NYC: outrage over automotive terror —at last

Hundreds of bicyclists staged a “die-in” in New York’s Washington Square Park July 9, expressing outrage over the spate of killings of cyclists on the city’s streets. Three deaths came in a one-week period, finally prompting demands for public action: Robyn Hightman, a 20-year-old bicycle messenger and track racer, was killed by a truck driver in Manhattan. Ernest Askew, 57, riding an e-bike in Brooklyn, was hit and killed by a teen driver. And Devra Freelander, 28, an artist, was killed by a cement truck driver, also in Brooklyn.  (Bicycling, July 10) Hundreds of people gathered at 6th Avenue and West 23rd Street after the slaying of Hightman there on June 24. Hightman was the 12th cyclist killed on New York City streets in 2019; 10 were killed in all of 2018. (Gothamist, June 25)

Hightman was found by police laying on the street, unconscious and unresponsive, with head trauma. The driver initially fled, but later returned to the scene. Media reports did not indicate that he was arrested. As The Villager reports, Hightman had been an advocate for bicylists, who had recently posted on social media:

As a homeless youth deeply entrenched in the trappings of poverty and parental abuse and neglect, my first bicycle offered a way to seek respite from the horrors of my surroundings and human experience, if only for a few glorious minutes. My bicycle established a sense of independence, strengthened my ability to be self sufficient, and provided me with the confidence necessary to advocate for myself, my rights, and my needs in public space… Eventually, my bicycle allowed me to provide for myself when I began working a full time job at the age of fourteen. My bicycle provided me with the socioeconomic mobility necessary to escape. My bicycle saved my life.

City Council member Brad Lander has introduced a bill to impound vehicles that rack up five or more moving violations in any 12-month period. (Streetsblog, July 10) But Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has made traffic safety a supposed priority with his Vision Zero campaign, sparked further outrage just a few days later by  defending a police officer who “forcefully stopped” a cyclist in the East Village—running over his CitiBike in the process.

The incident took place on Ave. A near Tompkins Square Park July 5—just three days after the mayor announced a new campaign to protect cyclists in response to the recent killings. A widely-shared video of the confrontation shows an unidentified officer—his SUV jack-knifed across the bike lane, the mangled CitiBike stuck under its wheels—accusing the cyclist of riding recklessly. “I’m going to use whatever means necessary to stop you, and that’s for your safety,” the officer tells him, drawing gasps and guffaws from the gathered crowd. (Gothamist, July 8)

The headline announcing the new safety campaign in the Daily News July 2 was all too telling: “NYPD announces plan to temporarily improve bike safety after slew of cyclist deaths.” Temporarily. Right, let’s wait for the news cycle to move on, then we can go back to killing bicyclists like normal.

Indeed, the NYPD has been escalating harassment of bicyclists of late. As Gothamist reported April 22:

For six years, bike messenger Shardy Nieves, 38, has organized the 4/20 Race and Bake relay bike race without any major issues with the NYPD. “At the finish line we have cookies, pizza, cupcakes, local bakeries sometimes sponsor it, it’s just a way to bring the community together,” Nieves told Gothamist.

But on Saturday afternoon, when Nieves arrived at the starting point for this year’s race, Tompkins Square Park, he said he was greeted by name by an NYPD Lieutenant. “The officer had a manila envelope, and inside that envelope was screenshots of my social media and screenshots of the event,” Nieves says. A few minutes later, Nieves was in handcuffs.

Nieves was told he was being arrested for an outstanding warrant stemming from an open container ticket he got in 2015.

And the automotive carnage that we have been documenting for years likewise escalates…

James Buzzell,  76, was fatally struck by a box truck backing into a parking spot near Union Square in May.  (Daily News, May 21) Earlier that month, police charged the driver of a Smart car who plowed into two people in Battery Park City, severing one victims’ foot. (Daily News, May 11) Also that month, a car rammed into a man crossing Northern Blvd., critically injuring him. The city is supposedly planning a makeover of the Queens thoroughfare because of an alarming uptick in pedestrian fatalities there. (Daily News May 11)

Arlene Kalfus, 81, was struck and killed by a shuttle bus near Battery Park in April. No arrest was reported at the time. (The Villager, April 11)

Another metro area bicycling advocate, David Schlichting, 66, of Great Neck, who helped found the Five Boro Bike Tour more than four decades ago, was killed in March when he was struck by a minivan while riding his bike in Lake Success, Long Island. (Newsday, March 19)

Similar news is reported from across the country. In Washington DC, bicyclist and safe-streets advocate Dave Salovesh, 54, was killed by a speeding driver on Florida Ave. NE—another thoroughfare with a notoriously deadly reputation. Just days after Salovesh’s death in April, Bronx resident Abdul Seck, 31, was fatally struck by a vehicle while visiting DC’s Anacostia neighborhood. (SmartCities)

In June, an off-duty police officer lost control of his vehicle while allegedly driving drunk and plowed into a restaurant in Chicago’s South Side, killing a woman who was dining inside. (ABC News, June 12)

In Los Angeles, where 21 bicyclists were killed last year, city officials aim to raise awareness of the issue by placing signs memorializing bike riders “who died in crashes.”  (LA Curbed, April 8) Note that we take issue with this terminology.

In a truly perverse case, a trap set along a Colorado Springs bike trail severely injured a 69-year-old rider in March. Nard Claar suffered a broken right clavicle, three broken ribs, a concussion, and “road rash” when his bike got caught in a parachute cord intentionally strung across the trail. (Bicycling, April 17)

And in Guatemala back in March, more than 30 people were killed when a truck plowed into a crowd gathered at the site of a road collision that had left one dead. There was no report of an arrest. The “accident” (sic) took place in the municipality of Nahula, Sololá department. (Sky News, March 28)

But while this is of course a global pathology, the escalating road carnage in the United States is clearly linked to the current fascistic zeitgeist in the country.

As Vice reported April 24:

Researchers have now found an explanation for why many drivers act out toward cyclists: They are actually dehumanizing people who ride bikes, according to an April study by Australian researchers in the journal Transportation Research. And this dehumanization—the belief that a group of people are less than human—correlates to drivers’ self-reported aggressive behavior.

Since 2010, cyclist fatalities have increased by 25 percent in the US. A total of 777 bicyclists were killed in crashes with drivers in 2017, and 45,000 were injured from crashes in 2015. Data compiled by the League of American Bicyclists also suggests that, in some states, bicyclists are overrepresented in the number of traffic fatalities.

Added the municipal affairs website Strong Towns:

If anything else—a disease, terrorists, gun-wielding crazies—killed as many Americans as cars do, we’d regard it as a national emergency. Especially if the death rate had grown by 50 percent in less than a decade. But as new data from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (via Streetsblog) show, that’s exactly what’s happened with the pedestrian death toll in the U.S. In the nine years from 2009 to 2018, pedestrian deaths increased 51 percent from 4,109 to 6,227.

We have pointed out before that by any objective standard, cars are worse than terrorism. The escalating carnage may also be linked to the current depressed oil prices—reversing the downward trend in road fatalities during the oil shock a decade ago. But this issue brings together concerns of foreign wars for control of oil, the domestic police state, global climate destabilization, and the particular manifestation of Ugly Americanism evidenced under Donald Trump. It is long, long past due that we start viewing trafic “accidents” (sic) as a political issue, and a form of systemic oppression of those who (whether consciously or not) dissent from the hegemonic and ecocidal car culture.

Photo: Streetsblog

  1. Context on anti-bicycle backlash

    So far this year, 81 New Yorkers have been killed in traffic “accidents.” Exactly one of those deaths was caused by a bicyclist—and it was the first since 2017. (Vision Zero, Gothamist) Yet double-standard anger directed at bicyclists on supposed “safety” grounds continued to be manifested in the comments section of The Villager.

  2. Motorist kills art teacher in Brooklyn

    An art instructor and avid yoga teacher who rode her bike everywhere became the city’s 18th cyclist fatality when she swerved into the path of a vehicle while trying to avoid an opening car door. M. Samolewicz, 30, was traveling on Third Ave. in Sunset Park when she was hit by the 10-wheeler semi. (Daily News)

  3. Traffic ‘state of emergency’ for San Francisco?

    San Francisco’s deadly year for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists has street-safety advocates clamoring for city leaders to formally declare a “state of emergency.”

    The call comes in the aftermath of two pedestrian deaths in just four days. Benjamin Dean was struck and killed by the driver of Tesla who ran a red light at Taylor and O’Farrell streets on July 21. The 39-year-old was visiting from Clovis to celebrate a wedding anniversary, with his wife, Kelly Dean, who was seriously injured. Three days earlier, the driver of a big rig fatally struck 54-year-old Michael Evans, dragging him two blocks to Fifth and Market streets before fleeing the scene.

    On July 23, outside City Hall—where the Deans were married—street-safety advocates and San Francisco representatives called on Mayor London Breed to formally proclaim a citywide emergency. Doing so could unlock funds needed to speed up street-safety projects, advocates urged. (SF Weekly)

  4. Propaganda wars in NYC car-nage

    Michael Collopy, 60, died of his injuries after being struck by a bicyclist at 23rd St and 8th Ave, The Villager reports. This is terrible (of course), although we note, first, that the medical examiner is disputing the police account that he died as a result of being struck. And, secondly, that he was standing in the bike lane.

    But we can already hear the hypocritical anti-bicycle reaction. He is the third pedestrian killed by a cyclist in NYC in as many years. There have already been 88 New Yorkers (including 18 bicyclists) killed by motorists so far this year. The most recent cyclist to die was Em Samolewicz, 30, an art teacher, struck by a truck in Sunset Park July 29. (Daily News) No arrests were reported in either case.

    I called out the double standard in a letter to The Villager last week, in response to the unseemly anti-bicycle pile-on in their comments section.

  5. Iris Crespo: Say her name.

    An elderly woman walking in Chelsea was killed on Aug. 8, after being hit by a taxi around 1 p.m., according to police. The 77-year-old victim was identified as Iris Crespo, of 60 Amsterdam Ave. She was trying to cross W. 22nd St. at Eighth Ave., and was within the marked crosswalk, when she was struck by the taxi heading uptown on Eighth Ave. The force of the collision caused Crespo to land underneath a parked car, officials said.

    After hitting Crespo, the hack, Daniel Fusaro, 82, a Queens resident, continued driving north before ramming into a parked vehicle, police said.

    When officers arrived at the scene, they found Crespo unconscious and unresponsive on the street, with trauma to her head and body. EMS took her to Bellevue Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

    The cabbie was taken into custody and charged with leaving the scene of an accident, failure to yield to a pedestrian, failure to obey a traffic signal and failure to exercise due care. An investigation into the incident is ongoing by the Police Department’s Collision Investigation Squad. (The Villager)

  6. Jose Alzorriz: say his name

    From the Daily News, Aug. 11:

    A teen driver who blew through a red light in Brooklyn caused a chain-reaction car crash Sunday that took the life of a bicyclist — the 19th killed on city streets this year.

    A silver Dodge Charger zooming down Coney Island Ave. in Midwood barreled through the light and smacked into a Honda Pilot heading east on Avenue L at about 12:30 p.m.

    The impact pushed the Honda into the cyclist, 52-year-old Jose Alzorriz of Park Slope, and sprayed debris onto a pedestrian, said police. The Honda careened onto the sidewalk, and pinned Alzorriz against a building.

    The suspect was released without charges.

  7. Melissa McClure: say her name.

    A Chelsea woman died of her injuries Aug. 13 after being hit by a turning pick-up truck three days earlier. Police said Melissa McClure, 67, and another woman, age 59, were crossing W. 15th St. at Sixth Ave. when they were hit by the front of the vehicle, knocking them down. The pickup truck’s driver remained at the scene and was not injured. There were no arrests and the investigation remains ongoing. (The Villager)

  8. More anti-bicycle propaganda from NY Post

    More blame-the-victim propaganda from the evil NY Post. Amid a wave of motorist slayings of bicyclists this, is what they choose to run—an editorial entitled “NYC bicyclists are killing pedestrians and the city won’t stop it.” Complete with emotionally manipulative image of a wounded child—who, contrary to the implication of the headline, was not killed, and suffered to critical injuries. Three people have been killed by bicyclists in NYC in the past three years. So far this year, 121 have been killed by motorists. The figure for 2018 was an even 200. The figure for 2017 was 221. DO NOT EAT THIS VOMIT.

  9. Enzo Farachio: say his name

    An out-of-control driver mounted the sidewalk and ran over 10-year-old Enzo Farachio, who was waiting at a bus stop in Midwood, killing him. (Streetsblog, Sept. 10)

    Police are also investigating an incident in Bushwick in which an SUV driver apparently chased down and intentionally killed a man on a bicycle, who had tried to break into his car. He was the 21st bicyclists killed in the city this year. (Streetsblog, Sept. 2)

  10. De Blasio mulls licenses for bicyclists

    During a press conference last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he was considering making Citi Bike riders wear helmets and require all cyclists to get licenses. (The Villager)

    This licenses-for-bicyclists jive is victim-blaming bollocks of the lowest order. It is disincentivizing the solution to the plague of traffic fatalities—or a big part of it. Instead of burdening bicyclists with bureaucracy there should be a vigorous crackdown on lawless motorists. As of today, there have been 123 traffic fatalities in New York City this year. Two of those were due to bicyclists. The rest due to motorists. This focus on bicyclists as the problem is out of wack in the extreme.

  11. SUV kills tot in Bronx

    A 1-year-old child has died after an SUV involved in a two-car crash jumped a curb and struck a stroller in the Bronx. The driver has since been taken into custody. (WABC)

  12. Mario Valenzuela: say his name

     

    From ABC7-NY:

    A teenager riding his bike was killed when he was run over by a dump truck in Queens.

    The truck driver and the bicyclist were traveling east on Borden Avenue in Long Island City on Saturday afternoon.

    When the driver made a right turn on 11th Street, he struck the bicyclist with his back wheels. Officials say the wheels of the truck then ran over the cyclist.

    Mario Valenzuela died at the scene.

    A witness says the truck driver was devastated. He stayed on the scene.

    “He said he was coming in and he didn’t even notice that the cyclist just went into the back tire of the truck,” said Victor Fernandez. “He was crying, I felt bad for the guy.”

    Police have made no arrests.

    City records show Valenzuela is the 22nd bicyclist to die in a crash this year.

    Relevant lines: “crash” and “no arrests.”

  13. Elou Rakhminov: say his name

    From the NY Daily News:

    A tight-knit Queens family was reeling Sunday after the death of a retired watch repairman who was mowed down on a busy Kew Gardens Hills roadway — exactly seven months after his wife was struck and injured on the same street, blocks away.

    Elou Rakhminov, 75, was killed Saturday night crossing Jewel Ave. near 140th St. The 30-year-old driver remained at the scene, and no charges were immediately filed.

    Incredibly, his wife, Tamara Rakhminova, was struck at 147th St. on Feb. 21, the couple’s devastated daughter, Basanda Rakhminova, told the Daily News.

  14. Anne McLaughlin: say her name.

    From the Tampa Bay Times, Sept. 28:

    ST. PETERSBURG — Bicyclists dying on local streets is an all too common tragedy, but the recent death of Anne McLaughlin was all the more painful because she was struck and killed along a stretch of roadway that had been reworked for safer pedaling.

    On Saturday morning, St. Pete Bike Co-op organized a memorial ride for the 25-year-old McLaughlin past the 2800 block of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, where she was killed Sept. 19 while crossing at a flashing beacon.

    The ride also memorialized all cyclists and pedestrians who have become casualties of the street.

  15. Dalerjon Shahobiddinov: say his name

  16. Motoring notes from all over

    From Raw Story, Sept. 19:

    A Wisconsin police officer will not face charges after he chased and killed a black man who did not have a bicycle light.

    According to WITI, Police Sgt. Eric Giese of Mount Pleasant will not be charged in the killing of 18-year-old Ty’Rese West.

    Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson said that she determined that Giese actions “fall under the privilege of self-defense.”

    From Berkeleyside, Oct. 2:

    Michael Diehl, whose work with the homeless and poor on Berkeley’s streets earned him the nickname “the Mayor of Berkeley streets,” was killed Sunday when a driver struck him around 8:30 p.m. in Newark, according to authorities.

    Diehl was not in a crosswalk when he traversed busy Newark Boulevard just north of Cedar Boulevard, according to Newark Police Capt. Jonathan Arguello. The 36-year-old Pinole driver who struck Diehl is cooperating in the investigation.

    “There’s no indication of any wrongdoing,” said Arguello.

    Diehl, 64, was one of Berkeley’s most visible activists, having worked on a range of issues the last 40 years including keeping the punk rock club 924 Gilman Street Project open, protesting the placement of volleyball courts and housing in People’s Park, and advocating for better treatment of the poor, the homeless and those with mental illnesses.

    From The Telegraph, Oct. 2:

    An Australian teenager has been charged over the deaths of 20 kangaroos, which he allegedly mowed down with his truck in a killing spree that lasted an hour.

    The dead kangaroos, including two joeys, were found littered over roads in Tura Beach, 280 miles south of Sydney, on Sunday morning.

    At least three other joeys were orphaned as a result of the disturbing attack, according to wildlife rescue group WIRES.

    Police said on Wednesday the man, 19, had been arrested and charged with animal cruelty offences on Tuesday.

    The man allegedly hit and killed the marsupials with his utility vehicle late on Saturday night.

  17. Portland activist killed by SUV

    From Portland Mercury, Oct. 12:

    Early Saturday morning, Sean D. Kealiher, a 23-year-old Portland activist, was killed after being struck by an SUV near the Cider Riot taphouse in Northeast Portland. Kealiher’s death is being investigated as a homicide.

  18. Trump defends automotive terror

    From The Independent, Oct. 10:

    Donald Trump has defended the wife of a US diplomat accused of killing a British teenager in a road accident, suggesting it is difficult to drive on the other side of the road and that “it happens”.

    Speaking at the White House after a conversation with prime minister Boris Johnson, during which he apparently rejected a request to consider waiving the woman’s diplomatic immunity and her returning to Britain to face the police, the president said he wanted to try and bring about “healing”.

    Mr Trump said the US would shortly be speaking to the woman, and that there were many Americans who sympathised with the plight of teenager’s parents, who he said was killed in a “terrible accident”.

    Yet he also appeared to back the diplomat’s wife, Anne Sacoolas, saying that it could be difficult “driving on the opposite side of the road”.

    “The woman was driving on the wrong side of the road. That can happen,” he said. “Those are the opposite side of the road. I won’t say it ever happened to me, but it but it did.”

  19. ‘Fleetwide’ hack attack feared

    From the LA Daily News, July 31:

    Advanced technologies have greatly improved the functionality of cars, but Internet connections to critical safety systems in the top 2020 vehicles leave them vulnerable to fleetwide hacks, according to a new report.

    The study, “Kill Switch: Why Connected Cars Can Be Killing Machines And How To Turn Them Off,” was compiled over a period of five months by Los Angeles-based Consumer Watchdog with the help of car industry technologists. Unveiled at a press conference Wednesday, the report warns that a fleetwide attack at rush hour could disable the brakes, steering or airbags on vehicles, resulting in a 9-11 scale catastrophe with as many as 3,000 deaths.

    Automakers have acknowledged that cyberattacks pose a threat as Internet connectivity plays an increasingly bigger role in the operation of vehicles.