After drivers killed two children last week — 13-year-old Jazmine Marin, walking to school on Cross Bay Boulevard, and 8-month-old Navraj Raju, in a stroller on an Astoria Boulevard sidewalk — advocates lit candles and protested on the steps of City Hall yesterday evening. They directed their anger at Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had pledged to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024, for the increasing death toll on city streets.
“We have lost too many children,” Sofia Russo, a founding member of Families for Safe Streets, said at the vigil. In 2013, her four-year-old daughter, Ariel, was killed on an Upper West Side sidewalk by a driver fleeing police. “Our elected officials are answerable to the families who have just lost their children,” she added.
“This is a make-or-break moment for Vision Zero,” Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White told the crowd, urging them to press for more redesigns of major streets in the city’s Vision Zero action plan, including Cross Bay and Astoria boulevards. “Most of these New Yorkers are dying on streets that the mayor has identified as deadly.”
The City Council had pushed for an additional $250 million in this year’s budget for full reconstructions of city streets, and an additional $55 million for quicker fixes, but neither increase survived budget negotiations with the mayor.
“Early on the mayor was listening,” White said. He credited de Blasio for the city’s speed limit reduction, speed camera rollout, and big projects like redesigning Queens Boulevard, but says the administration has fallen behind lately. “We’re not so sure the mayor is listening anymore.”
Last night’s protest, attended by about 25 people, was more modest than previous Vision Zero gatherings. It comes on the heels of a thousand-cyclist protest ride down Fifth Avenue in September and before an annual day of remembrance for traffic crash victims on November 20, when advocates have a large event planned for City Hall Park.
While traffic deaths dropped to new lows in the first two years of the de Blasio administration, they have ticked up, with 195 fatalities so far this year. Almost half of all deaths since the beginning of 2015 have been at Vision Zero priority locations identified by the city, TA said, and a majority have been pedestrians.
Armando Morales-Rodriguez, the driver who killed Navraj Raju, was arrested and charged with unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. He was freed without bail earlier this week.
The driver who killed Marin remained at the scene and was not charged with a crime.
Raju was killed as Morales-Rodriguez backed out onto Astoria Boulevard from between two buildings. No curb cut permits have been issued for either of those properties, according to the Department of Buildings. Photos from the scene show the curb had been painted bright yellow, a telltale sign of a do-it-yourself illegal driveway, and cars are parked on the concrete front yard of 92-16 Astoria Boulevard. Next door is a gas station.
“There’s no real sidewalk on that block,” White said. “All you have is a giant driveway.”
DOT is currently implementing a project to tweak the design of Astoria Boulevard, but the block where Raju was killed will not see significant changes.
“We’re hoping that the upcoming election season is an opportunity to focus on this issue,” White said.
“No death on our city’s streets is acceptable,” said de Blasio spokesperson Austin Finan. “The DOT is working diligently to complete at least 90 Safety Improvement Projects in 2016 — the most completed in a single calendar year — including expanded pedestrian space, protected bike lanes, corridor improvements and intersection treatments.”