The New Sub-Urbanist: Strides toward pedestrian safety on the North Shore

Jivanna Bennaeim lost her husband, Oren, in 2016 when he was simply walking across Middle Neck Road. A hit-and-run driver ran a red light and struck Oren, taking the life of a husband and father.

Responding to that tragedy, Jivanna is focused on making Middle Neck Road, and therefore Great Neck, safer.

On Oct. 7, 2018, Ms. Bennaeim and a group of concerned citizens are holding a 5k/Fun Run at 8:15 a.m. to bring Great Neck residents together to raise awareness about the consequences of distracted and reckless driving as well as to remind pedestrians to walk mindfully.

They aim to remind us about our neighbors.

We might be tribal in Great Neck, a group of 40-some thousand people divided into nine villages, often stereotyped and sectioned into categories like Persian, Chinese, Korean, Orthodox, Latino or “other.” But something we can agree on is a desire for safety – Safety for families, children, humans.

Walking in America hasn’t been this dangerous since 1983, the year pop singer Michael Jackson first performed the Moonwalk.

And some experts point to mobile phones and marijuana as two culprits.

The evidence continues to mount that shows pedestrian safety is a key issue for Great Neck, Nassau County, New York State and nationwide.

The Complete Streets Coalition put out a recent list that identifies Middle Neck Road in Great Neck Plaza as one of the 16 most dangerous roads in Nassau County.

A report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association shows the proliferation of smartphones, legalized marijuana and alcohol use by either drivers or pedestrians as contributing factors.

Pedestrian fatalities in the nation’s 10 largest cities increased by about 28 percent from 2015 to 2016, with New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego and San Jose all showing an increase in pedestrian deaths.

Darkness is a key factor in pedestrian deaths as 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities in 2016 happened after dark.

The states with the highest pedestrian fatality rate were New Mexico (3.45 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people), Florida (3.22) and South Carolina (2.96.)

The number of states with pedestrian fatality rates at or above 2 pedestrians killed per 100,000 population more than doubled from 7 in 2014 to 15 in 2016.

Pedestrian fatalities totaled 5,987 nationwide in 2016, increasing 27 percent from 2007 while all other traffic deaths decreased by 14 percent according to a recent report by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, a Washington D.C. based nonprofit organization that represents state highway safety offices.

Pedestrian deaths as a percentage of total motor vehicle crash deaths increased from 11 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2016. Prior to 2016, it had been 33 years (1983) since pedestrians accounted for such a large proportion of all traffic fatalities.

The seven states that legalized recreational marijuana use between 2012 and 2016 (Alaska, Maine, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington) and Washington D.C. saw a 16.4 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities during the first half of 2017, compared to the first half of 2016.

All other states reported a collective 5.8 percent decrease in pedestrian fatalities during that time frame.

The data shows us that pedestrian safety needs to become a focal point of creative leadership for cities and states across the nation.

That’s particularly true as suburbs experience a boom and American cities continue going through reinvention.

“My family moved to Great Neck because of the amazing school district. We’re staying because of the extraordinary people who live here,” Ms. Bennaeim writes. “We have nine villages in Great Neck. We hope your village will be one of the villages that supports our cause and helps make this day an extraordinary success.”

The Nassau County Police Department and the Parks District of Great Neck are supporting the event. Nassau County Commissioner Laura Curran has said she will attend.

Town of North Hempstead supervisor Jody Bosworth and Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender along with mayors of Kensington and the Village of Great Neck have authorized the event. Local businesses, schools and houses of worship are lending support as well.

The organizers are still looking for sponsors for a car simulator that shows teens and adults what happens to their driving when they are distracted. Sponsors and volunteers can contact North Shore Action at [email protected]

For now, mark your calendars for the race: Oct. 7, 2018 at 8:15 a.m. A Fun Run for children follows at 9 a.m. on Grace Ave.

Paul Glader, a Great Neck resident, is an associate professor of journalism, media and entrepreneurship at The King’s College in New York City.

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