When a nine-year-old from her neighborhood was killed by a speeding car, Hilda Cohen, who studied urban design at the UO, joined with fellow Brooklyn parents to start Make Brooklyn Safer, an organization that champions street safety by promoting secure places to take kids biking and telling police about problem intersections.
“The core people in the group had a personal connection to the boy. When the child was killed, we decided, let’s put together all these resources,” says Cohen, who had been working for street safety prior to the child’s death.
Since then, thanks in part to the advocacy of Cohen and others, the speed limit on major thoroughfares such as Lafayette Avenue has been lowered to 25 mph. Inspired in part by activists like Cohen, Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched Vision Zero, a plan that aims for zero traffic deaths in New York City. Says Cohen: “I do feel that people don’t always see that traffic safety is public safety. If you start talking, you realize, I’m not alone, I’m not the only one that feels this way.”
While used to thinking of herself as simply the concerned mom who rides her bike everywhere, Cohen now sees that there are inroads for making change. She has become an advocate for more equitable use of public space.
Cohen hosts Kidical Mass bike rides in NYC, including a recent one across the Brooklyn Bridge, which get kids involved in drawing the public’s attention to traffic safety. “It’s always about having fun,” she says. “Let kids play for 15 minutes, and they’re ready for anything.”
Cohen believes that safer streets can be an economic boon for communities, with families much more likely to visit businesses—and spend money—if they believe that it is safe to do so.
—By Catherine Arnold