New York City cyclists arrived at a grim figure yesterday as Michael Schenkman, a 78-year-old in Queens, was killed by a motor vehicle on Northern Boulevard, becoming the city’s sixteenth cyclist fatality of the year. That surpasses last year’s total cyclist death toll, and arrives during a summer of attacks and crashes where drivers have both killed and seriously injured cyclists, while the NYPD responds by handing out citations to cyclists for running red lights or not wearing their helmets.
“The police believe that because cyclists and pedestrians are out there on supposedly dangerous New York City streets, that it somehow absolves the drivers of any responsibility,” said Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, whose organization sounded the alarm to the mayor’s office earlier this summer that hit-and-runs and fatalities were on the rise. “In the era of Vision Zero, it’s been jarring and frankly unacceptable to see the the numbers of fatalities and crashes rise again.”
The NYPD still has yet to file any charges against a driver they believe intentionally hit 35-year-old cyclist Matthew von Ohlen in early July. Instead, the department has seemingly gone on a citation tear, ticketing cyclists at the Williamsburg location where Ohlen was murdered immediately following the incident, and then setting up traffic stops around the city where police have been ticketing cyclists for failure to yield for red lights, not wearing a helmet, or having a bike without a bell.
“The NYPD is simply not enforcing the law according to the data,” White told the Voice. “It’s reckless drivers that are the cause of these crashes — people just don’t realize how deadly a car can be when it’s being used as a weapon.”
In some instances, the NYPD appears to be content to not only let vehicles get away with crashing into cyclists, but also to let drivers get out of their cars and assault cyclists physically. Gothamist reports that in early August, a cyclist was pushed over repeatedly by an enraged Uber driver, all while NYPD officers looked on. After the driver got the attention of the officers, to complain about the cyclist hitting his car, the officers tried to rationalize the driver’s behavior to the cyclist, and discouraged her from filing a police report.
While drivers have seemingly been given a pass (and in some instances, had their bad behavior legitimized by police), cyclists are continuing to deal with a citywide crackdown.
The extent of that crackdown, however, is nearly impossible to determine based on information provided by the NYPD. While each precinct posts an accounting of moving violations for each month, these violations aren’t broken down by type of vehicle. Cycling advocates have been unable to get figures from the NYPD that show a specific breakdown on how many cyclists are being cited and, on the flip side, how many drivers. A review of the moving violation reports shows high numbers of “disobey a steady red signal” (blowing through a red light) in areas like North Brooklyn where cycling crackdowns have taken place — but it’s impossible to get a hard number on how many of these are cyclists.
Amid this renewed scrutiny of cyclists by the cops, a ride is planned for September 15, by Transportation Alternatives, to reiterate to Mayor de Blasio that his Vision Zero initiative has gone off course. Advocates hope that the NYPD and City Hall will focus their efforts on the real danger on the streets of New York before the year gets any deadlier.
[UPDATE] Police say 54-year-old Gloria Garcia has succumbed to her injuries resulting from a crash on July 17. Garcia, who was visiting the city from Texas, was riding through Central Park at West Drive and West 80th Street with her daughter that Sunday afternoon when “she lost control of the bicycle and fell to the ground,” according to an NYPD statement.
Garcia’s brother told the Post that his sister was “cut off by a pedicab,” but police sources told the paper that other witnesses said there was no one else involved.
Garcia is the seventeenth cyclist to die on New York City’s streets this year.