OPINION: City DOT Must Do More To Fix Atlantic Avenue

State Sen. Julia Salazar takes the DOT to task for neglecting her district.

Still a speedway: Atlantic Avenue in 2018 (top) and in 2021. State Sen. Julia Salazar hopes to change that.
Still a speedway: Atlantic Avenue in 2018 (top) and in 2021. State Sen. Julia Salazar hopes to change that.
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My district — home to some of the most deadly streets in the city — is grieving.

On Oct. 15, a hit-and-run driver mowed down José Ramos, a deaf immigrant who worked in retail, as he walked home from work with his wife. Ramos usually biked home but, for fear of his personal safety, he had asked his wife to accompany him as he walked his bike. Ramos and his wife were only three blocks away from their apartment when he was struck by a sedan driver as he crossed Atlantic Avenue. Ramos’s wife was only a few steps behind him as she watched the impact of the collision send her husband’s body and his bicycle flying down the roadway. The driver immediately fled. By the time first-responders arrived, Ramos was dead.

The eastern part of Atlantic Avenue is a notorious speedway. More than 50 people have been killed or seriously injured along the stretch where Ramos was killed in just five years, placing it in the top 10 percent of Brooklyn streets for severe injuries and fatalities per mile.

Julia Salazar
Julia Salazar

Ramos’s death marked the 92nd pedestrian fatality in our city this year, a 33-percent jump from last year’s numbers. It followed another horrendous, hit-and-run killing on a death-trap street running through our district, this one on McGuinness Boulevard. Matthew Jensen, a beloved teacher at a public school P.S. 110, was crossing McGuinness on May 18 when he was struck by the driver of a Rolls-Royce. McGuinness is well-known for its dangers to pedestrians; according to city data at Crashapper.org, many people have been killed or injured in recent years on the same stretch where Jensen died.

Such senseless deaths unfortunately happen far too often in our city, but they can be easily prevented with investment in more protective pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

As a legislator, I feel a responsibility for and commitment to improving bicycle and pedestrian safety in my community, and I am encouraged by the improvements we have made through policy. As a pedestrian, I share the same fears that many neighbors do when we share the streets with cars. That is why I am a co-sponsor of Sen. Andrew Gounardes’ bill S4307, which would create a pedestrian-safety rating system for motor vehicles in our state. Passing this bill would require the commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles to make a publicly accessible pedestrian-safety rating system that will help to keep more dangerous vehicles off our streets.

After Jensen’s death, advocates and community leaders came together to call for the redesign of McGuinness Boulevard and secured $39 million from New York City to make it safer. The measures envisioned include the  implementation of “turn calming” measures, the addition of protected bike lanes, and the shortening pedestrian crossings. The fact that this desperately needed, long-overdue change is finally on its way only underscores the fact that the city has not done its part to make Atlantic Avenue safer in my district. A recent Department of Transportation project to upgrade the street did not narrow it or provide traffic calming, although storm drainage was put in. Now promised pedestrian improvements have been delayed even further. As the Brooklyn borough president becomes mayor in January, the city must redouble its efforts to fix this Brooklyn artery.

We must continue to do whatever we can to prevent more pedestrians from losing their lives. We need our city to recommit to Vision Zero. Increasing police traffic enforcement is not the solution for improving pedestrian safety. We must shift our focus to prioritizing street redesign at deadly intersections like the ones that claimed the lives of Ramos and Jensen. More than 200 organizations have signed Transportation Alternatives’s NYC 25×25 challenge, which calls for the next mayor to convert 25 percent of spaces for cars into spaces for people by 2025. I am proud to support their efforts as we push for safer streets across the five boroughs.

Like most Brooklyn residents who do not own a car, I mostly rely on walking, biking or using public transportation to get around. Being a pedestrian or cyclist rather than a driver should not mean that I am more likely to lose my life. When our city neglects to improve pedestrian safety, that is exactly the message that we are sending to our communities. New York City is emerging from one of the deadliest summers in traffic fatalities we have ever seen. Traffic deaths in this past year alone are higher than they have been in decades. We must act now to prevent further harm and to make our streets safer for all of us. My district needs these improvements — stat!

Julia Salazar (@SalazarSenate) represents the 18th Senate District, comprising the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Greenpoint and Williamsburg, with parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville and East New York.


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