Southern Bklyn pol taps locals to serve on new street-safety task force

Walk this way: State Sen. Andrew Gounardes led the inaugural meeting of his southern Brooklyn pedestrian safety task force at Dyker Heights’ Norwegian Christian Home on Feb. 28.
Office of state Sen. Andrew Gounardes

He’s taking a walk on the safer side.

A Southern Brooklyn pol is turning to his constituents in a bid to create safer streets within his district. Democratic state Sen. Andrew Gounardes tapped more than a dozen local leaders to staff his office’s new pedestrian-safety task force, hoping their experiences navigating the car-heavy and subway-strapped 22nd state Senate district will result in practical proposals to improve conditions on thoroughfares in neighborhoods he represents, including Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Gravesend, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Marine Park, Manhattan Beach, Gerritsen Beach, and parts of Sheepshead Bay, Borough Park, and Midwood.

“We have a lot of car volume, and we have to change this speeding culture that we have,” Gounardes said. “We want to brainstorm ways of increasing awareness of the importance of street safety among all the different people who share the roadways.”

Gounardes on Feb. 28 held the group’s first meeting at Dyker Heights’ Norwegian Christian Home, where the force’s 15–20 members — whom leaders of local community boards and other organizations nominated for their posts, according to the pol, who declined to give their names — discussed how to “enhance and elevate the value of street safety” in their communities.

And going forward, task-force officers will host open meetings every other month to brainstorm street-safety ideas within four categories — enforcement, education, advocacy, and legislation — because no one initiative will make streets safer on its own, Gounardes said.

“We’re not going to solve the street-safety problem by putting a cop on every corner,” he said. ”These are all things that need to be done in tandem to change the culture that we live in where we’re not prioritizing safety in our streets.”

To date in 2019, the number of fatal collisions, and injures caused by cars smashing into cyclists and pedestrians, increased in the Bensonhurst and Bath Beach portions of Gounardes’s district — neither of which has any bike lanes — when compared to the number of similar incidents within the same time span last year, according to city data.

Motorists killed three people, injured seven cyclists, and hurt 37 pedestrians on streets in those parts of the pol’s district this year, according to the statistics, which reported drivers killed no one, injured four cyclists, and hurt 36 pedestrians in the same time period last year.

Elsewhere in Gounardes’s district, data shows that the number of motorist-caused deaths or injuries to cyclists and pedestrians has mostly remained the same or decreased year over year. But locals still confront distracted and speeding drivers on a regular basis: in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, for instance, drivers already killed one, injured five cyclists, and hurt 30 more pedestrians this year so far.

The task force’s chief priority is to pressure local lawmakers to improve street safety on roads around schools, parks, and senior centers, by calling on the electeds to implement even more infrastructure fixes in their ongoing effort to eliminate traffic deaths as part of the city’s so-called Vision Zero initiative, according to Gounardes.

Such improvements would include adding more signage, so-called bulb-outs to narrow intersections, and speed bumps within the district, as well as giving pedestrians more time to cross certain streets — including Cropsey Avenue in Bath Beach, where motorists killed one person and injured three more within the past year, data shows.

Task-force members also plan to start conversations with local community board leaders about expanding bike lanes throughout Gounardes’s district, where only five of the 11 neighborhoods within it now feature some sort of official bike paths.

But the freshman lawmaker — who last November turned his district blue for the first time in decades when he unseated known speeder and long-time Republican state Sen. Marty Golden — isn’t putting his entire street-safety agenda in the hands of locals.

He plans to introduce legislation in Albany to preserve and “dramatically expand” the city’s tenuous speed-camera program, which currently includes 140 cameras that ticket speeding drivers in school zones across the five boroughs. Gounardes’s bill would bring even more cameras than the total 290 that Gov. Cuomo called for in the latest draft of his executive budget, which are simply not enough, according to the pol.

“We need to get to a place where we are protecting as many schools as possible,” Gounardes said.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.

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