A 12-year-old girl was killed by a driver on Monday while walking to school with her twin sister in Elmont, Long Island. The victim was identified by her family as Gabrielle Christina Johnson, a seventh grader at Elmont Memorial High School.
Johnson was struck while crossing Elmont Road near the intersection with Village Avenue. In the segment where the crash occurred, Elmont Road is typical of suburban arterial roads on Long Island, with two travel lanes in each direction, a center median/turning lane, and lined with the type of land use that caters more toward automobile traffic than foot traffic. While police have yet to determine how fast the driver of the Nissan Rogue SUV was traveling, speeding is a known problem in this area, according to Newsday:
The speed limit along traffic-clogged Elmont Road is 30 mph. There are no crosswalk markings at the northern side of the intersection of Elmont Road and Village Avenue where Gabrielle crossed, but there is a crosswalk on the southern side.
Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) said speeding is an issue along that stretch of Elmont Road and he has requested that a crossing guard be permanently assigned to the intersection.
According to CBS New York, witnesses say Johnson was crossing against the push button-activated pedestrian signal and that the driver had a green light. Although Detective Lieutenant Richard LeBrun of the Nassau County Police told reporters at the scene of the crash that no criminality was involved, the driver’s speed “has not been ruled out as a possible key element in the investigation.” One witness said “the car was definitely going fast… it didn’t really seem like he slowed down,” and that the impact “sounded even more brutal than a car hitting another car.”
The crash didn’t just sound severe. Johnson’s sister Courtney told Newsday that “her sister just flew like a toy,” and the damage sustained by the vehicle looked less like the result of striking a seventh grader at 30 mph and more like the result of rear-ending a truck:
— Brad Aaron (@BradAaron) February 2, 2016
Fatal crashes like this are avoidable, but it takes political will (and funding) to reverse decades of road design that prioritizes traffic flow over everything else. Today, advocates are in Albany meeting with elected officials and asking for a $20 million annual line item in the state budget to fund the kind of infrastructure that makes New York’s streets safer for walking and biking. More than a quarter of all traffic fatalities in New York are pedestrian deaths — by far the highest share of any state. We know we can do better — and in some places, we are. Troy and Ogdensburg earned recognition from the National Complete Streets Coalition in 2015, and in New York City, traffic deaths have fallen in the first two years of the Vision Zero era.
But Long Island’s progress has been comparatively slower. Between 2011 and 2013, 220 pedestrians were killed on Nassau and Suffolk County roads. To put that number in perspective, the boroughs of Manhattan and Queens saw about the same number of pedestrian deaths during the same time period (222), but with a total population roughly 33 percent larger and a much higher pedestrian exposure rate: according to 2013 Census data, 20.9 percent of Manhattan and 5.7 percent of Queens commuters walked to work, while in Nassau and Suffolk, it was 2.6 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively.
While we still don’t know all the details of this tragedy, we do know that we don’t have to accept speeding in school zones. During Nassau’s short-lived speed camera program, speed violations near schools fell by 70 percent. And while there was no speed camera at the intersection where Gabrielle Johnson was killed, if and when Nassau leaders come to their senses and bring back the program, you can bet there will be one.