Championed by Soccer Leagues, Parents, and Activists; Devices Will Calm Traffic and Protect Children, Pedestrians
By Matthew Taub
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
After a months-long campaign, new traffic signals have been approved along two intersections of Williamsburg’s Kent Avenue to increase safety for pedestrians, State Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D-Brooklyn) announced today.
“It’s been a long wait, when you’re talking about the safety of kids,” Lentol said.
At North 8th and North 9th Streets, standard red-yellow-green traffic lights have been authorized to alleviate the present dangers for pedestrians inching out into bicycle and vehicle paths. The signals will allow visitors of both East River State Park and Bushwick Inlet Park to safely cross Kent Avenue.
The roadway has become increasingly perilous in tandem with the neighborhood’s rise in amenities, popularity, and pedestrian orientation. However, it took the leadership of local soccer teams that practice nearby, along with parents and other activists, to make the difference.
“This is where the kids have to enter–it’s the only choice they have,” explained Jason Racine, co-founder of FC Select, a Brooklyn-based soccer club. Mr. Racine pleaded with the Department of Transportation to come to Bushwick Inlet Park to view the conditions, but the DOT would only send someone on an off-hour, when traffic was relatively light.
If that wasn’t enough, a host of Federal guidelines dictated additional obstacles, like a minimum number of people who had to cross the street within a given hour for a new installation to be considered.
“It was one hurdle after another,” Racine said. But he and co-founder Jamie Zeppernick pressed on. With the help of others, they organized a petition that was signed by nearly 600 parents and local residents.
Notable activists who assisted along the way included Ellen Foot of Families for Safe Streets, a recently-organized group comprised of those who have lost family members in traffic accidents in New York City.
“I want to acknowledge Assembly Member Lentol as our champion in Albany,” Foote said. “As we talked with him, he recognized the importance of making these changes,” she added, “which include the [pending] legislation to reduce the default city-wide traffic limit to 25 m.p.h.”
Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) was also on hand. NAG developed out of the desire of Williamsburg residents to recapture the waterfront, reduce local environmental hazards, and advocate for public policies promoting healthy mixed-use communities. “NAG’s history is rooted in helping get this park built next door,” a spokesperson said. “Since the day it’s opened this community has been screaming, ‘how can we get to the park safely?’”
Indeed, next door is East River State Park, home to the popular Smorgasburg, a weekly food and flea market event in the warmer seasons, which attracts large crowds of its own.
Jamie Zeppernick, co-founder of FC select, concluded by turning to the children in attendance. “The kids are ultimately who we did this for,” Zeppernick said. He mentioned how the movement for a traffic signal was also spurred by the death of a child near Prospect Park last year.
Council Member Stephen Levin, NYC Department of Transportation Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Joseph Palmieri, transportation advocates from Transportation Alternatives and CB1 Transportation Chair Karen Nieves also assisted in the effort.
“Now the only question I have and wanted to propose to [DOT Brooklyn Borough] Commissioner Palimeri is when this is going to happen,” Lentol said. “It’s going to take all of us to be vigilant with the DOT that we want it sooner rather than later. They don’t have a definite date in mind now but we’re going to try to get them to commit to a date.”