Grieving Dad: Why I Support Corey Johnson’s ‘Master Plan’ Bill

Harold Kahn is just behind Speaker Corey Johnson in this photo from Tuesday's rally. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Harold Kahn is just behind Speaker Corey Johnson in this photo from Tuesday's rally. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Today, the City Council will pass a sweeping bill that will mandate 50 miles of new protected bike lanes per year, 30 miles of dedicated bus lanes per year and the vast expansion of pedestrianized zones. On Tuesday, members of Families for Safe Streets stood with Council Speaker Corey Johnson in support of the bill. Harold Kahn, whose son Seth died in a crash in 2009, was among them. Kahn spoke so eloquently about his loss and about Johnson’s bill that we present his words in their entirety.

Harold Kahn
Harold Kahn

My name is Harold Kahn and in just six days it will be 10 years that our only child — our handsome, kind, generous, loving, creative, and talented, and funny 22-year-old son Seth was run over and killed by an MTA bus driven by a reckless bus driver. Ten heartbreaking years that I have missed seeing, listening and talking to and hugging him. Ten unbelievable, unthinkable years that my wife, Debbie, and I have not had the opportunity to celebrate his graduation, his wedding, and being called “Granddad” and “Grandma.” To hug and spoil as only a Grandparent can do, our very own grandchildren.

Ten surreal, agonizing years.

We will never get to know what he would have done, what he would have accomplished with his life, had he been given the chance to live. Seth was a born leader, a trusted adviser, a good listener and so entertaining. He was a joy to be around and loved to regale us with stories that I could listen to all day if given the chance. I so miss those stories.

Most of Seth’s friends are married and have children of their own. Our close friends and relatives have grandchildren now. We have gone to so many weddings of our friend’s children and our family members that we have become numb from smiling while we die a little on the inside as we watch as these young people, that are not our child, get married and begin their beautiful lives together.

As a founding member of Families for Safe Streets, I stand here with fellow FSS members to proudly support Speaker Corey Johnson’s Master Plan Bill. All of us in Families for Safe Streets have lost family members or suffered serious injuries by traffic violence. HP Liao, Amy Cohen, Fabiola Mendieta — like me have suffered many years of heartache after burying a child. Mary Beth Kelly, and Melodie Bryant whose father, uncle and good friend were all killed in separate crashes. And Hugh Chatfield and Kate Brockwehl have suffered serious injuries.

Let me tell you about Kate, one of our newer members. In December, 2017, she was hit by a driver turning onto West Houston Street. Because she lived, one of the most frustrating parts of her recovery has become strangers telling her, “You just have to be careful.”

Many people who have escaped traffic violence find it comforting to believe that those of us hit or killed by cars did something to contribute to the crash. They want to believe the same cannot happen to them and their loved ones. Like Seth, Kate was walking in the crosswalk with the light, not holding her phone, and she did not have earphones in. Really, the only thing she could have done differently was not go outside and run errands that day.

She was a student at Columbia when she was hit. A year later, at the beginning of the semester in which she would graduate, a beloved Columbia religion professor and dean, Peter Awn, was hit by a car and killed walking home from campus — as he had done for 30 years. Every single day near Columbia University, tens of thousands of pedestrians and cyclists negotiate streets with delivery trucks, parked cars, and wholly insufficient street safety infrastructure. Despite these known dangers, improvements have long been stymied by the community board. Too often,
street safety improvements only happen after someone is killed.

The Master Plan is a change that is long, long overdue. Currently, New York City is fixing one street at a time with no plan and no significant ramped up effort — and is frequently stymied by a few vocal opponents. This slow, piecemeal approach is grossly inadequate. Our streets are a killing field — people are dying and suffering life-altering injuries in huge numbers. Every two hours, someone is killed or seriously injured like those of us here today in a crash on New York streets.

This bill will provide a huge investment in street safety and centralizes, streamlines, and sets benchmarks for the street safety improvement process so that neighborhoods don’t have to wait for more people to die or be seriously injured before acting to make their streets safer. Finally — we will have in place a comprehensive plan to fix New York City streets, prioritize our most vulnerable street users, and keep everyone safe.

Our future is forever changed because of this epidemic of traffic violence. We stand up and fight for street safety so that no one else is killed or seriously injured in preventable traffic crashes. So that no family suffers as we have. And that one day we will live in a safe, livable city.