Member Profile: Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein

Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein addressing reporters at the Families for Safe Streets launch.
Image Courtesy Andrew Hinderaker

How long have you been T.A. members? About 20 years.

Why did you join?
Gary: I was a bike commuter and supportive of the efforts to improve conditions in the city.
Amy: Gary was the one who was involved, but neither of us were active like we are now. Gary rode in the NYC Century Bike Tour 10 or 12 times. He and Sammy finished the entire 100-mile route this past fall.

About a month later, on October 8th of last year, your son Sammy was hit and killed by a van on your street. Has that changed your relationship to T.A.?
Amy: After Sammy was killed, we got involved in a different way. We felt the need to become a voice supporting street safety beyond just cycling. We wanted to support Vision Zero. Before that we were dues-paying members, but we didn’t do much.
Gary: We wrote letters and supported the Prospect Park West bike lane. Sammy and I went to a bike share planning meeting together, but it’s different now.

You also started a group called Families for Safe Streets. Can you talk a bit about that?
Amy: I got an idea for a group to advocate for safe streets—a group of all the families who’ve been through what we have. I asked Caroline [Samponaro, T.A.’s Senior Director of Campaigns and Organizing] to help me put together a meeting. It was going to be a half-day meeting where we’d get to know one another and see if we could work together. I brought in someone to facilitate discussion and by the meeting’s end we’d decided…
Gary: We’d decided unanimously…
Amy: To move forward as a group and to testify at the Vision Zero hearing.

Your efforts have made a real impression on the media, and it seems like there’s a lot of momentum behind your cause right now. What do you attribute that to?
Amy: We’re very pleased that the Administration was so outspoken on traffic safety even before Sammy was killed, and I think there is a lot more to come. As for why, well, I think we give a face to the statistics. This is what it looks like when a person is killed every 30 hours on New York City’s streets. They’re not just numbers when you put a human face on them.

How do you plan to keep up the pressure?
Amy: We’re going to continue to watchdog.
Gary: It’s all about showing up at hearings and meetings and building coalitions. We invite people to join us and speak out…
Amy: To travel to Albany for lobbying days, because the change won’t happen without Albany.

Is there anything you’d like to say to T.A.’s 100,000 supporters?
Amy: We’ve been touched by the outpouring of support. Every time there has been a need, friends and supporters and advocates have shown up in huge numbers—even on short notice—and supported us and supported the fight for safer streets in New York.