New Brooklyn Council Member: Crossing the Street Should Not Be a Matter of Life and Death

The city needs more street treatments to prevent reckless drivers from killing pedestrians like Brooklyn nanny Arcellie Muschamp.

Children should be able to cross a street without fearing for their lives, says new Council Member Shahana Hanif.
Children should be able to cross a street without fearing for their lives, says new Council Member Shahana Hanif.

Crossing the street should not be a matter of life or death — but, for too many New Yorkers, it is. Take, for example, Arcellie Muschamp, the hero nanny who was killed last month by a reckless driver in Brooklyn.

Shahana Hanif
Shahana Hanif

That’s why, as the new City Council member representing the district in in which Muschamp died, I will fight to improve our streetscape in those neighborhoods and beyond. 

Planning streets for people means designs that force drivers to drive slowly and carefully, a preventive strategy rather than relying on punitive enforcement. We can make our streets safer with simple design elements including:

  • Daylighting at intersections, which is achieved by removing parking spaces adjacent to curbs around an intersection, raising visibility for pedestrians and drivers.
  • Mid-block chicanes, which force drivers to drive more slowly and with greater awareness, especially at mid-block locations.
  • Leading pedestrian intervals, which give pedestrians a 3 to 7 second head start crossing the street.
  • Pedestrian-only crossings, also known as Barnes Dances, where crossing is devoted exclusively to pedestrians. No vehicular traffic moves during this phase and pedestrians may cross in any direction with enough time to cross diagonally.
  • Pedestrian safety islands, which enhance safety and accessibility by reducing crossing distances and providing refuge for pedestrians to cross the road in stages.

The kind of reckless driving that killed Muschamp, a long-time Park Slope resident and caretaker, unfortunately is much too common. On Dec. 20, Muschamp was crossing the street at Union Street and Fifth Avenue with Rowan, a one-year-old for whom she was caring, when a truck sped down the street ignoring traffic signs. Realizing that the driver was not going to stop, Muschamp pushed Rowan out of the way. She died  several days later, having sacrificed her own life to save the child. 

Arcellie Muschamp
Arcellie Muschamp

According to witness reports, “They had been on a clearly marked crosswalk at the intersection of Union Street and Fifth Avenue and correctly crossed with the pedestrian right of way, but the vehicle failed to yield.” 

Last year was the worst year for traffic violence since Vision Zero began in 2014. According to Streetsblog, “As of Dec. 28, 2021, 266 people were killed on the streets of New York City — the highest number since 2013, when 296 were killed as of the same date, according to the Department of Transportation.” Despite eight years of work to make our streets safer, they are still deadly. The new administration and Council can proactively change the course of street safety and end traffic violence.

Muschamp should still be with her family today. I proudly campaigned on a platform for a feminist city, with a vision for safer streets. I said then, and I stand by it today, “our streets are dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists because they are planned for cars, not people.” We must plan sidewalks and streets for people.  

Muschamp’s selfless act is an inspiration for us to take action to ensure others do not face the same horrific fate. As I said last year in Streetsblog, “Let’s make the city a place where more women and working-class cyclists feel safe every day.” I will reiterate that now: Let’s work together so all people are safe crossing the street every day, especially children and caretakers.

Shahana Hanif (@ShahanaFromBK on Twitter) represents the 39th Council District, which includes parts of Kensington, Borough Park, Windsor Terrace, Park Slope, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and the Columbia Waterfront. You can donate to Muschamp’s family here. Please join us at the community vigil on Tuesday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. at the intersection of Union Street and Fifth Avenue.