Matthew von Ohlen was riding in the bike lane in Williamsburg on Saturday when, according to police, a motorist intentionally slammed into him. Von Ohlen was killed and the driver fled the scene. The NYPD responded the following morning by issuing summonses to cyclists on the same block for running red lights.
According to the NYPD and video footage of the crash, von Ohlen did nothing wrong. “He was killed like a dog in the street,” a neighbor told the Daily News. Yet officers from the 90th Precinct were out the next day summonsing cyclists and passing out pamphlets about their obligations and responsibilities.
“This is a particularly egregious example of the NYPD’s skewed priorities when it comes to traffic enforcement, and of the victim-blaming mentality that pervades the department,” said Paul Steely White, the director of Transportation Alternatives, in a statement today.
Von Ohlen, 35, was traveling eastbound on Grand Street between Manhattan and Graham avenues around 2:20 Saturday morning when a late-model Chevrolet Camaro slowed down, exchanged words with von Ohlen, and veered into the bike lane, investigators told PIX11. “The driver then hit von Ohlen’s rear tire and as the victim fell off his bike, the driver slammed into him again, running over him and dragging him about twenty to thirty feet. The driver then sped off, heading east on Grand Street.” Investigators say they believe the motorist intentionally hit von Ohlen. Police haven’t yet found the driver.
Von Ohlen, the co-founder of BikeStock, was the twelfth cyclist killed in New York City this year. That’s more than double the five cyclists killed in the first half of last year.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has made Vision Zero, the campaign to eliminate pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities in New York, a central element of his mayoralty. Under Vision Zero, the Department of Transportation has redesigned 50 dangerous intersections and streets and instituted 33 new slow zones around the city. But as the Voice reported last week, de Blasio’s influence with the NYPD is negligible, and police have been mostly recalcitrant when it comes to enforcing the laws against motorists who commit traffic violations and injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists.
Transportation Alternatives gave the NYPD a C+ grade for its work toward Vision Zero’s goals last year, noting that the department’s Collision Investigation Squad investigates less than 2 percent of injurious hit-and-run crashes and that, as of last August, police invoked the Right of Way law in under 4 percent of crashes where the motorist broke the law. Last October, when the City Council held an oversight hearing on Vision Zero, the NYPD didn’t even show up.
“Across the city, we see officers pulling over large numbers of cyclists for infractions that almost never lead to death or injury while largely ignoring the violations that kill and maim the most New Yorkers, which are driver speeding and failure to yield,” White said in his statement. “In this case, police should be using their time and resources to find the driver who killed Matthew von Ohlen, instead of lecturing cyclists on unrelated infractions.”