Mayor announces $39M will go to street redesign
This article was originally published in print on June 1, 2021, but has been updated to include Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $39M redesign of McGuinness Boulevard
The obviousness of the outcome of a clash between a large heavy fast-moving object made of metal versus a smaller, lighter, slow-moving, soft-bodied object only elevates this tragedy. Although it’s an accident by definition, the question of how preventable it was hovers like a ghost that won’t be vanquished. Even more curious is why an increase in pedestrian fatalities followed a year of safety protocols — when most cooperated to protect one another? One theory is that unchecked reckless driving on empty streets during 2020 could have become a habit that hasn’t adjusted to the more normalized road conditions of 2021. However pedestrian deaths were an issue before the hunker down state of 2020, and both drivers and pedestrians have their respective responsibilities in traveling safely.
Vision Zero, the 2014 road safety initiative with the mission to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries on New York City streets by 2024, has yet to show enough steady progress to achieve this goal. There was a noticeable drop in pedestrian deaths the first year of this initiative: in 2013 there were 184 pedestrian deaths in 2014 there were 140 pedestrian deaths. According to the Vision Zero Year 6 Report covering six years including 2019, released in June 2020, there was a 36% decline in pedestrian deaths compared to years before Vision Zero. 2020 will be covered in the Vision Zero Year 7 Report, which has yet to be released as of this writing (previous to Year 6’s June release, the reports were released in March).
We do know that according to NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) pedestrian fatalities declined in 2020 (96 compared to 113 in 2019). This is better than the overall U.S. statistics of pedestrian fatalities in 2020, which increased in 2020. Then along comes 2021’s pedestrian death tally, which reached 43 in early May, and doesn’t include the losses since including that of P.S. 110 teacher, Matthew Jensen. He was hit by a black Rolls Royce at 12:45 a.m. on May 18 when crossing McGuinness Boulevard at Bayard Street. Police determined Jensen was crossing against the light, and the driver didn’t stop after hitting Jensen. NYPD’s 94th Precinct continues to investigate and asks anyone with info to call 800-577-TIPS. The fatality statistics thus far show Staten Island and Brooklyn have the most pedestrian deaths.
Assembly Member Emily Gallagher has been invested in street safety for many years. In a tweet conveying her anguish over Jensen’s death, she mentioned a 2010 traffic study she conducted with neighbors. The study showed how McGuinness Boulevard was one of the most dangerous streets in NYC. Anyone who walks across McGuinness Boulevard often finds religion during the time it takes to cross to the other side. Gallagher stated, “For more than a decade, I’ve been working with my neighbors to push the city to curb dangerous driving on McGuinness Boulevard, and we followed in the footsteps of generations of activists before us. We’ve won a few small improvements along the way. But the fact is that disregard for human life is baked into the very design of this thoroughfare. A four-lane truck route, bridging two major highways, carving its way through the most residential part of our district will never be safe. It’s time to radically redesign McGuinness Boulevard and pass the Crash Victims Rights & Safety Act to bring an end to these senseless tragedies once and for all.”
Crash Victim Rights & Safety Act includes such protections as: lowering speed limits, 24/7 speed cameras, reckless driver accountability, lowering of the blood alcohol content limit, etc.
McGuinness Boulevard also takes a long time to cross. It was due to the issue of pedestrians getting stranded, especially those with mobility issues, that Letitia James (as Public Advocate) introduced a change in the Right of Way Law (Intro 997-A) in 2015, which became law in 2016. This change gives pedestrians the right of way during a blinking red “Don’t Walk” or a countdown. As this change is relatively new, it’s debatable how many drivers know about it.
Assembly Member Gallagher held a press conference on Thursday, May 27, at McGolrick Park and was joined by the students of P.S. 110 who are mourning their teacher, Mr. Jensen. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Representative Carolyn Maloney, and street safety advocates also participated. There would also be a short march to the crash site for a vigil. The crash site is currently marked by a NYPD digital display mentioning the hit and run that killed Jensen, and asking any with information to call (800) 577-8477.If you are interested in joining Assembly Member Gallagher’s working group for McGuinness Boulevard safety organizing sign up here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe7BV8TgJXRx2zdsTgo8hU-CgwcQ1HvkRI-UJDHXMQYRNxa1Q/viewform
At the May 27th rally de Blasio announced, “We are putting money in the budget immediately to redesign and fix McGuinness Boulevard once and for all.” On June 11, the mayor and DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman announced a commitment of $39 million in capital funding that will fully redesign the corridor. This includes immediate safety enhancements and a full corridor redesign in 2022.
The City will assess and implement immediate upgrades in 2021, such as adding missing crosswalks, turn calming, and other safety treatments. These changes are expected to be complete by this fall. The full corridor redesign will offer changes such as protected bike lanes, shortened pedestrian crossings, and other proven safety enhancements. Community engagement and design coordination work will begin this summer, and the redesign will be implemented in 2022.
“The Mayor’s historic investment will restore a basic right to our community: the freedom to cross the street without fear of death of injury. McGuinness Boulevard has long symbolized the deadly consequences of infrastructure that prioritizes speeding cars and trucks over human life. That changes now. I am so proud of this community for coming together in the aftermath of tragedy after tragedy to demand change. And I am grateful to our Mayor for truly listening. Let’s get to work,” said Assembly Member Emily Gallagher.
“This commitment of $39 million to redesign McGuinness Blvd along with the immediate improvements and a timeline for the work to be done is welcome news and exactly what the community has asked for. We thank Mayor de Blasio for this commitment and acknowledge Assembly Member Gallagher for her years of advocacy. The community has been asking for this for years and looks forward to being fully engaged as the process moves forward. While we will remember the tragic loss of Matt Jensen forever moving forward with redesigning the roadway is a fitting tribute,” says Council Member Stephen Levin.
“While we were greatly saddened by the tragic loss of our esteemed educator, Matthew Jensen. We are inspired by the quick hand of our mayor to address this issue and ensure that action is taken so that the residents and visitors to Community Board #1, Brooklyn remain safe in their travels,” said Dealice Fuller, Chair, Brooklyn Community Board 1.