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Park Slope Teen Pushes for Traffic Safety After 3 Classmates Killed by Cars

By Leslie Albrecht | January 21, 2015 8:47am
 Former M.S. 51 student Alison Collard de Beaufort wants kids to get involved in pedestrian safety.
Park Slope Student Launches Vision Zero Youth Council
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PARK SLOPE — The first time Alison Collard de Beaufort had a classmate hit and killed by a car, she created a homemade memorial on the street where he died in the hope that drivers would slow down.

The third time it happened, the 14-year-old decided it was time for citywide action.

Collard de Beaufort, a Brooklyn Tech freshman, recently launched the Vision Zero Youth Council, a group of young people that will advocate for pedestrian safety, after several local students were killed by cars. The group is open to any New York City student from fourth through 12th grade.

"Most of the people affected by these students getting killed are their friends, so I wanted to get them more involved by creating something for the children and by the children," Collard de Beaufort said.

She started the youth group in response to the stunning triple tragedy endured by her middle school, Park Slope's M.S. 51. Two students from the class of 2014 and one from the class of 2015 have been killed by cars in the last 15 months.

The first was 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein, who was hit by a van on Prospect Park West in October 2013. After his death, Collard de Beaufort tied 40 teddy bears along the street as a memorial to her friend and a plea for drivers to slow down.

Nine months later, 12-year-old Joie Sellers was killed by a hit-and-run driver, followed by the November 2014 death of 14-year-old Mohammad Naiem Uddin, also in a hit-and-run crash.

After Uddin's death, Collard de Beaufort turned to City Councilman Brad Lander and the Department of Transportation for guidance on forming the youth council. DOT is advising Collard de Beaufort and helped her come up with an agenda for the group's first meeting on Jan. 6 at M.S. 51.

So far the response from her classmates has been enthusiastic, Collard de Beaufort said. The youth council's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts have hundreds of followers, and about 30 students showed up to the group's first meeting.

Most were kids who knew one of the three students killed by cars, she said.

“With already three students from M.S. 51 killed, they know that something has to be done for this issue, so it doesn’t happen again,” Collard de Beaufort said. “They know that change needs to happen.”

Collard de Beaufort is still hammering out the group's action plan, but it will involve advocating for safer streets by lobbying elected officials and educating young people on how to be safe pedestrians.

The youth council may also hold rallies and will work with Families for Safe Streets, the group started by relatives of New Yorkers who've been killed by cars.

Kim Wiley-Schwartz, the DOT's assistant commissioner of education and outreach, praised Collard de Beaufort's effort, calling it a "grassroots" initiative.

"It comes from her personal experience with loss," said Wiley-Schwartz, an M.S. 51 parent. Through the DOT, she sends educators into schools, including M.S. 51, to teach kids how to stay safe as pedestrians.

Wiley-Schwartz said that among children aged 5 to 14, it's 11 to 14-year-olds who are the most likely to be injured while crossing the street.

“That’s why we’re so excited about the Vision Zero Youth Council, because we feel like that’s the age of kids that are most vulnerable as pedestrians," Wiley-Schwartz said. "I want children to be empowered to be safe in their neighborhoods."