Street Stars: Christine Berthet
Today we debut Street Stars, the first of many planned vignettes for 2008 which will focus on the amazing heroes and organizers in our communities who are fighting constructively for livable streets change and transportation improvements to their streets. We hope the series will inspire and provide a road map to how other neighborhoods can rally their own.
Our first choice is a woman we have long admired who has often appeared here and on Streetsblog. Her name is Christine Berthet, and she is the co-founder of Chekpeds, the Clinton/Hell's Kitchen Pedestrian Safety Coalition. Together with Transportation Alternatives and the Project for Public Spaces, she was also instrumental in organizing the Ninth Avenue Renaissance, a movement to re-imagine neighborhood streets as a healthier place for people. She is an indefatigable advocate working hard for the community, organizing rallies, and is omnipresent at community hearings and testifying at City Hall.
According to surveys conducted in Hell's Kitchen: 75% of the people said that they were afraid for their safety because of cars... 5% because of crime.
Christine Berthet: [00:00] My name is Christine Berthet. I am the co-founder of CHEKPEDS, the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety, and my co-founder is Martin Treat.
Christine Berthet: [00:17] What got me going was the honking and the fire engines blocked into that gridlock.
Speaker: [00:22] We’ve even had our local fire department sometimes have to call in and say, don’t count on us if you have an emergency because it looks like we can’t get out, we’re packed in on both streets. I mean that’s pathetic.
Christine Berthet: [00:33] CHEKPEDS was started as, I would say, activist, militant, a negative organisation. It was created out of rage and frustration that nobody would do something about the situation which was so dire. I mean, you know, 500 people injured on 9th Avenue in ten years is bad. And we were very emotional about it and very negative because we had been turned down so much. Welcome to Hell. So this is 42nd at a school hour when you leave. Look at the volume of pedestrian trying to cross always and here, there’s nowhere to go. So they’re going to be stuck and they are going to block the intersection. It started to become clear that unless we had a positive outlook and a positive vision, we couldn’t enrol everybody in the neighbourhood. And so the vision of the future was really the 9th Avenue Renaissance, which was inspired by Transportation Alternatives and PPS into how to get from, you know, being like reactive negative to let’s go to the future and let’s rally people. We are here at 42nd and 9 at the heart of Hell’s Kitchen and Clinton and we are trying to get our neighbours to tell us what should change on 9th Avenue to make it better.
Speaker: [01:51] I’ve been living in Hell’s Kitchen all my life, born and raised here. And years ago the neighbourhood, you know, you know people and you talk. Here you don’t, you know, thousands of people, you don’t even know them. The only time you get a chance to meet them is when you’re sitting in a place like this.
Christine Berthet: [02:04] The major request was pedestrian safety.
Speaker: [02:08] 90% of the time I cannot get across this street without having to walk out into the middle of 43rd Street into the middle of traffic. It’s very unsafe and I’m not disabled and I’m not a child and I’m not a senior, and I can’t get across the street.
Christine Berthet: [02:19] The second was enforcement. Everybody felt that the police has not... is not doing their job as far as enforcement. The third item was bus transit.
Speaker: [02:32] It takes so long to get home on the bus until it passes Port Authority. The bus is just creeping.
Christine Berthet: [02:38] It’s equivalent of not having any transportation in the streets because your bus takes two hours to do two blocks and that’s not good. So this what the kind of three major request, and they were pretty basic because the problem is so bad. In fact 75% of the people interviewed said that they were afraid for their safety because of cars. And 5% said they were afraid for their safety because of crime. And it just gives you a sense that the whole neighbourhood feels threatened by the car traffic. And you need to know indeed in this neighbourhood the car traffic is not indigenous to the neighbourhood, the car traffic is transient cars coming and going from the Lincoln Tunnel. So therefore, you know, once they have left there is a very reasonable amount of traffic in the neighbourhood, nothing big. We got a police officer stationed at 37 and 9 everyday of the week at peak hour, and indeed practically getting the money for the DOT to do the study was a major accomplishment obviously. And through the Community Board we got a lot of parking regulation change in the neighbourhood. In order to accomplish all those things, it is necessary to have a political presence and large community support. And we have had rallies.
Martin Treat: [04:06] Welcome to Mccaffrey Park for the anti-traffic rally. Stop air pollution. Stop gridlock. Stop emergency vehicles from being trapped in traffic. It is not only uncomfortable, it kills.
Christine Berthet: [04:21] We have testified for congesting pricing. Every time there is an important meeting where transportation issues are addressed, I am showing up and I’m bringing people there because you don’t have credibility unless you can show that you have a lot of people with you. We have also gone to fairs and sent petitions. We have already sent three petitions to our elected to get things going and this is very important to do because if they see a big pile of 300 letters signed by local, they know that this is something people care about and it’s very powerful.
[05:05] It’s the right project at the right time, and it feels that
it’s winnable. So if you think you can win, you know, you should
go for it.