Broken-hearted. And committed to change.

Broken-hearted. And committed to change.

Our neighborhood has been shattered by the horrible and senseless deaths yesterday of 4-year-old Abigail Blumenstein and 18-month-old Joshua Lew. They were were crossing 9th Street at 5th Avenue with their moms, Lauren Lew and Ruthie Ann Miles (Abby’s pregnant mom, who was also hit and remains in the hospital in stable condition).

They were beautiful kids, part of beautiful families. People who loved her said Abigail was “smart, cheerfully curious about everything,” and that she was excited to be a big sister. Josh was a “darling little boy,” with a 6-month old younger brother. Ruthie is a Tony-winning actor, beloved by many on Broadway -- who have joined together to raise funds for both families (the fundraising pages are here and here). When she won her Tony Award a few years ago, she thanked her friend Lauren. Every detail is shattering.

As you have likely seen, the families were crossing 9th Street, in the crosswalk and with the light. The driver stopped at the red light at 5th Avenue, but then -- inexplicably -- hit the gas while the light was still red, ran down a group of pedestrians in the crosswalk & killed the two children, and then veered across 9th Street and crashed into a car down the block.

She is reported to have said she had a seizure at the time, and may suffer from a medical condition. But the car she was driving has an appalling record -- four failure-to-stop-at-red-lights & four speeding-in-school-zone violations just in last two years -- that display a callous indifference to the lives and safety of others. From what I can see, her license should have been suspended long ago. At my urging (and many of yours), the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad and Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez have arranged to have it suspended immediately. I’ll stay in close touch with them as they complete their investigation and bring charges. These deaths were caused by erratic and deadly driver behavior, and she must be held accountable.  

To prevent deaths like these, we need to do more to prevent drivers with records like this from being behind the wheel: a “CompStat for reckless drivers.” Driving is a privilege, and not a right. For a first/minor infraction, we should have more programs like the Red Hook Community Justice Center’s “Reckless Driver Accountability Program.” For those with abominable records like this one, licenses should be taken away before they kill someone (that would take changes in State law, but I believe there are effective things the City can do on its own). I'll be working to develop legislation to establish such a program in the weeks ahead, and would welcome your thoughts on it.

We must also do everything we can to make this intersection -- and 9th Street more broadly -- safer. We’ll never know whether a redesign could have saved Abby and Josh from this deadly driving. But we know this intersection was the site of another fatal crash in 2016, and many more crashes and injuries. So we need to act now to prevent future tragedies.

I spoke with NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg today, and she committed to explore a range of changes: changes to the intersections (bulb-outs or pedestrian islands), a Vanderbilit- or Caton Avenue-like road treatment, and a protected bike lane. I pledge to stay on top of this, and to bring proposals to the community as soon as we can. That feels hollow today, I know. To me, too. But still urgent.

Residents of Kensington and Windsor Terrace, Commissioner Trottenberg and I also talked about Church Avenue & Ocean Parkway/Prospect Expressway, the site of another pedestrian death last week. DOT has also pledged -- working with NYS DOT, since the Prospect is under their jurisdiction -- to put forward proposals to make sure that too ceases to be an intersection of death.

In the coming days, we’ll need to come together as a community: To do all we can to be there to support these families, bereft beyond our worst nightmares. I’m heartened by the response so far, and I know they will find comfort and support in our community (thanks as always to Susan Fox of Park Slope Parents for being such a source of community compassion). The memorial at the corner if beautiful (we’ll bring it inside before the storm, and put it back out afterward).

We are also resolved to do everything we can to prevent future deaths from traffic violence. Many neighbors gathered today on 9th Street to push for faster change, and had the chance to speak to Mayor de Blasio about it. It was also a lobby day for safer streets at City Hall, and I joined many of my colleagues in committing to push for faster road redesigns citywide.

If you want to be part of the movement (so many of you are already), I urge you to join Transportation Alternatives (who lead the organizing for safer streets) and to support Families for Safe Streets (an extraordinary group of families that have gone through this grief themselves, and are resolved to turn their heart-wrenching pain into the purpose of saving future lives).

We’ve done a lot of work in our community to try to reduce traffic deaths. Today, it feels like that work is for nothing -- the statistics of declining traffic crash deaths (last year’s 101 pedestrian deaths were the fewest in a century) -- don’t feel meaningful when two young kids are dead. But that just means we can’t let up. We need more street redesigns, more education, more enforcement to combat reckless driving, and stronger prosecution of drivers or who kill or injure pedestrians.

For tonight, let’s hold these families in our hearts -- and do all we can in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

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