Volunteer Profile: Laura Barlament

Laura Barlemet (at left, member since 2012) with her partner in
the campaign for a safer Howard Avenue, Amerika Grewal.

Image courtesy of Michal Garcia

Age: 41

Hometown: I was born in Tennessee, but grew up a lot of places. I lived the longest in Georgia—Hinesville and Atlanta. Now I live on Staten Island.

Occupation: I’m the associate director of communications and marketing for Wagner College.

How did you get involved with T.A.? In February of this year, a Wagner College student named R. J. Tillman was cycling home from school. He was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Howard Avenue; the street the college is located on; the street I ride every day; a street I’ve always felt was dangerous; a street I’d been hit on while biking in June 2011. The Staten Island Advance ran a story about his death that quoted Meredith Sladek [a T.A. staff member]. That’s how I found out about T.A. I did a Google search and found out about the Staten Island Volunteer Committee. They were having a meeting later that week. I attended, told them why I was there, and they have been nothing but supportive ever since.

Can you tell us a little more about the Howard Avenue safety campaign? I started advocating for better conditions on that street after my crash by writing a letter to Staten Island’s DOT Commissioner. I found out two of my colleagues had previously written to the DOT Commissioner about that same intersection. I gathered information from many colleagues and students about their experiences and concerns with pedestrian and bike safety in the area. I also went before the community board and explained the situation and asked for their help. After R. J. was killed, I said to myself, “OK, I am not stopping until something gets changed on Howard Avenue.”

There’s now a traffic light at the intersection. How did that happen? After R.J. was killed, Howard Avenue got a lot of attention. Wagner College is a treasured and respected institution on Staten Island. The College President, Richard Guarasci, met with the DOT Commissioner, the Borough President and other elected officials. I was working things from my angle, and Dr. Guarasci was fully supportive of me. I made a list of what seemed to be the worst spots along Howard Avenue in the vicinity of the college, and the DOT Borough Commissioner, Tom Cocola, came out and met with us and viewed all of the sites. I never actually asked for a traffic light. I did propose quite a few other traffic-calming measures, but that’s what the DOT has decided to do so far.

  That sounds like a lot of work. Did you have support of other people in the community? My colleagues at Wagner were very supportive, including my main partner, Amerika Grewal. We decided to hold a community meeting on the issue. That was at Wagner at the end of March, and it got key neighborhood constituents involved. Wagner people wrote a lot of letters; T.A. supporters and neighborhood people too.

Is there anything else that’s helped this campaign? Having the support of Wagner College, especially my boss, Joe Romano, and President Richard Guarasci, plus the support of T.A. and the Staten Island Volunteer Committee all helped. Combined, that gave a huge amount of weight and momentum to this campaign. I always had a lot of support that kept me pushing forward. 

Is there something you wish more people knew about biking on Staten Island? I’ve heard a lot of people here say they are afraid to ride or, “You would be crazy to ride here.” Even the DOT reflects that attitude sometimes. People think that the car is the only option, yet at the same time, everyone concedes that we have huge traffic problems. People just sit fuming in their cars and drive madly and aggressively! Bicycling should be a part of the mix. It would relieve auto congestion and make Staten Island a healthier and better environment. And it’s way more fun than rush-hour traffic.