Meet the Bay Ridge high schoolers leading the charge for safer streets

May 29, 2019 Paula Katinas
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Leila Mullarkey’s family knows firsthand the dangers pedestrians face when they cross the street in Bay Ridge. “My mother got hit by a car 10 years ago,” she told this paper. “My brother got hit by a car last year.”

Both her mother and brother survived the ordeals, but the two incidents made Mullarkey, a student at Bay Ridge Prep, eager to get involved in the community and work toward making streets safer.

“I want to be able to cross the street with my friends and not worry about getting killed,” she said.

Mullarkey is one of several local students on a new task force to focus on street safety for children and teenagers.

The Youth Pedestrian Task Force, organized by State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, is an outgrowth of a panel of adults Gounardes brought together earlier this year in response to a spate of car crashes in the Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights area.

Gounardes, a Democrat, represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and several other Southwest Brooklyn neighborhoods. The area saw 3,312 car crashes between July 2017 and July 2018.

In January of this year, 17 car crashes took place in southern Brooklyn over the course of a single day.

Like their adult counterparts, members of the youth task force will be asked to develop recommendations to enhance education about street safety in an ongoing effort to create safer roadways — but with a Gen Z twist.

Preston Ferraiuolo, a Bay Ridge resident who attends Regis High School, said he’d like to launch an education campaign on social media to urge young people to pay attention to their surroundings while crossing the street.

“We live in a world of technology,” he said. “Social media is a great way for us to get our message across.”

Young people are often distracted by their electronic devices, Ferraiuolo added. “We should be targeting these kids and telling them not to wear earphones when they’re crossing the street.”

The campaign would also include warnings to drivers. “I think people should stay off the phone while driving. Phones are great, but I just don’t think drivers should be on them when they’re behind the wheel,” he said.

Mullarkey called for the construction of pedestrian islands in the middle of wide roadways to give people a shorter distance to cross the street and to give motorists less room. “At 86th Street and Fourth Avenue, a lot of drivers speed. I think a concrete island will make them slow down,” she said.

She also wants the city to install more stop signs and speed cameras on streets, and not just in school zones. (Under a new state law based on a bill sponsored by Gounardes, the city will be able to increase the number of speed cameras in school zones to 750.)

Bay Ridge Prep student Ava Elfront, also a task force member, pointed out the unique advantage of the high schoolers’ status. “Kids are more likely to listen to their peers than their parents,” she explained.

The current transit climate in New York makes this a crucial time to have these conversations, Ferraiuolo added.

“Things are changing. Drivers have to share the streets not just with pedestrians but bike riders,” he said. “I’m just afraid that when my generation learns how to drive, we will be snapping selfies of ourselves behind the wheel instead of paying attention to the road.”

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