The Blue Room in New York’s City Hall serves as Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s public reception hall, hosting press conferences, bill signings and ceremonies to honor New Yorkers. Earlier this month, a Westfielder stood at the front of the room next to the mayor, for a ceremony close to her heart.
Nancy Gruskin stood alongside Bloomberg when the mayor signed a pair of bills into law establishing increased public information for bike and pedestrian fatalities around the city. Gruskin has been crusading for increased bike safety in New York since her husband, Stuart, was died after being struck by a bike delivery person going the wrong way on a one-way street in midtown Manhattan on April 28, 2009.
The bill most important to Gruskin requires the city’s Department of Transportation to compile data on bike/pedestrian accidents in the city. With the Bloomberg Administration making bicycles a centerpiece of their transportation agenda, Gruskin said having the data collection is important for public safety.
“This is really huge, because this information did not exist before,” she said. “If you don’t know what is going on, on your streets, how do you implement sound policy.”
Gruskin’s husband had been crossing a midtown street during lunch time when the delivery person hit him. Falling to the street, Stuart Gruskin hit his head, which caused his death. Following this, Gruskin started looking into the incidents of bicyclists hitting pedestrians and was frustrated by the lack of data available.
This propelled Gruskin to become a one-woman lobbying machine for pedestrian safety, forming the Stuart C. Gruskin Family Foundation, and aggressively promoting her cause in city and state government circles. She has testified befor the New York City Council’s transportation committee, met with city Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, the driving force behind the Bloomberg Administration’s bicycle friendly policies, and worked with city and state legislators to draft legislation.
During the course of her research and advocacy, Gruskin learned that one of the top complaints being received by the offices of New York City Council members was the riding practices of bicycle delivery people around the city.
“It is a step in the right direction,” she said of the law.
Gruskin’s bill was signed into law by Bloomberg, alongside a companion bill to require the city’s DOT to release data regarding traffic safety statistics – including pedestrian accidents online. New York City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin (D-Upper East Side), the primary sponsor of the traffic statistics law, said that while the transportation agency had been compiling the data, it had not been releasing it to the public or to the City Council.
“The public has the right to know if their neighborhoods are safe or not,” Lappin said.
Lappin, who worked as senior aide to former Council Speaker Gifford Miller before winning Miller’s Council seat in 2005, said that she did not know what the DOT had been using the data for in the past. She said that her office has been able to compile a list of traffic hotspots in her district based on resident anecdotes, but wanted to know more.
Lappin, the Council’s aging committee chairwoman, said she worked with AARP a year ago to survey 75 intersections citywide regarding traffic safety. She said she gained a lot of volunteers, who indicated they wanted to know more.
“There is a real hunger to a part of the process,” Lappin said. “You can’t be a part of the process if you don’t have the information you need.”
Gruskin said she is confident the new laws will help bring more people into the safety process and help shape new policies for the city.
“If you happen to see that in any general area you area having a lot of incidents where bikers are hitting pedestrians or hitting other bikers, you can change the policies to make the streets safer,” she said.