By Jivanna Bennaeim
My late husband, Oren Bennaeim, would have been 45 years old last Sunday. A little more than a year ago, Oren was killed crossing at the intersection of South Middle Neck Road and Barstow, walking to the train one rainy Friday morning last fall. A car driving south went speeding through a red light and all of our lives dramatically changed forever.
Oren was larger than life. He was a paratrooper in the Israeli army during the Lebanon war, and it continues to shock me that he died a foot into a crosswalk at a red light because a car was speeding in our town which has a 30-miles-per-hour speed zone.
Last year at this time, I wrote an article hoping the driver who killed my husband would come forward. That never happened. But instead of focusing on things I can’t control, I have become active in trying to figure out how to make our streets safer in Great Neck.
Since Oren was killed, four people have been struck by cars on Middle Neck Road. Oren was the only fatality, but others have been seriously injured.
I am not interested in placing blame on drivers or pedestrians. I am interested in making a change for our community. Distraction is at an all-time high in our world. Both pedestrians and drivers are more and more dependent on their phones.
Just like years ago when the community became outraged as people were dying because of drunk drivers, we need to become outraged so things change.
I am writing as a call to action for Great Neck. I would like to make this front page news and have all Great Neck citizens feel this is a priority. Road diets, bulb outs and traffic calming have become new words in my vocabulary as I learn about what things can be done to make our streets safer.
I have partnered with Vision Long Island and Jean Celender, mayor of Great Neck Plaza, as an initial step to write a grant. However, I was told this may take seven to 10 years to implement. Maybe, if more Great Neck citizens saw this as crucial, it could happen faster.
Vision Zero is a global strategy whose mission is to make roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. It has been passed in New York City, but not yet on Long Island. Many of the strategies that have been adapted by Vision Zero around education, enforcement and engineering can be duplicated here in Great Neck, such as:
• Installation of infrastructure improvements to reduce speeding.
• Installation of speed cameras and red light cameras.
• Implement meaningful behavior change campaigns through posters and education.
• Teach children the importance of safely crossing the street. Sadly, children and the elderly are the most at risk for pedestrian crashes. Children learn in school about the importance of recycling and then come home and educate their parents about things we can do. Our children can encourage their parents to drive the speed limit and that pedestrians always have the right of way.
• Increased dangerous driving enforcement by Nassau County and Great Neck Police officers.
Nothing should be more compelling than making a change to save people’s lives. No one else should get the call I received that his or her beloved family member has been injured or killed in a crash that could have been avoided. Together we can make this happen.