A woman from Great Neck stepped up to the microphone and proceeded to demonstrate the emotional costs of what otherwise would be mere statistics.
“Something needs to change. The tragedies need to stop. I’m here for a call of action in Great Neck,” she pronounced. “My name is Jivanna Bennaeim and my husband, Oren, was killed by a hit-and-run driver.”
She broke down, sobbing, taking several long moments to regain her composure.
Oren was struck by a car at the corner of Middle Neck Road and Barstow Road last Sept. 30, and died six days later, never regaining consciousness. A photo of a damaged Nissan Rogue suspected in the accident—captured from a nearby red light camera—was released, but the culprit has not yet been found or come forward.
Bennaeim was one of two women who lost loved ones to speak at the Vision Long Island/LI Complete Streets Coalition gathering on July 7 in Farmingdale. The purpose was to present an emergency pedestrian action plan. Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island, presided over the proceedings.
Holding up a family photo that also included her son, Tristan, Bennaeim continued, “Oren was an amazing husband and father. He served as a paratrooper in the Israeli Army for three years. And it still shocks me that this is how he died.”
Speaking to the Great Neck Record afterward, Bennaeim reconstructed the accident: “Two cars were coming south on Middle Neck Road. The first car stopped at a red light. The second car did not want to stop and swerved around. My husband had just started into the crosswalk [and as he stepped beyond the stopped car] was hit. It’s where one lane goes to two lanes and people are rushing to get to Northern Boulevard.”
Bennaeim pleaded that it was time to carry on a campaign against distracted driving and speeding similar to the one launched against drunk driving.
“There should be nothing more compelling than that we make a change to save people’s lives. Slow down, and get somewhere five minutes later. Isn’t that worth a person’s life?” she told those assembled. “No one else should get the call I received that his or her family member has been injured or killed in a crash that could have been avoided. Together we can make this happen.”
Bennaeim told the Record she lent her voice to the campaign in order to raise awareness.
Of her husband she said, “He was built like a Rambo. Six-foot-one and 240 pounds of muscle. [At first] I didn’t think anything [bad would happen to him] when he was hit by a car—I thought he was going to be fine. But the cars are too big and they go too fast.”
Bennaeim reached out to Alexander, who serves on the board of the advocacy group Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “She was one of the inspirations for getting this press conference together,” Alexander praised.
According to the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), 142 people were killed in Nassau County in vehicle-pedestrian crashes between 2011 and 2015, and another 4,191 were injured. Figures for 2016 have not yet been released.
Also lending her voice was Sandi Vega of Wantagh, whose daughter Brittany was killed crossing Sunrise Highway on her way to school.
“[Brittany] was actually fully across the street,” Vega related. “The car clipped her at the last second and was going so fast that she went about 70 feet and died immediately.”
Vega said that after this tragedy “I made it my mission to help where I could,” and was nine months pregnant when she accepted Alexander’s offer to travel up to Albany to advocate for the Complete Streets Act, which was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2011.
According to the NYSDOT, “A Complete Street is a roadway planned and designed to consider the safe, convenient access and mobility of all roadway users of all ages and abilities. This includes pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders and motorists; it includes children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.”
It further noted that “Strengthening NYSDOT’s Complete Streets efforts requires both internal evaluation and ideas from everyone who uses and relies upon the transportation system—individuals, organizations and even entire communities.”
That’s where the LI Complete Streets Coalition comes in, and at the conference it introduced a 10-point plan to make streets safer. Visit www.liweekly.com for the complete story.
The operative phrase at the press conference was “traffic calming.”
It was not hard to think of the irony, standing at the intersection of Route 109 and Main Street. While speaker after speaker stepped up to the microphone, there was a constant cacophony of screeching brakes, horns and big truck engines straining to gather momentum, the rigs shaking the pavement with their heavy loads.
Route 109 is the poster child for the kind of traffic engineering that has dominated the field for decades: made to maximize the smooth flow of vehicles, with no thought for pedestrians, bicyclists and the type of zoning it passes through.
Alexander noted that there were 20 traffic calming projects underway on Long Island, as opposed to none 20 years ago.
He singled out Nassau County Legislator Ellen W. Birnbaum, “who has been working on traffic calming studies up in Great Neck. She’s been a leader in Nassau County on Complete Streets and is working closely with Jivanna.”
Also present was state Senator Kemp Hannon, a sponsor of the Complete Streets legislation. He read a letter he had received that morning from the NYSDOT detailing the safety improvements that were planned for Route 109, a state highway.
“These are necessary steps, [but] the thing is, the community has to come together,” Hannon said. “This is a problem in the suburbs. The question of a safe environment for walking and living, a safe environment for making a living and going to work, and making sure that we do not have further tragedies.”