When people first meet Clarita Vailon, 40, in her wheelchair, she is so nimble in it that they might assume she has been in one her whole life. But it was when she was hit by a taxi driver in the Bronx 18 years ago that her mobility became severely limited.
Vailon considers herself lucky to be alive, but one tragic moment robbed her of a “full, rich life.” Vailon has joined forces with Families For Safe Streets to improve safety for bikers in the Bronx and help them avoid a similar fate.
“How many people have to suffer as I have?” Vailon said at a Sept. 16 vigil for victims of traffic collisions, at E. 161st Street and the Grand Concourse. “How many people have to die before our elected officials will fix our streets?”
Bikers and pedestrians injured in traffic collisions stood alongside family members of others who died in similar accidents, demanding the city create more protected bike lanes in The Bronx. Transportation Alternatives joined Families For Safe Streets in organizing the vigil.
Through August, there have been 37 traffic fatalities in the Bronx, compared with 19 fatalities last year, according to NYPD’s TrafficStat.
There have been 521 bicycle injuries in the borough this year, an increase of 377 from this time last year, according to that source. Between April and August, 372 injuries to bikers in traffic accidents in the Bronx were reported.
“We’re seeing a boom in cycling in New York City,” said Erwin Figueroa, 30, Director for Organizing for Transportation Alternatives, explaining the dramatic increase of people using bikes during Covid. “Yet we are not seeing the city create an infrastructure for cyclists to be able ride safely.”
Cecil Brooks, 25, chair of Transportation Alternatives for the Bronx Borough Committee, says that the dangers bikers face in The Bronx isn’t new, and has not always been the group’s fight, but now it has to be.
“I do not want our relationship with this borough and this land to rely on a life and death decision,” said Brooks.
“We stand with our same heavy eyes and we have the same moments of silence, and we hear the same words,” said Danny Harris, 41, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, addressing the victims. “We have to go to vigil after vigil to simply get our mayor to take the action that he had committed to, by advancing Vision Zero.”
Vision Zero is a citywide initiative that aims to prevent traffic deaths through improved engineering, enforcement and education.
“And as we continue to demand, we hear whispers from City Hall,” said Harris. He envisions streets where pedestrians, from those in strollers to those in wheelchairs, can cross safely.
“I stand with you in anger and in condolence for the families, that continue to have to ask for the basic dignity to be seen when they cross the street,” said Harris. “Not just by drivers, but by our city.”
All victims and relatives of those who lost their lives in traffic collisions in the city are eligible to become volunteer representatives of Families For Safe Streets.
“We don’t want any more members,” said Chana Widawski, 47, organizer for Families For Safe Streets. “We don’t want our group to grow.”