Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas is known for her progressive politics and loyalty to her Queens district. But in recent days González-Rojas’ has been in the news after being struck by a car, making her one of two lawmakers in Albany with an arm in a sling.
The Jackson Heights lawmaker has supported street safety legislation in the past like Sammy’s Law, a bill that would give New York City the power to reduce speed limits to 20 miles per hour in certain areas. But now the idea of pedestrian safety is more personal for her.
The injury couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time, just days before Gov. Kathy Hochul’s State of the State address and barely two weeks into the start of the legislative session.
González-Rojas has no intention of letting the injury stop her, although she notes the effect the downed wing has had on her. She said she plans to push on while healing, working on legislation and working for constituents in the same fashion she has before. The only new wrinkle in things is now González-Rojas has gone through the traumatic incident of being hit by a vehicle.
She spoke with City & State Tuesday about the experience and what her plans are moving forward.
You were hit by a car on Jan. 4. Was this unfortunate accident a good opportunity to raise awareness about street safety for pedestrians?
I've long been an advocate for pedestrian safety and cyclist safety with the dual goal of increasing investments in public transit infrastructure and the overall benefits of climate justice as we move away from cars. So I literally ran on this issue as a candidate in 2020. It's really important to me as someone who usually walks, sometimes cycles, in the neighborhood and represents a district that has a rich network of public transportation but certainly, we want to make improvements, expand it and make it more accessible and ultimately free.
In 2021 I had a whole campaign around these issues. And just about a month ago, in late November, I released a Western Queens street safety plan with Council Member Tiffany Cabán and Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani and state Sen. Kristen Gonzalez to address the high rates of pedestrian deaths in Western Queens. Queens has had the (second) highest rates of pedestrian deaths across the city. I think we had 85 deaths last year and 13 alone, maybe more, in Western Queens. (Editor’s note: Crashmapper recorded 77 traffic related fatalities in Queens in 2023.) So we came together and created a whole vision around addressing the street safety issue. And now I’m part of the statistic.
Now that you’re “part of the statistic,” will that color how you push for related legislation?
Last session, I was a real huge advocate for Sammy’s Law. I joined so many of (advocates’) press conferences, and I pushed internally to raise awareness amongst my colleagues and worked alongside the sponsor to really try to get that over the finish line. I'm so angry that we weren't able to get that done last year, you know it's really difficult to advance legislation that somehow hinders the ability to drive freely and wildly in New York.
For people who maybe might not know, how does it affect a person to be struck by a car?
Oh my gosh, I mean, first off, it's terrifying and disorienting. I think that's the word. You’re sort of wondering what happened. I'm lying in the street, and my initial thought was “get out of the street.” My arm is throbbing. My shin is throbbing. Actually, I didn't even actually call an ambulance, it was a kind stranger who witnessed the whole thing who called an ambulance, called the police and brought me ice. And she acknowledged that this was a very dark corner and that it's been a very dangerous corner and she's lived there for 25 years.
So it's scary. You don't know what's going to happen, you don't know if you broke something and then you're also thinking about your life, like, “Oh my god, I have a job and have a family to take care of.” All these thoughts go through your head and you're just trying to figure out how to move forward with an injury. And again, I'm lucky to be able to walk away with an injury and a broken arm.
I honestly can’t stop thinking about Dolma Naadhun who was a young 7-year-old girl who died, who never came home. All these things are very disorienting, you're trying to figure things out and you're thinking about your loved ones. I haven't even figured out what I'm doing around insurance and I'm just trying to make sure my injuries and my family are OK and I’m figuring out how to dress myself in the morning with a broken arm in Albany and it's really difficult. And again, I am grateful.
On a lighter note, are you excited about the State of the State address?
Yeah, it’s always an exciting day, Hochul and I have matching slings. I get to work and that's the thing too, I’m a hard worker and a very visible elected. I love being in my community. I love being at different events and community functions and I hope to keep that up but I have to acknowledge that I have a team and I can't push myself as much as I used to. So that's also a reality that is very difficult for someone like me but in terms of the work ahead, I'm still able to work, I can write legislation with my right hand.
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