One year into Vision Zero, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for reducing traffic-related deaths, the number of traffic fatalities on the Upper West Side has actually increased, compared to last year’s figures.
That has some Upper West Siders convinced more needs to be done -- starting with members of the Transportation Committee of the local community board.
Lisa Sladkus, a mother, Upper West Side resident and member of Transportation Alternatives said she’s fed up, and organized a silent protest at Community Board 7’s February board meeting, where dozens of residents called for Transportation Committee leaders to step down.
“We have run up against incredible problems trying to get safe street improvements,” she said. “This was just another way to get our point across that we are very dissatisfied.”
Sladkus has been involved with Transportation Alternatives since 2002 and formerly served as director of Upper West Side Streets’ Renaissance Campaign. She says becoming a mother is what really got her into activism.
“Just noticing the streets around me and how unsafe I felt as a pedestrian and as a cyclist,” she said. “I wanted to create an environment that was much safer for my children.”
The UWS saw the largest jump in pedestrian deaths, with six fatalities in 2014, compared to one from the previous year. These deaths include Cooper Stock, 9, and Ariel Russo, 4, both fatally struck by vehicles near 97th Street.
Sladkus says that while pedestrian fatalities have drawn more attention from elected officials, the community board in the neighborhood needs to be more proative.
“There are committee members who have been in these positions for decades,” she said. “We tried to educate but there still is incredible ignorance about street safety on that committee.”
Recently, she notes, a 13-year-old boy suffered a fractured leg after he was struck by a vehicle while walking his bike on Columbus Avenue and West 77th Street.
Elizabeth R. Caputo, chair of CB7, said the board had no comment for this article.
Thomas DeVito, Transportation Alternatives Manhattan organizer, thinks the root of the dissatisfaction comes from years of frustration with CB7. He says that the Transportation Committee needs to be more willing to meet and converse with residents and advocates.
“I do get a sense that people have been ignored and their concerns have been marginalized,” he said. “It creates a sense of alienation.”
DeVito said he worked with volunteers to pass street redesign for Amsterdam Avenue, where residents requested a study to be conducted. He said the project was delayed and that it took five or six months for CB7 to take up the issue.
“There are a lot of people over the course of three years who have continuously come to CB7 with initiatives of their own,” he said. “Projects get delayed by leadership there, or get dismissed entirely.”
One of the changes UWS advocates are looking for is the implementation of complete streets, where streets have amenities for all modes of transportation and pedestrians, including bicycle and bus lanes, pedestrian islands and wider sidewalks.
“We would love to see Amsterdam Avenue become a complete street from 59th Street to 110th Street,” said Sladkus. “So that means if you’re walking or biking, you have the space to do it and you feel safe.”