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Politicians stood in silence on a noisy 10th Avenue as they listened to every word of a grieving mother. “My only child Seth Kahn lived, worked and attended school right here in Hell’s Kitchen, but unfortunately and unbelievably he was run over and killed 12 unimaginable years ago. Seth was 22 and the center of my life and he was gone in a second,” said Debbie Kahn, a founding member of Families for Safe Streets.
Her story emphasized the brutal cost of citywide bike lanes, lack of pedestrian safety measures, and dangerous drivers. Seth Kahn was mowed down by a city bus on 9th Ave and W53rd St more than a decade ago, yet many of the same factors that led to his death are still at play in Hell’s Kitchen.
District 3 City Council member Erik Bottcher and State Senator Brad Hoylman joined local community board members, activist organizations, and families of biking and pedestrian accident victims on Wednesday to demand long-overdue action towards safe street initiatives as NYC traffic and fatalities continue to rise in the neighborhood.
NYC Crash Mapper data from the past two years shows that City Council District 3 (which includes Hell’s Kitchen, Times Square, the Theater District, the Garment District and Columbus Circle, Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Flatiron, and Hudson Square) has the highest number of pedestrian injuries and highest number of pedestrian fatalities citywide. 10th Ave between W14th St and W59th St has seen 3 pedestrian fatalities, 1 cyclist fatality, and 494 reported traffic injuries in the past 5 years alone.
Calling on community members to share the impact of their experiences with unsafe drivers, Council Member Bottcher expressed the daily anxiety of existing as a biker and pedestrian in the area.
“I can tell you first-hand how dangerous 10th Avenue is — I biked here today, and was inches from the wheels of an 18-wheel truck, zooming right past my head, very unsafe — my mother would kill me if she knew how dangerous it is,” said Bottcher.
Several parents expressed similar concerns, from the undue burden put on school crossing guards to fight off cars at their own peril, to the devastating losses suffered by parents whose children paid the ultimate price.
Also among the speakers were advocacy organization Los Deliveristas Unidos, which represents over 65,000 delivery workers in the city. Working as underappreciated essential workers before, during, and after the depths of pandemic lockdown, 14 NYC delivery workers were killed by cars in 2021 alone.
“These Deliversistas are an essential component that permits restaurants and small businesses in Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Hudson Yards, and Greenwich Village to thrive as they deliver their food and goods to millions of people that live and work in those neighborhoods. Los Deliveristas Unidos are committed to working side by side with NYC City Council Erik Bottcher, our partners at NYC DOT and TA, and our neighbors in these communities to keep people and Deliveristas safe on the street,” said Hildalyn Colón Hernández, Director of Policy & Strategic Partnerships for Los Deliveristas.
“Traffic violence has killed 4 people and injured nearly 500 in the last 5 years along 10th Avenue. As New York City emerges from its deadliest year for traffic violence since 2013, comprehensive street redesigns are the best tool the city has to get Vision Zero back on track,” said Families for Safe Streets member Elizabeth DeLaBarre, and another Hell’s Kitchen resident who was injured while cycling. “Nobody should face the pain traffic violence brings, and a redesign of 10th and 11th Avenues will save countless lives.”
Bottcher and Hoylman are calling on the Adams administration to immediately prioritize the installation of pedestrian refuge islands, split-phase intersection signals to improve crossing coordination, clear and protected bike lanes, and congestion pricing for non-resident drivers in Midtown. Bottcher noted that “for decades and decades, we starved our public transit of resources and investment” and added that it was high time for actionable change to appear in District 3. While some pedestrian and cyclist safety measures have been implemented throughout the city, key pockets of 9th, 10th, 11th Avenues, as well as Chelsea and Greenwich Village, have yet to receive adequate improvements.
Hoylman emphasized the disconnect between local pedestrian experiences and the current reality of legislative decision-making. “Let me tell you there’s a fight in Albany right now. Believe it or not, it’s not New York City that controls speed limits — it’s Albany. Now tell me why a senator from Buffalo should have something to say about the speed limit in Brooklyn,” said Hoylman. “We’re going to make New York city a city of pedestrians first.”
He added: “I am proud to sponsor a bill called Sammy’s Law, named after a young man named Sammy Cohen Eckstein who was struck and killed just a few months shy of his 13th birthday. He was struck and killed because the speed limit in Brooklyn was too high. And we know that for every mile per hour that you lower a speed limit, you save lives. We’re gonna get that bill passed.” The law, which would authorize city officials to set speed limits below 25 mph, advanced through the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday.
Bottcher highlighted the need for lawmakers to directly consult residents as changes are implemented — “I also want to make sure that when we talk about redesign, we’re asking the city to work with the local community on these designs, to work very closely with Community Board 4, Community Board 2, the block associations — because we know our streets. We know where the problem areas are, and we can work very closely with the DOT and help design safety features that work best for our community.” Manhattan Community Board 4 Chair Jeffrey LeFrancois echoed the need for power to be returned to the West Side’s citizens to take back their streets. “It is high time that we reclaim that space, and put people first to make sure that we are a safe, livable and clean city,” he said.
Council Member Bottcher said he was heartened by the Adams administration’s proposed prioritization and renewed investment in the NYC Vision Zero plan originally put forth by the DeBlasio administration. Vision Zero has recently been subject to criticism over its effectiveness as the city closed out 2021 with 273 traffic fatalities. While he and other community organizers remain hopeful, the group made it clear that they are no longer willing to wait for changes that would save lives on a daily basis.
“What do we want? Safe streets! When do we want it? Now!” chanted participants, as the cars and trucks of 10th Avenue honked ever louder around them.