By Lynn Edmonds,
Two years after a car struck and killed three-year-old Allison Hope Liao in Downtown Flushing, her parents, local politicians and traffic advocates gathered on Friday to co-name the intersection where she lost her life in the girl’s memory.
Liao was holding her grandmother’s hand on Oct. 6, 2013, and walking with the light at the intersection of Main Street and Cherry Avenue when a car mowed her over.
“This may be the spot where we lost our daughter to a distracted driver, but it also the spot where our advocacy in her memory started, and that is how we want to remember this corner,” they said in a joint statement.
Amy Tam-Liao said, “We intentionally named her Hope because we wanted her to make the world a better place.” Despite the grief their family has had to endure, Liao said Allison Hope had achieved that.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has made reducing traffic fatalities a top priority in his administration with his Vision Zero initiative. In June 2014, he signed a package of laws meant to protect people on the streets, including the law that the Liaos testified in favor of, Int. 238A, which makes failing to yield to pedestrians and bicyclists a misdemeanor.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) said that traffic fatalities had reduced 26 percent in Community Board 7, where the accident took place, in the last year.
She added, “That doesn’t bring little Allie back.”
“There are no words to express the grief that family must face,” Stavisky said, adding that she believed there should be stiffer penalties for drivers who hit pedestrians.
Families for Safer Streets and their parent organization, Transportation Alternatives, says that the number of fatal accidents where bus drivers hit pedestrians with the right of way went from eight, before the Right of Way law was implemented, to zero so far this year.
But some legislators at the State and City level have sought exemptions to the law for MTA drivers. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) sponsored a bill in the City Council for that purpose, and a similar bill passed the State Senate in June but did not make it through the Assembly.
The family hoped the street co-naming, which Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) shepherded through the City Council, would be an added reminder to drivers to exercise caution.
“If you are in a hurry, if you are running late…It’s not worth the life of Allison Liao, it’s not worth the life of anyone,” Koo told dozens of reporters and traffic advocates who attended the ceremony.
Kim Wiley-Schwartz, Assistant Commissioner for the City Department of Transportation, said that the Liao family’s willingness to share their story could make a difference in getting drivers to change their behavior behind the wheel. She said greater safety called for “small adjustments, pausing, taking your time, understanding that when you drive a car you take other people’s lives into your hand.”
In addition to testifying in favor of the New York City Right of Way Law, the Liaos also helped start the advocacy group Families for Safe Streets and the “Safe Driver’s Pledge” and shared their story in the TLC video “Drive Like your Family Lives Here.’
His-Peil Liao also wrote an op-ed in Wired, “Stop Calling My Daughter’s Death A Car Accident,” on a Families for Safe Streets campaign called #CrashNotAccident.
Members of the organization say the word “accident” removes responsibility from drivers, even when they are making reckless and dangerous choices, and makes crashes seem inevitable – like natural disasters or fate.
Debbie Kahn, whose son was hit and killed by a car in 2014, was part of the campaign. She said she bristled when police and others used the word ‘accident’ to describe her son’s death.
“That word it hurts, it causes pain,” she said. “[It’s] like taking a knife and digging it into your heart.”
She added, “To have a culture change, you need a language change.”
In his op-ed, Liao argued that the language can go so far as to affect policy.
He said the campaign “isn’t an academic exercise in scolding people about word choice. Our objective is actually to challenge the assumptions behind those words – assumptions that lead to policy decisions that allow the carnage on our streets to continue, with no driver accountability.”
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana