Union Square was a sea of yellow and gray T-shirts Tuesday night in commemoration of loved ones who have died in traffic crashes in the city.
Among them was Amy Cohen, a founding member for Families for Safe Streets, whose 12-year-old son, Sammy, was killed by a van outside of the family's Brooklyn Heights home in October.
Cohen implored the crowd to start using the word “crash” instead of “accident.”
“The word 'accident' suggests something unavoidable and inevitable,” Cohen said. “When we refuse to say 'accident' we are insisting that something can be done to save lives.”
Vigil for Vision Zero, which drew hundreds on a warm, humid evening, was organized by Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives, which is advocating for safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians and stricter enforcement of traffic laws. The event took its name from the de Blasio administration's pivotal traffic-safety initiative, the goal of which is to eradicate traffic deaths and injuries in the city.
Friends and family gathered on stage holding pictures of their lost loved ones. Denise Baum, held a newspaper detailing the death of her husband, Rubin Baum, who was killed in 2012 on the Upper East Side. A spinning car that had collided with another vehicle killed Baum as he hailed a cab. Denise Baum said her husband pushed her out of the way to save her. “I was in total shock and disbelief,” she said.
The core of the event was reading the names of 123 people who have died in traffic crashes so far in 2015. Yellow flowers were handed out, each representing the more than 24,000 injured and people killed in traffic crashes in the five boroughs this year. Single yellow shoe laces were also given to vigil participants to commemorate pedestrians and cyclists killed in traffic crashes.
Hsi-Pei Liao and Amy Tam-Liao shared the story about how their daughter, Allison, was killed by a car in 2013 as she and her grandmother were crossing at an intersection.
“Her death was a result of a dangerous, predictable, aggressive driving culture,” Tam-Liao said. “Ali did not need to die. She should be playing in the sprinklers with her brother. She should be preparing for kindergarten.”
Sofia Russo also lost her daughter, Ariel, in 2013 when she was struck and killed by an unlicensed driver fleeing police.
“My 4-year-old daughter was not killed in an accident. Her death could have been prevented if the driver had been obeying traffic safety rules,” Russo said. “She should be here right now. She would be 6 years old getting ready to start first grade, reading books to her 4-year-old brother,” Russo said.
Some traffic crash survivors took the stage to promote Vision Zero's goals. Last summer, Dulcie Canton was riding her bike home when a reckless driver rear-ended her and kept going. Canton was left with a broken shoulder and ankle and a concussion. “It's an awful thing to happen and it really shouldn't,” Canton said.
Cara Cancelmo, hit by a taxicab two years ago, contends with chronic pain from an injury to her shoulder.
“My injuries may not be visible at first glance, but my pain is real,” said Cancelmo, who added that she also has leftover mental trauma. “Many New Yorkers dissociate from the possibility that this could be their life, their pain, their story or end to it. But those of us here today know the truth: we are all in danger.
“What happened to me was not my fault. It was a terrible failure of the city,” she said.
Jackie Rowe-Adams, founder of Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E, which works to prevent gun violence, equated traffic deaths with those from firearms.
“The pain never goes away. We share the same pain. We share the same hurt,” said Adams, whose two sons were killed in separate shootings. “We wake and we have the loss of our kids.”
The crowd kneeled and held up their yellow flowers for a moment of silence to honor a cyclist who was killed near the Barclays Center in Brooklyn when he struck by an SUV on July 13.
Aaron Charlop-Powers, a founding member of Families for Safe Streets and whose mother was killed five years ago riding her bike in the Bronx, concluded the vigil in a cry answered by the crowd:
“What do we want?” he shouted.
“Safe Streets!” the audience responded.
“When do we want it?” Charlop-Powers screamed.
“Now!” declared the crowd.