts just aren’t there or they’re really too steep,” Ryan said. “ We have many curb cuts with gullies right underneath them where our chairs totally get stuck, and the city keeps saying they don’t have the money [to fix this]. How does that make us feel?”
Ryan, who serves as the vice president of public affairs for the New York chapter of the national civil rights organization Disabled in Action, also addressed the issue of poorly painted streets, the rectification of which is a central tenet of the 63-point Vision Zero plan.
“A lot of the things we’re talking about with Vision Zero consider paint as a solution, which I think is great, but if you don’t keep on painting, it fades,” Ryan said. “If we don’t keep up the paint, it’s like a PR thing.”
City Council member and Transportation Committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez led the Town Hall meeting, where residents gathered to provide their input into the Vision Zero plan.
Joining him were Borough President Eric Adams, Pubic Advocate Letitia James, several members of city council, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, TLC Chief Operating Officer Conan Freud, Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Noah Budnick, and Brooklyn Borough Director Kicy Motley of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit.
Sitting at Adams’ side was Michelle Charles, whose five-year-old son Roshard was killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing Empire Blvd. between Nostrand and Rogers avenues on March 16 at approximately 8:30 p.m.
“Often times, we talk about this issue and we don’t put a face on the impact,” Adams said. “I think in memory of young [Roshard], we can send a serious statement, we can push this agenda forward.”
Of the 48 Brooklynites allotted time to speak at the town hall, several reported being involved in accidents with motorists while cycling or on foot, and most were convinced that drivers were at the heart of the problem.
Still, resident and frequent driver Tal Barzilai said he felt it needed to be acknowledged that not all pedestrian and biker casualties are exclusively the fault of the motorists. He added to his statement that he meant no disrespect to those who have lost loved ones in traffic accidents.
In response to Ryan’s call for more gently sloping curb cuts and a more aggressive road painting campaign, Trottenberg said, “It’s been a tough winter, and now that the weather has finally turned, DOT will be out aggressively restriping.”
Ryan shot back that even before the winter, fading paint has been an issue. Rodriguez came to Trottenberg’s defense, saying, “We’re working with a new administration now,” though he did not specify as to whether the former administration was to blame for any lack of progress on such projects.
Trottenberg invited Ryan to convene with her in the near future to further discuss issues faced by persons with disabilities so progress can be made toward making city streets safe for all New Yorkers.
“Your stories are pretty moving and I want to make sure we’re doing a better job on that,” Trottenberg told Ryan.