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Advocacy group’s fight against reckless drivers gains attention

By Bill Parry

Make Queens Safer is growing in numbers and increased visibility.

A group of 25 traffic safety advocates, alarmed with the growing rate of pedestrian killed and injured by reckless drivers, gathered outside City Hall during Bill de Blasio’s mayoral inauguration New Year’s Day. They held signs and handed out stickers while standing under a banner that read, “Vision Zero Begins Today — Congratulations Mayor de Blasio.” The mayor and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton support Vision Zero,” a Swedish play to eliminate traffic deaths and injury.

The banner drew a lot of attention.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), City Councilmen Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) stopped by to chat with the members.

When Polly Trottenberg saw the banner, she also stopped to talk with them.

“We had no idea who she was,” Make Queens Safer Co-founder Cristina Furlong said.

Trottenberg is the incoming commissioner of the city Department of Transportation, the person the group will need the most if it is to transform traffic safety in the borough.

“It was really great because she walked up to us and said this mattered most to her,” Furlong said.

Trottenberg told the group that when she takes over DOT, she wants to meet with the members first to shape an agenda.

“I want you all to come in and we’ll sit down and strategize,” she said.

That kind of influence may be surprising, considering the group held its first event less than three months ago. After 4-year-old Olvin Yhair Figueroa was struck and killed by a car in October while crossing Northern Boulevard with his pregnant mother, the group held a candlelight march through Corona and Jackson Heights. That vigil drew hundreds on a frigid night in November.

Dr. Laura Newman put a post on a Jackson Heights Yahoo! group about the march and six women responded and Three Children Too Many was born. They changed the name to Make Queens Safer because more children were getting killed.

“We decided we’d follow Make Brooklyn Safer’s lead,” said Furlong. “It’s easier for the politicians to recognize and it helps our goal to address issues boroughwide.”

That the word is getting out was proven when Judy Kottick joined Make Queens Safer several days ago.

“I heard about them from a friend of mine. I wish I had known earlier. I would’ve liked to go to the inauguration with them,” Kottick said.

She became an activist after her 23-year-old daughter Ella was struck and killed by a B52 bus while crossing a dangerous intersection in Ridgewood last January.

“Ella was my best friend and my life was shattered when she was killed,” Kottick said.

She has grown increasingly angry since her daughter died because nothing has been changed at the intersection of Wyckoff and Myrtle avenues.

“There have been six additional accidents at the same intersection since July, and while the DOT is studying and planning changes, no interim measures are being implemented and others are getting injured,” Kottick said. “How long will it be before there’s another fatality. We don’t want others to go through the heartbreak that we went through.”

Kottick said Make Queens Safer will go to Ridgewood Jan. 26 for an anniversary vigil for her daughter Ella at the intersection where she was killed.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718.260.4538.

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