In the wake of a three-year-old boy's death at the hands of a van driver in Bath Beach on Thursday, a Brooklyn council member is accusing Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration of dragging its feet on life-saving street safety improvements—including at the exact intersection where the toddler was killed.
The young victim, Emur Shavkator, was crossing Bay 25th Street in a marked crosswalk with his mother when he was struck by a van driver attempting to make a right turn onto Benson Avenue, police said. In response, the mayor called the death a "tragedy," and vowed not to rest until “our streets are safe for every child."
But according to Councilman Mark Treyger, the city has long known that drivers regularly blow through the stop sign where Shavkator was killed (It's unclear whether the driver made a legal stop in this case). A spokesperson for his office, Eric Faynberg, told Gothamist that the council member has regularly petitioned the Department of Transportation to add a traffic signal at the intersection, going back to 2014. Those requests were denied, after the DOT claimed that traffic studies didn't reflect a need for the measure.
"There is a moral urgency to street safety improvements that, regrettably, does not seem to be captured in the data points collected during traffic studies," said Treyger.
The Brooklyn Eagle notes that, this year alone, there have been at least a dozen collisions on Benson Avenue within a five-block radius of where Shavkator was killed. The 61st precinct has seen three traffic fatalities in that time, compared to zero over the same period in 2018. According to police data, citywide traffic deaths are up 30 percent this year.
#VisionZero in New York means tweeting condolences rather than encouraging alternative transportation, reducing traffic and improving pedestrian experience. This death was preventable.
— Padric Gleason (@padricgleason) May 2, 2019
Following a hit-and-run death in nearby Gravesend in December, Treyger and advocates called on the DOT to commit to adding traffic calming measures in the area. "They agreed to put a speed bump in, which we appreciate, but we need more," said Faynberg. A recent site visit with the DOT did not yield any firm commitments about additional pedestrian improvements, he said.
On Friday, a spokesperson for DOT told Gothamist that the agency is "looking into potential safety enhancements here, and we will also be opening a new signal study."
This reactive approach to pedestrian safety remains a major pitfall of Vision Zero, according to advocates. "For too long, New York City’s Vision Zero policy has relied upon individuals begging for safety on a street-by-street, intersection-by-intersection," said Amy Cohen, co-founder of Families for Safe Streets, in a statement. "If we’re going to get serious about eliminating traffic deaths, we need a new approach. We need a Vision Zero policy that makes safe streets a matter of course."
Street safety advocates have long called for passage of the Vision Zero Street Design Standard bill, which would force the city to provide a public checklist of known life-saving measures whenever streets are redesigned. De Blasio has not yet voiced public support for the bill. The legislation currently has 43 co-sponsors in the City Council, but has not yet come up for a vote. A spokesperson for the Mayor's Office did not respond to Gothamist's questions about whether he supports the bill, and why the Bath Beach safety improvements did not go forward.
"I can't imagine the grief of this young child's family today. [First Lady Chirlane McCray] and I offer our deepest condolences," the mayor wrote on Twitter. "The driver has been arrested and is in police custody. We won’t rest until our streets are safe for every child."
The driver—identified by police as Johnny Gonzalez, but going by Juanchi Seda in media reports—was charged with failure to yield to a pedestrian and failure to exercise due care, both misdemeanors.
He spoke with the Post after he was released from custody on Thursday, and attempted to pin the blame for the child's death on his mother: "I can’t understand why the mother left that little kid unattended on a scooter and he attempted to cross where there is active traffic,” the driver told the tabloid. "I don’t know where he came from… He came into my blind spot from somewhere because he wasn’t at the crosswalk.”
A preliminary investigation indicated that Shavkator was in the crosswalk when he was killed, riding a green scooter alongside his mother.
A vigil will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon at the site of the crash.