By Bill Parry
Mayor Bill de Blasio came to a school in Woodside, where an 8-year-old boy was run down by a tractor trailer, to announce a new initiative Wednesday to combat the epidemic of traffic fatalities in western Queens and the rest of the city.
The mayor met with family members of some of the children who have been killed at a memorial for 8-year-old Noshat Nahian, the boy who died after being hit by a tractor trailer driven by an allegedly unlicensed operator Dec. 20. Noshat was trying to cross Northern Boulevard with his sister to get to class at PS 152.
After meeting the families, de Blasio began his news conference in the playground at PS 152 on an emotional note.
“It is incredibly painful to hear the stories of what these families have gone through and the losses people have suffered,” the mayor said. “This will be the central issue of this administration because of the pain these families have experienced.”
De Blasio launched an interagency working group comprised of the NYPD, the city departments of Transportation and Health and the city Taxi and Limousine Commission and gave them until Feb. 15 to develop a comprehensive plan to battle the problem.
So far this year there have been 11 New Yorkers killed in traffic accidents, seven of them pedestrians.
“We celebrate that last year’s 333 homicides were a record low, but there were 286 traffic fatalities. It is shocking to see how those numbers correspond,” the mayor said. “We’re starting this initiative just two weeks into this administration because there is an epidemic going on here.”
The working group’s report will be on the public record and serve as a blueprint for the administration’s Vision Zero initiative, a strategy aimed at reducing traffic fatalities to zero within 10 years. The mayor announced that speed cameras recently installed on city streets will begin issuing tickets immediately, and he wants to bypass Albany to secure more cameras.
The mayor will increase the NYPD’s Traffic Safety Unit by 60 officers and double the amount of Highway Division officers to 270. All precincts will be equipped with laser speed detection devices.
In addition, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said, “All precincts will turn in plans to improve pedestrian safety. The department is committed to reducing the loss of life.”
Polly Trottenberg, who will take over as DOT commissioner next week, said, “I’m proud to join an administration that is making transportation safety and Vision Zero a top priority. I’m looking forward to being on the frontline making our streets safer.”
Elected officials came away with unanimous approval of the mayor’s program.
“I appreciate the fact that he came to Queens to announce the initiative,” Borough President Melinda Katz said. “I’m the daughter of a mother that was killed by a drunk driver. I was only 4 at the time, so I take it personally.”
“It’s terrific that the mayor came to Woodside to commit to Vision Zero to save lives and prevent deaths, and we’re honored that he came to PS 152 to honor the loss of Noshat,” City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said.
“I think the fact that he came here is vitally important to this community,” Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said. “I particularly like that each precinct has to make plans for pedestrian safety. Precincts haven’t made that a priority in the past.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.