Here Is Your Vision Zero: NYC Is Destroying Hard-Won Pedestrian Safety Medians

A truck drives down Eastern Parkway during the West Indian Day ParadeEXPAND
A truck drives down Eastern Parkway during the West Indian Day Parade

Mayor Bill de Blasio has made Vision Zero, his quest to make New York's streets safer and to reduce pedestrian and cyclist injuries, a centerpiece of his administration. But between rising cyclist fatalities and ongoing evidence that the NYPD is not quite on the same page, the Vision Zero brand has been looking a little tarnished of late.

Then, on Sunday, came the news in the New York Post that the NYPD and the Department of Transportation are actually removing two stretches of raised concrete medians along Eastern Parkway at the intersections of Brooklyn and Kingston avenues in Crown Heights.

Authorities say the medians were destroyed in anticipation of the West Indian Day Parade this weekend, when large vehicles and floats will process down Eastern Parkway from Schenectady Avenue to Grand Army Plaza.

The Post story quotes community members frustrated that they weren't consulted about the removal of the medians, which only went in eight months ago, after more than a decade of agitation and planning for safer routes to nearby schools. The removal of the medians is made more inexplicable by the fact that as Streetsblog notes, similar safety medians elsewhere on the parade route are not being removed.

Organizers for the parade told the Voice they had nothing to do with the decision. "We did not ask anybody to do anything," said Jean Alexander, Secretary of the Board of Directors of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association. "I didn't even know about the medians."

The Department of Transportation did not respond to specific questions about the removal of the medians, instead offering this statement: "Due to safety concerns involving parade participants and large vehicles during the upcoming annual West Indian Day Parade, DOT (in coordination with NYPD) has removed two islands along Eastern Parkway.  We are looking at potential replacement treatments in the area and for the long term."

The NYPD did not respond to questions at all. 

In the absence of more information, safety advocates are confused. "We don't understand how this decision was made," said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. "We don't understand the rationale for not putting safety first."

But while various measures passed by City Council over the years require that the city consult with local communities before they install safety measures like bike lanes, there's nothing to stop the city from removing safety features as it wishes. For that reason, White says, the best we can do is hope the Department of Transportation reinstalls the medians or some other safety feature in short order.

"We need to make sure that not a day passes after the parade that exposes pedestrians to the proven hazards at those dangerous intersections," White said. "The community fought very hard for those improvements, and not to reinstall something similar immediately after the parade is to really make a mockery of Vision Zero."

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