New Mural in Park Slope Puts Traffic Justice Front and Center

Vision Zero mural. Image courtesy Groundswell
Click to enlarge. Image courtesy of Groundswell

By the end of the month, people loading food into their cars at the Key Food on Fifth Avenue and Sterling Place in Park Slope will have a great view of a new mural about safe driving.

Photo: Stephen Miller
Julia Jong, 20, works on the mural. Photo: Stephen Miller

The project, funded in part by NYC DOT, puts Lady Justice front and center, fixing a stone-cold stare at a texting driver. The scales of justice weigh an automobile and New Yorkers walking and bicycling across the street. Opposite the texting driver stand families of traffic violence victims at a rally. In the background is an intersection featuring a protected bike lane and a dedicated bus lane.

“We wanted to show the different aspects of the Vision Zero campaign,” said Marc Evan, the artist leading the project for arts non-profit Groundswell. “They wanted us to take a creative approach to a very heavy subject matter.”

Groundswell has worked with DOT since 2009. In another project this summer, the organization is painting a mural about drunk driving on the side of a Food Bazaar supermarket in the South Bronx. Groundswell also painted the street safety mural on Atlantic Avenue beneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

“This is the first year that we are doing specifically a Vision Zero mural,” said DOT Assistant Commissioner of Education and Outreach Kim Wiley-Schwartz. “We’re trying to use any tool in our arsenal for culture change.”

Groundswell has hired a group of students from the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program to bring the mural to life. To develop the design, Evan and the students used a Vision Zero curriculum from DOT, got hands-on with a speed gun, and attended a vigil in Union Square organized last month by Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets.

The students also spoke with Sofia Russo, whose 4-year-old daughter Ariel was killed by an unlicensed driver fleeing police in 2013. “That was the most powerful part for me, seeing Sofia Russo come in and talk about her daughter,” said Julia Jong, a 20-year-old student from Jamaica working on the mural. “We heard a lot of stories about people who lost family members and friends to these crashes, and the drivers didn’t really face consequences for what they had done.”

“The figure of Lady Justice became a really big focal point for us that actually wasn’t in some of the earlier designs,” Evan said. Among the people walking on the scales of justice is a little girl wearing butterfly wings and cowboy boots — an homage to Ariel Russo added after the students met with her mother.

The mural will stand 25 feet tall and 45 feet wide, covering the third and fourth stories of a north-facing wall at 138 Fifth Avenue, whose owner volunteered the space. The acrylic paint is expected to last well over a decade. “It’s a great wall. It’s a very visible spot, and it gets a lot of pedestrian and vehicle traffic,” Evan said. “It’s a perfect spot for this message especially.”

Students are working four days a week on the mural until its dedication on August 28 at 10 a.m.

This post has been corrected with the correct time and date for the mural dedication.