Complete Streets Can Protect New York’s Families

Sandi Vega, a resident of Wantagh, NY, has been working to improve street safety since her daughter Brittany was killed while crossing Sunrise Highway, one of the most dangerous roads in the state, last year. Sandi contacted Tri-State several months ago, and has been speaking out for local intersection improvements and state reforms. She has been collecting signatures in support of a state complete streets law that will ensure major roads are designed with the needs of everyone in mind: walkers, cyclists, and drivers.

Sunrise Highway.

February 17th, 1996 was the best day of my life.  That was the day that a beautiful 8 lb 2 ½ oz baby girl named Brittany Lee Vega entered this world.

When Brittany was three, we moved to my hometown of Wantagh, a small community in Nassau County, New York. Wantagh had the best education you could ask for; it was a Blue Ribbon School District, and that’s what I wanted for my little girl. She was a straight “A” student who excelled in everything she set her mind to. She loved art, music, science and math. Her extracurricular activities included guitar, swimming and singing. Little did I realize that it is not just the schools we needed to be concerned about as parents, but the more basic elements of life—like whether or not the streets we lived on were safe and “complete.”

Not every street fit that description. We had recently allowed Brittany to cross a four-lane avenue, but had forbid her to cross Sunrise Highway, a curving, 6-lane road that runs through the heart of our busy town with the speed limit of an expressway — a whopping 50 mph — and no count-down clocks for pedestrians. A few years back, I had heard a mother screaming as she ran down my block, “My baby! My baby!” Her 12-year old son had been hit by a car as he crossed Sunrise Hwy. on his bike. I dreaded that ever being me, and teary-eyed, told Brittany what I had seen.

Brittany entered her freshman year at Wantagh High School in September 2010. The first two exciting weeks of school had passed when Brittany asked me if I could drive her to school instead of taking the bus as usual. I told her I couldn’t leave her three younger siblings that early in the morning, and she disappointingly said “okay.” Neither of us said anything more about it, and I assumed she did as I told her. Brittany was a very good girl; she listened to what I asked of her (aside from keeping her room clean and eating her veggies) and when she did get in trouble, she even agreed with her punishments, knowing when she was in the wrong. She knew she was not allowed to leave the house alone, even to walk around the block, unless she had a friend with her.

The night before Brittany was killed was like any other.  At dinner, we talked about having her close friend over and me making my famous chili dish (one of Brittany’s favorite meals). The following night we planned on finally dying her hair, something that was very exciting to Brittany since I usually disagreed about her choice in color. This time we compromised. I went to sleep that night exhausted.

September 22, 2010

At around 6:25 am the next morning, September 22nd, I woke out of a deep sleep to the sound of sirens coming from Sunrise Highway, about ten blocks from our house. Slightly startled with my heart beating fast, I thought of my family and then realized that my husband was already on the train to Manhattan and all my children were fast asleep as they should have been. I put my head back down on the pillow, and thanked God it was not my family.

Twenty minutes later, I heard the sound of someone pounding on my front door. I ran downstairs to find a police car and two police officers standing there asking me if I knew of the child that they had written down on a piece of paper. As I looked at the paper with Brittany’s name on it, I said, “that’s my daughter, but she’s asleep in her bed.” They said no, that she’d had been hit by a car on Sunrise Highway and I needed to go with them to the corner right away.

As we approached the intersection, I saw all of the cars stopped and police taking pictures.  I looked out the window for a glimpse of my daughter, but all I could see was her cell phone laying on the street. Seconds later, the police got a radio call from the hospital saying she didn’t make it…my baby was gone! It was a living nightmare.

Over six months have passed since the accident and I still feel like it couldn’t have happened to my baby girl… but it did.  As the days after her accident passed, the story of what happened began to unfold. Brittany decided to walk to school that day with a friend who was supposed to meet her at the corner to help her cross. As she approached the corner, she received a text from him saying he had overslept and couldn’t make it. He offered for his parents to get her. That was the last anyone heard from her.

The police said the driver didn’t see her, even though she was walking in the crosswalk, had crossed all six lanes and was one step from the safety line when the car hit her at 60 mph, throwing her 70 feet in the air before she landed. She immediately went into cardiac arrest and sustained blunt force trauma to her head. The driver wasn’t charged with anything, not even a speeding ticket.

Why I Support Complete Streets

We can’t always make sure that drivers obey the rules of the road, but we can fix our roads to make them safer for everyone who uses them. That is why I’ve spoken at our local Town Board meeting and sat down with local Senators and Assemblymembers to advocate for “Brittany’s Law,” New York’s version of “Complete Streets.”  I fully believe that “Complete Streets” can make our roads safer for everyone, and our children in particular.

While I can’t do anything to bring Brittany back, I can do everything in my power to protect my three other children (with one on the way), and ensure that no family goes through what mine has already gone through.

Will you join me?

Brittany, as an infant and as a teenager.

If you’d like to help the Vega family in their efforts to pass a Complete Streets Law in New York State, please do so by joining the 3,000 who have signed her petition in support of the law at www.tstc.org/brittanyslaw.

Photos: Top – Tri-State Transportation Campaign; Bottom – Sandi Vega.

 

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