Burnishing his anti-union credentials, Governor George Pataki has taken to blaming Transit Workers Union leader Roger Toussaint for the plight of city firefighter Matthew Long. The firefighter was critically injured when he was struck by a privately chartered bus while riding his bike during the December transit strike.
Now he “cannot walk because of a horrible accident that occurred while this strike, this illegal strike, was on,” Pataki said Monday, as reported in the Daily News.
The firefighter’s mom also took a swipe at Toussaint, calling the union leader’s 10-day jail term, which began Monday night, “a pittance” compared to the 120 days her son has spent in the hospital enduring multiple surgeries to mend his shattered bones and serious internal injuries. (Long’s father is state Conservative Party leader Michael Long–no union lover there.)
True, Long, a triathlete and 12-year FDNY veteran, would not have been pedaling to work on that freezing morning if the trains and buses had been running.
But what about the role of the bus driver who allegedly made an illegal turn and plowed into Long on Third Avenue at 52nd Street, dragging Long and his bike under the bus? Police reportedly issued a summons to the driver for “making an improper right turn from a lane other than the right lane.” So why isn’t Pataki going after him?
Or what about the bus company, Allen A.M.E. Transportation Corporation, a subsidiary of Reverend Floyd Flake’s Greater Allen A.M.E. church in Jamaica, Queens? Last December, the bus company’s lawyer had the gall to blame Long for the crash, claiming the firefighter had ridden into the bus. (“The bus didn’t strike the bicyclist,” the lawyer said. “The bicyclist struck the side of the bus.”)
At least Long’s family is spreading the blame around. In addition to gunning for jail time for Toussaint, they’re suing the driver, the bus company, Bear Stearns–which chartered the bus to ferry its employees to work during the strike–and the Transit Workers Union.
But this willingness to dump a tragic accident, caused by what appears to be reckless driving, on the transit strike ignores just how frequently cyclists get hit in the city under normal circumstances. Last year some 3,200 cyclists were struck by motor vehicles, according to the NYPD. That’s not even getting into the rash of pedestrians getting hit.
The vast majority of drivers in those accidents received no punishment at all.
Yes, there were more folks riding bikes during the strike. But Long was hit at 5:48 a.m. in Midtown, at a time when City Hall’s heavy-handed traffic restrictions were keeping many drivers out of Manhattan. That should just as easily have made the streets more safe for riding, not less.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 25, 2006