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Victims' Families and Advocates Form Group to Combat Traffic Deaths

By Dana Varinsky on February 23, 2014 6:05pm 

Slideshow
 Families whose loved ones were killed or injured by reckless drivers gathered in front of City Hall Sunday afternoon to announce the formation of a new group, "Families for Safe Streets", which will advocate for the implementation of Vision Zero. 
Families for Safe Streets
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CIVIC CENTER — Friends and family of pedestrians who were killed or injured in traffic accidents held a rally on the steps of City Hall Sunday afternoon to announce the formation of a new advocacy group.

Families for Safe Streets plans to push for the rapid implementation of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s "Vision Zero" plan, which aims to curb and eventually eliminate traffic deaths in New York City.

“People are starting to realize that this is a serious issue,” said David Shepherd, whose girlfriend, Sonya Powell, was run over on Baychester Avenue in the Bronx in 2009. Shepherd joined Families for Safe Streets after years of being involved with Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy organization that promotes pedestrian safety, as well as the use of bikes and public transit.

“If there’s anything I can do so just one family doesn’t have to go through this pain, then I’ve done my job,” he said.

At Sunday’s rally, families brought photos of loved ones they had lost to traffic fatalities, and held signs urging for a 20 mile-per-hour speed limit for New York City.

The gathering came just after a 25-year-old man was killed by a New York City sanitation truck while crossing the street in Crown Heights Sunday morning. Last month, a series of deaths on the Upper West Side led residents to call for immediate changes to speed laws.

“Now each time this happens, there’s much more attention on those tragedies,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, who attended the rally. “What we’re seeing here is a broadening and a strengthening of the movement for safe streets.”

White said he attributes the new momentum to an increased public understanding that these deaths are not inevitable. “There’s a growing awareness that there are ways to prevent these fatalities,” he said.

De Blasio announced his 63-point Vision Zero plan on Tuesday, which includes proposals for NYPD officers to increase speeding enforcement efforts, and for taxis to have technology installed that could pause a fare meter when a cab is speeding.

After the rally on Sunday, City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez voiced his support for Families for Safe Streets. "We cannot and will not allow traffic violence to go unaddressed any longer," he wrote in a statement. "Tomorrow we will dig into the Vision Zero plan at the City Council, bringing forth the concerns of the public so that we can continue working together to make NYC the safest big city in the world."

Vision Zero also calls for a reduction in the city’s speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour. Families for Safe Streets, however, believe the limit should be 20.

“If you make it 20 miles per hour, people are going to go 25,” said David Shepherd.

Shepherd said advocating for safer streets has helped him to heal from the loss of his girlfriend. He succeeded in getting a neighborhood slow zone implemented near the location where she was killed, and he plans to stay involved with Families for Safe Streets to make sure the Vision Zero plan is brought to fruition.

“If we get the mayor behind this, then we can get Albany behind this, and then we can really make traction,” he said.

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