For some, the resolution was a sad but necessary compromise.
Members of Families for Safe Streets, comprised of family members of victims of traffic-related deaths and injuries, have been strong supporters of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero Initiative, which seeks to end all traffic-related fatalities and calls for a 25 mph speed limit, a proposal that the Department of Transportation (DOT) also supports.
Families for Safe Streets, until recently, pushed to lower the city speed limit even further to 20 mph. They cite that cities across the world with heavy pedestrian traffic — London, Tokyo, Paris and Berlin — have speed limits of 20 mph.
However, after much discussion with the Council Transportation Committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez and a trip to Albany to speak with legislators on May 6, the organization has decided to stand as a united front with the City Council and the mayor.
"This was a difficult decision for myself and the many who have fought tirelessly to see speed limits lowered to 20 mph, but action is what we need now and it is time for our state legislature to stand up for saving lives," Rodriguez said. "We cannot continue to stand idly by as we lose children to speeding cars across our city."
The trip to Albany, which had 150 advocates busing up to the capital to attend meetings with legislators and hold a press conference, was meaningful for many members of Families for Safe Streets.
Amy Cohen, a founding member of Families for Safe Streets, lost her nearly 13-year-old son Sammy Cohen last October when he chased his soccer ball into the street and a speeding van could not stop quickly enough to avoid hitting him.
A number of Sammy’s friends went up to Albany to honor Sammy and lobby for a 20 mph speed limit, including Jack Golick, who said the trip was helpful in giving meaning to his grief over Sammy’s death.
“When I was grieving about Sammy, I was really, really angry about it,” the 14-year-old said. “[The trip to Albany] was kind of a way to move forward with it and push something in his name. I feel like he would be forgotten, in a way, and it was really nice for Sammy’s name to have something to represent. It was really emotional.”
But while many of the advocates walked away feeling positive about the trip, they decided over the following weeks to support the 25 mph speed limit, thinking it would increase their chances of getting the legislation passed.
“We felt it was important as advocates to be united with the mayor, DOT and the City Council to have a united voice when we go to Albany to lobby for it,” Amy Tam-Liao, who lost her four-year-old daughter to a traffic accident, said.
Allison Hope Liao and her 71-year-old grandmother Chin Hua were walking to their home in Flushing from a grocery store three blocks away, crossing the street with the light, when a driver making a left turn hit them.
Allison was killed and her grandmother fell but survived. She has not been the same since the accident, Tam-Liao said, only recently starting to leave the house again and only if accompanied by a family member.
Since the October 6th accident, Amy and her husband Hsi-Pei have been advocates with Families for Safe Streets. She said that while many elected officials have been supportive, others were opposed to the group’s proposal for a 20 mph speed limit, which contributed to their decision to change their support to the 25 mph option.
Tam-Liao said that State Senator Tony Avella was one of the elected officials who was opposed to the 20 mph speed limit.
“The work that Families for Safe Streets has done in promoting traffic safety is truly amazing,” Avella wrote in a statement. “I am glad that they are now working together with the mayor on the issue of reducing the speed limit.”
Avella said he opposes the part of the legislation that would require neighborhoods to petition the city if they want to reinstate the 30 mph speed limit, and he called for more community input.
“We have all seen how difficult is has been to get the DOT to install traffic lights, all-way stops, speed bumps or other traffic calming measures,” he wrote. “It is almost impossible to get the DOT to approve these requests. We need to focus on a more comprehensive plan, one which makes the process easier to obtain additional traffic controls and allows for community input, which unfortunately, has been missing from these discussions.”
For Tam-Liao, the response is tough to hear, as she hopes to save other families from experiencing the same pain she and her husband have had to endure.
“It’s just that it’s so preventable,” she said. “It’s just frustrating because I know he wants safer streets for the older adults and for the kids, but it’s just in a different way.”