Wednesday, April 9, 2014



The ideafor a die in bubbled up during last week’s Right of Way meeting. The week before, the state budget had precluded money for the speed cameras the city desperately needs.  Six days later we were outside the home of Sheldon Silver, the man most responsible for the death of the funds, theatrically dying in the street to highlight the human as well as environmental costs of the dearth of leadership in Albany for sensible, people friendly transportation policy. 

For years, Albany has been letting us down around such issues, killing congestion pricing and other progressive transportation policies while the climate iliterally transforming in front of our very eyes. Climate chaos is all around. 

We’d borrow from the old act up graphics and ethos for the campaign.  The message was the same: over and over people are left to suffer within a system which consumes them, neglects them, turns a blind eye to their suffering, that leaves them to tremble or just fade away.  ACT UP understood  direct action helps push an issue forward in ways other approaches rarely do.  The group taught me that there are times need to fight back and challenge those who  favor profits over progress,  politics ahead of people.

We made props on Tuesday night. As we waited for everyone to arriveCharlie gave me a quick history of the group, recalling those days fifteen years ago when he first started collecting and analyzing data on traffic fatalities.  “There was an almost dialectic relationship between the data we were analyzing and the direct action,” explained Komanoff.  The result was the Right of Way book Killed by Automobile: Death in the Streets in New York City 1994-1997 by Charles Komanoff and Members of Right Of Way. He gave me a copy. 

Fifteen years later Right of Way is still at it, with a flood of new volunteers, joining a pulsing movement for safer streets for everyone.  From planning to prop making to research to direct actionRight of Way ipushing to make this city work.  

prop making by keegan

New York, NY: On Wednesday, April 9th, at 6:30PM, Right of Way will stage a demonstration and die-in, and stencil 40 body outlines on Grand Street between Columbia and Lewis Streets on the Lower East Side, for the lives that will be lost this year if Albany does not pass a comprehensive speed camera bill for NYC this legislative session. At the heart of each stencil will be a bloody hand for the blood on the hands of Albany lawmakers, with hashtag #KilledByAlbany, building on the group’s signature slogan “Killed by Automobile.”

Currently, the most expansive speed camera bill in the legislature offers NYC 140 speed cameras in addition to the current 20, with the purported goal of protecting school zones. There are more than 2,500 schools in NYC. “Why should we protect 160 school zones and not the rest?” asks Keegan Stephan, an organizer with Right of Way. “This bill gives Suffolk and Nassau Counties speed cameras for every single one of their school districts, while NYC gets cameras for only a fraction of its schools.”

In addition, the bill under discussion would only allow the cameras to operate during school hours (7 am – 4 pm weekdays).

The result is a free pass for more speeding cars and carbon emissions.  These policies are literally killing cyclists as our climate is damaged beyond repair.  A global city such as ours requires something of leadership which is currently missing from Albany."

"From caving on congestion pricing to cutting monies for speed cameras, Shelly Silver and the Albany gang have failed to show leadership on the environment  or traffic policy," notes Right of Way volunteer Benjamin Shepard. "

“For suburbs, where children are dropped off and picked up from school, restricted hours may have a certain logic,” added Stephan. “But in New York City, children are present on the streets every hour of every day. The streets are our living rooms and public space. If you look at the traffic crashes that killed children over the last year – from Sammy Cohen Eckstein in Park Slope to Allison Liao in Jackson Heights and Cooper Stock on the Upper West Side – all these crashes occurred on evenings and weekends.

“We are tired of waiting until people die before we protest the institutional failures that killed them,” said Liz Patek, another organizer with Right of Way. “We know how many lives inaction will cost, and if Albany does not save them, the blood is on their hands.”

How we know that Albany’s inaction will cost 40 lives: In NYC, 300 people are killed by drivers every year, school zones encompass 2/3 of all NYC streets, and the City’s Vision Zero action plan states that speed cameras reduce crashes by 20%.  300 x 2/3 x 20% = 40.
“Allowing for fewer than 2,500 speed cameras contradicts the internal logic of this bill, handicaps the City’s plan to eliminate traffic fatalities,  and will cost us 40 lives this year alone. We want Albany to be fully aware of that, and to know that we are demanding better,” said Stephan.

Right Of Way uses direct actionforensic statistical analysis and other means to highlight traffic crimes and demand safe streets. Last fall and winter the group created street memorials to children and elders killed by drivers, facilitated ten different neighborhoods to install look-alike 20 mph signs, and painted a bike lane in midtown Manhattan where a British tourist was maimed by a road-raging taxi driver.
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“[T]oday in New York, approximately 4,000 New Yorkers are seriously injured and more than 250 are killed each year in traffic crashes. Being struck by a vehicle is the leading cause of injury-related death for children under 14, and the second leading cause for seniors. On average, vehicles seriously injure or kill a New Yorker every 2 hours.” (NYC Vision Zero Action Plan, p. 7) “No level of fatality on City streets is inevitable or acceptable.” (Ibid., p. 6)

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