Street Smart

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Dante Cancel survived the stereotypical dangers of Bronx streets–guns, drugs, asthma. What did in six-year-old Dante on a brisk October afternoon last year was a speeding car. A driver doing 65 mph in a school zone killed him, leaving his mother Evelyn Cancel with a $12,000 funeral bill, a pair of Dante’s last sneakers and a lifetime of sorrow. “The guy who did this is not in jail, and I’m never going to be paroled from my pain,” she says.

Cancel is not alone in her sadness: Traffic is the leading cause of death and injury for children age five to 14 in the Bronx. Now, a coalition of mothers, along with the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives and the Bronx Borough President’s office, has started a program unique to New York City designed to slow traffic along streets that elementary school students use to walk to school. “Crossing guards are great, but they’re only on certain blocks,” says Transportation Alternatives’ Susan Boyle, the program’s coordinator.

So Boyle is thinking beyond public education and stop signs. With a grant from the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee to pay her salary and that of an engineer, Boyle and parents have already come up with traffic proposals for six of the 12 pilot schools. The two most visually radical: raised crosswalks that both act as speed humps and make children more visible, and “neck-downs,” widened sidewalk corners that constrict streets to one lane.

Although rare in this city, these solutions have been used successfully elsewhere. In Seattle, similar features–raised circular islands in the middle of intersections–installed at 14 dangerous intersections helped decrease accidents from 101 to 33 per year.

These solutions don’t come cheap, however. Boyle estimates a price tag of $50,000 to $100,000 per school, money she and the Borough President’s office will have to raise. But despite the cost, the Brooklyn Borough President’s office is negotiating with Transportation Alternatives to start a similar program there.

In the meantime, parents in the Bronx are protecting their children as best they can. Accidents are so prevalent near where Zaida Acre’s 9-year-old son goes to school in Bedford Park that she says another parent tacked up the only stop sign for at least 10 blocks on Marion Street. Says Acre, “I have seen and heard of so many accidents happening that I’m concerned not just for my kids but for my neighbors’ kids.”

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