Accidental Advocates Champion Vision Zero

by Leah Shahum April 9, 2018 in Families for Safe Streets, News, U.S. Vision Zero Cities

Families for Safe Streets Grow Across North America

You probably know the startling statistics: 40,000 traffic deaths last year in this country – an average of 100 people each day whose lives were cut short – and millions more injured.

Less prominent in the news is the depth of grief and suffering behind each one of these tragedies and the fact they could have been prevented.

But that is changing. Across the nation and in Canada, chapters of Families for Safe Streets are forming. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and other family members and friends who are stepping up to say Enough is Enough of the grief and suffering. They are Vision Zero advocates who never asked for this responsibility, but who are channeling their loss into action with the aim of preventing others from suffering the way they have.

With Roots in NYC, Chapters Grow Across U.S., Canada

Soon after an advocacy push for Vision Zero began to swell in New York City in 2014, a group of families came together to channel their grief into action. These individuals had either lost family members or been injured in traffic crashes themselves. With the help of the well-respected advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, the families organized the first chapter of Families for Safe Streets. Their mission statement says, “Through our stories and advocacy, we seek cultural and physical changes on our streets and the rapid implementation of Vision Zero. We envision a city where pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles safely co-exist, and children and adults can travel freely without risk of harm – where no loss of life in traffic is acceptable. As families whose loved ones have been killed or maimed by reckless behavior and dangerous conditions on New York City’s streets, we demand an end to traffic violence.”

In just a few years since they started, NYC’s Families for Safe Streets’ advocacy has been critical in advancing life-saving policies and on-the ground improvements. Their successful campaigns include winning approval and implementation of lower, safer speed limits citywide and safety cameras around school areas to encourage safe driving speeds. As recently as last week, the group held a press conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio urging state legislators to allow the city to install more safety cameras around schools, expanding the original pilot program state legislators approved in 2013. (Read more about this program and successful results in one of our recent blogs here.

Photo: Transportation Alternatives, New York City Families for Safe Streets

Their advocacy has not gone unnoticed. Policymakers across NYC and in the state capitol of Albany cannot afford to ignore the powerful and forward-looking Vision Zero agenda of Families for Safe Streets. And their work is garnering national attention too. Just this month, Amy Cohen, a founding member of NYC’s Families for Safe Streets whose 12-year-old son Sammy was killed by a reckless driver in 2013, was one of 10 women featured in Good Housekeeping magazine for her fearless leadership (see photo below). Amy’s and other members of the founding chapter’s strength in advocacy are an inspiration to families across the world.

Photo: Good Housekeeping magazine

The NYC group also provides ongoing convenings for families who have lost loved ones in traffic crashes or were injured themselves, as well as trainings on advocacy for safe street design and media trainings to learn how to communicate effectively with reporters.

Since the formation of NYC’s Families for Safe Streets paved the way, seven additional Families for Safe Streets chapters have officially been announced in communities across the U.S. and Canada.

New Families for Safe Streets chapters include:

  • New Jersey
  • Toronto, Canada
  • Central Texas
  • Southern California
  • San Francisco Bay Area
  • Oregon and SW Washington
  • Alexandria, VA & Washington, DC

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Families for Safe Streets chapter, supported by Walk SF, is advocating for state legislation to enable safety cameras to manage speed in San Francisco and San Jose. Their efforts include traveling to the state capitol of Sacramento and meeting with lawmakers and testifying before legislative committees. This chapter and others have also taken time to meet with and learn from the formidable advocates at Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) with the hope of changing the culture of complacency around traffic deaths, similar to MADD’s success over the past few decades in helping to make drunk driving less socially acceptable.

“After the death of my son in November 2014 due to a neglectful driver, it took me a while to find out what could be done to deal with all my anger, frustration, sorrow, and pain I was experiencing on a daily basis. I discovered Walk S.F. Vision Zero and called to speak with Natalie Burdick. We spoke for roughly 15 minutes, and during the conversation I shared my story and pain of what I was going through. She  invited me to a meeting at their location and of course I went. I was able to share my story again and that’s how the relationship began.”

– Alvin Lester, Families for Safe Streets member, San Francisco

Photo: San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets

Families for Safe Streets members in the Alexandria, Virginia & Washington, DC chapter, supported by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, recently traveled to the state capitol in Richmond to meet with state legislators and advocate for the lowering of speed limits, similar to the change approved in NYC. In Southern California, which formed just a few months ago through the support of LA Walks, Families for Safe Streets members are rallying around supporting select state bills that among issues, would reform speed setting policies.

“After my injury, I wanted to do something to prevent other citizens from crashes like mine, so I started the Alexandria affiliate of Families for Safe Streets (AFSS). We started in August 2017 with 5 people to advocate that the City of Alexandria instill a sense of urgency in implementing a Vision Zero plan. By November 2017, we had collected over 1,300 signatures to urge Alexandria to “Implement Vision Zero Now” and asked the City to provide a detailed Vision Zero plan with specific due dates and assign specific accountability as to who is responsible for the different aspects of the plan. By late 2017 the City of Alexandria published a Vision Zero plan that met all of AFSS’ requests.”

– Mike Doyle, Traffic Crash Victim, Founder of Alexandria Families for Safe Streets

All of the Families for Safe Streets chapters participated in last year’s annual International World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, organizing local events and calling on leaders to step up action on Vision Zero to save lives. Events ranged from gatherings at city hall, to commemorative vigils, rallies, and memorial walks. Chapters are already beginning to think about this year’s World Day of Remembrance scheduled for Sunday, November 18th.

Photo: The Street Trust, Oregon and SW Washington Families for Safe Streets
Photo: Washington Area Bicyclists Association


Networking Between Chapters to Strengthen Advocacy

The Vision Zero Network recognizes the immense power of Families for Safe Streets to make life-saving differences in their communities. We are proud to support their efforts by facilitating a new network for chapter members to connect and share ideas and experiences via phone calls, resource sharing, and in-person meetings.

For instance, plans are underway to convene Families for Safe Streets members from all of the chapters at the Vision Zero Cities Conference in NYC in early November. And we will again coordinate efforts and messaging around November’s World Day of Remembrance to amplify the individual efforts to advance Vision Zero.

Meanwhile, the NYC chapter continues to lead and inspire with their experience and ambitious agenda. The group recently released a Families for Safe Streets Resource Guide that offers tips on a wide range of issues such as seeking emotional support, working with police, consulting with attorneys, and starting insurance claims. And NYC members generously offer advice and support to those in other cities as they consider forming new Families for Safe Streets.

“We gain strength from the emotional support we share from each other’s experiences because traffic crashes can be unimaginably difficult.”

– Families for Safe Streets, New York City

Statistics of traffic deaths and severe injuries are alarming, but even so, the numbers do not elicit a fraction of the emotion or urgency that they should. The inspiring work of the members of Families for Safe Streets shines much-needed light on the immense and unjust impact that traffic deaths and injuries have on our communities. By reminding us of the names, faces, and stories of those who have been lost, as well as those who remain and suffer, these accidental advocates are mobilizing as a powerful force for change. We commend them.



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