Remembering Cyclists and Pedestrians Lost in 2009

4243459442_3e21cbbc61.jpgCyclists gather Sunday at the Ghost Bike installation for Julian Miller, killed in Brooklyn last September. Photo: denali2001/Flickr

Just a few hours into the new year, New York recorded its first pedestrian fatality of 2010. At around 6:45 p.m. on Friday, January 1, an unidentified 50-year-old man was struck and killed in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The driver, a livery cab operator behind the wheel of a minivan, was charged with DWI and manslaughter.

Yesterday, the New York City Street Memorial Project held its fifth annual ride and walk for pedestrians and cyclists killed in city traffic. By Transportation Alternatives’ count, 65 pedestrian and 10 cycling fatalities were reported by local media in 2009 (most may be found here), though the official tally will in all likelihood be much higher.

"Five years ago, many of us hoped this ride would no longer be necessary in 2010. But we’re still here, and we still have to do this to remind our neighbors and our city that these preventable deaths keep happening all around us," said Leah Todd, a Street Memorial Project volunteer. "Five years from now, we hope to see a magnitude of change on our streets that makes this ride a thing of the past."

As pedestrians and cyclists citywide continue to lobby for safer street designs and ever-elusive enforcement of traffic laws, their efforts may have received a boost last week when Cy Vance, elected on a platform that included a strong traffic justice plank, assumed the office of Manhattan district attorney. Sadly, we probably won’t have long to wait until we learn how the city’s newest top prosecutor will handle his first pedestrian or cyclist fatality case.

See Gothamist for more on Sunday’s memorial event.

  • Bravo to the organizers and participants (hardier than yours truly, who stayed home yesterday).

    But if T.A. really said that local media reported (only) 75 pedestrian or cyclist fatalities in 2009, they’re clearly glazing past the squibs in the Post, News, Metro, etc. that report the usual depressing 3-4 per week, like clockwork. “Print” ain’t exactly dead, at least not when it comes to ped and bike deaths.

  • When would this ride be no longer necessary? Seriously!

    Would it be when the only pedestrian / bicyclist fatalities are those that are only the fault of the dead pedestrian / bicyclist?

    Or would it be when there is only a “reasonable” amount pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities? (i.e. Perhaps when the number of bicyclist fatalities s proportional to the mode share of bicyclists on NYC streets.)

    Is there even a real answer to my question?

  • leah

    Andy, the ride would no longer be necessary if the City and its citizens took measures that truly changed the culture on our streets, so that we could look forward to no further deaths. The ride will continue as long as there are fallen cyclists and pedestrians to be honored and remembered. If you truly believe the Street Memorial Project could determine a “reasonable” rate of fatalities, I suggest you read up on the project.

    Thanks to Brad for posting this, and thanks especially to everyone who came out to remember those lost and support their friends and families despite the cold.

  • Trust me Leah, I’m VERY aware of the carnage on our streets. However you made me think of the question when you said, “many of us hoped this ride would no longer be necessary in 2010.” I don’t think you really thought that no one would die on our streets in just five years, even if the most perfect changes were made to prevent these tragedies.

    So I ask again with totally sincerity, “When will the ride no longer be necessary?”

    Even in the most bicycle and pedestrian societies and countries people die while walking and riding a bike. However in these places, fatalities are becoming rare enough that many that do happen are caused by “true accidents” and not due to the wanton disregard for other peoples safety as is often the case here. Life will always have some hazards and people will die even when all reasonable precautions are taken.

    Would the ride still be necessary if the deaths that did happen were caused only by “true accidents” and not by callous disregard? It’s a rhetorical question that I don’t expect anyone to answer in a way that is satisfying to all.

  • flp

    andy, there are no true accidents when one has taken on the privilege and responsibility of getting behind a two ton multiple horsepower vehicle that is capable of exerting a tremendously destructive force even at low speeds. it also does not help that law enforcement of said responsibility is so lax.

    as for when the ride is no longer necessary, that is not clearly measurable as it is not a statistic, but, rather, a sentiment based on the perception that there has been a true change in culture. yes, many thought there would have been more of a change after 5 years. alas, there hasn’t. for starters, when was the last time an influential nyc government official or politico/elected had anything nice to say following a street death or recommended appropriate action to reduce the carnage? it just has not been happening to the extent necessary, if at all.

  • Shemp

    Another exchange where a group of Sblog readers come across as religious fundamentalists rather than rational people…

  • Doug

    Andy makes a great point. Of course there are such things as true accidents: mechanical failure, infrastructure damage, etc. Sometimes things are simply beyond anyone’s control. In any environment where a variety of people use a variety of methods to get around, there’s bound to be conflict and accidents, regardless of anyone’s intent.

    The point is to work towards a place where, even with the truth that accidents are a part of life, people will still choose to bike for transportation. Livable streets are like practicing Yoga. Perfection is never possible, but the pursuit of perfection is the point!

  • Thanks Shemp and Doug. I’m glad some Streetsblogers understand where I’m coming from.

    And yes! Let us all hope that one day there might be ZERO bike/ped fatalities!

    Also a minor correction. My previous post should have read, “Even in the most bicycle and pedestrian FRIENDLY societies and countries people die while walking and riding a bike.”

  • flp

    andy and doug, while i understand where you are coming from and am aware that there may be a small chance that we will never reach absolute zero car-cyclist/ped fatalities, i still believe that most of those if not all DEATHS are preventable by precaution on the part of drivers even in the event of mechanical failure. cautionary driving is particularly important on busy, crowded city streets. this is why speed limits are such a relevant topic of discussion and warrant proper law enforcement (and further reduction in my opinion). by driving slowly enough any impact that may result from brake or engine failure, etc. can be minimized or altogether avoided because the car’s force is greatly reduced or controlled. given that, the chance of death is lessened. in far too many cases it is plain ol’ speeding that contributes to the level of destruction crashes cause.

    on another note, even mechanical failure is not an accident. somewhere along the line someone likely failed to properly assemble, design or repair a key vehicle component. hence, again, there are no such things as accidents. now i wonder, who is the religious fanatic? the person who believes in accidents as if they are events absolutely completely out of human control as if caused by a deity or the person who reasons that phenomena can be properly explained using empirical and/or logical principles and realizes that every action has an identifiable cause (many of which can be avoided)?

  • The point is to work towards a place where, even with the truth that accidents are a part of life, people will still choose to bike for transportation. Livable streets are like practicing Yoga. Perfection is never possible, but the pursuit of perfection is the point!

  • cynicroute

    Average adult weight: 150 lbs
    Average adult weight, plus bike: 180 lbs
    Average automobile weight: 2800 lbs

    Politics and policy aside, cyclists are foot-powered and therefore pedestrian; as such, they belong on sidewalks and pathways with walkers and runners – not on streets and roadways. The collision between a walker and a cyclist is far less injurious than the collision between a cyclist and an automobile. The cyclist in me avoids streets as much as possbile out of personal safety and common sense. The driver in me is frustrated by the cyclists that think they’re motorbikes and monopolise roadways. I know it was once fun to put a baseball card in your spokes and pretend, but let’s grow up here. Then there is the group that follows pedestrian rules when convenient, and road rules the rest of the time.

    The bottom line is that automobiles are not going anywhere anytime soon. Being self-righteous about cycling does not entitle one to disrupting traffic. Traffic congestion in major centres is bad enough without being speed-limited by the one cyclist pretending to be Streethawk. Vrrrm Vrrrrm.

  • cynicroute: “…cyclists are foot-powered and therefore pedestrian; as such, they belong on sidewalks and pathways with walkers and runners – not on streets and roadways.”

    I understand why cyclists would not wish to share the streets with deadly automobiles. However, bikes are not pedestrians, they are vehicular traffic. And vehicular traffic does not belong on sidewalks. It is illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk, and bad for pedestrians (defined as non-vehicular foot travel).

  • Steve F

    “The bottom line is that automobiles are not going anywhere anytime soon.”
    Perfectly correct – we will not build our way out of traffic congestion, and the cars are not moving. At best “average” car speed is the same as average bike speed!

    “Traffic congestion in major centres is bad enough without being speed-limited by the one cyclist pretending to be Streethawk. Vrrrm Vrrrrm.”
    Right – car speed Zero – 50 – Zero, with a lot of Zero – average 12 mph. Bike speed 12 mph, start to finish. And what’s this “one cyclist” lie, you know there are a lot more than one bike out there. (NYC speed limit is 30 mph, but yes, a lot of cars peak out over 50 – so much for carefully following the traffic laws.)

    cynicroute is just pissed that the kids on the $29.95 toy are going just as fast as he is in his “expensive” car, and cyclists are having fun doing it. The horrors! By the way, that kid may be a 60 year old senior executive on a bike that’s worth more per pound than most cars! But having fun on it.

    By the way, cyclists and pedestrians DO pay their share of maintaining the streets and highways – so don’t start on that Big Lie about only drivers pay. You clowns get a big fat subsidy, and drivers pay at most 60 to 70 percent of the direct costs of maintaining the road network.
    Citation – the FHWA annual report documenting road costs and sources of all revenues. Local sales, real estate and income taxes make up the missing balance.

  • Steve F

    Mark Walker doesn’t talk about Shared Use Paths, but should.
    “…bikes are not pedestrians, they are vehicular traffic. And vehicular traffic does not belong on sidewalks. It is illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk, and bad for pedestrians (defined as non-vehicular foot travel).”

    What is the difference between a shared use bicycle path and a sidewalk?
    While the city law restricts bicycle riding on sidewalks to children 14 or under, there is another category of off road pavement called a Shared Use Path. This path is documented in the AASHTO Guide to Bicycle Facilities and incorporated in all state design manuals. The design calls for sharing bike paths between bicycles, pedestrians, runners and in line skaters – essentially all non-motorized foot and wheel traffic.

    Personally, I prefer two separate and parallel pavements, one for faster cyclists and the other for slower runners and walkers – as in most of new Hudson River park or the Bay Ridge Belt Parkway path. But there are places where there is inadequate room or funds for two paths, so shared use of the same pavement is the design mandate. This puts some responsibility on both cyclists and pedestrians to share the space – something a few members of both groups seem to have problems with. Annoying, but hardly a fatal flaw.

    The interesting question here, is since shared use bike paths are standard and legal and accommodate both cyclists and walkers on a single paved surface, why is it that bicycles and walkers cannot share a sidewalk?
    Just what is the difference between a sidewalk and a shared use path?
    If they are the similar width, with similar users, why are they legally different?

    Long sections of the Riverside Park waterfront are a single shared use bike path that manage to support large volumes of cyclists and walkers and runners and baby carriages. What makes this pathway different from any other path in the park? How is using park paths to connect between local streets and the waterfront shared use path so different? Care and restraint if the path is narrower is needed, but this is a feeder path, not the main through route. For major connectors – there are long sections with limited park access that concentrates user access, one could ask if the parks department designers have provided enough room for the non-motorized traffic demand. If a park path is perceived as too narrow, is that the cyclist or pedestrian fault, or the fault of the park designers? Is it really too narrow or is that just perception? Again, what makes one path a sidewalk and another a shared use path?

    Too many people are ready to use bike as a four letter word. Try to remember that park and walk are also four letter words, and that some motorists out there have no use for any of us, bike, walk or park, unless they refer to park the car. Remember who your friends are, cyclists want more park, not parking lots.

    Another error is that under NY law, bicycles are human powered “devices” and not vehicles, though cyclists do have all the rights and responsibilities of motorists. So stating bicycles as vehicular traffic do not belong on sidewalks is not technically correct. Besides, motorists regularly drive on sidewalks to reach driveways and private off street spaces. Should cyclists be allowed the same right – or should drivers be forced to get out and push their cars into the driveway?

  • Steve F, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I don’t oppose the legal use of bikes on shared use paths, or indeed, on any path within a park. I oppose only the illegal use of bikes on sidewalks outside of parks. As to this question — “why is it that bicycles and walkers cannot share a sidewalk?” — the answer is that pedestrians need a place where we can walk safely and without fear. This is both a legal and ethical right.

  • cynicroute

    @Steve F: My car certainly wouldn’t be considred ‘exepensive’, but i would consider paying over $1000 for a bike expensive – which mine was. You make it sounds as if i’m opposed to cyclists. On the contrary, I too am one.

    What none of my critics seem to metion or comment on are the common sense facts: The collision between a walker and a cyclist is far less injurious than the collision between a cyclist and an automobile.

    So going beyond the sense of entitlement, for the sake of my own personal safety, I prefer to be on the sidewalk where it’s much safer.

    Now, in a traffic jam situation, a bike can snake through traffic and maintain a relatively constant speed – but again, if cyclists want to be treated as equals on the road, then they should we waiting in said traffic jam with the rest of the ‘vehicular’ traffic, no?

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