The Real Menace on Our Sidewalks

As irritating as it might be sometimes to encounter sidewalk cyclists, pedestrians are at much greater risk from curb-jumping motorists, like the SUV driver who ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/04/26/mike-rogalle-killed-by-curb-jumping-driver-in-manhattan-no-charges-filed/##killed UPS worker Mike Rogalle## in Lower Manhattan last month.

So it looks like the City Council is pondering legislation that would raise the fine for biking on the sidewalk (currently $100) and possibly establish a new squad of enforcement agents dedicated entirely to ticketing commercial cyclists.

At a hearing earlier this week, transportation committee chair James Vacca framed the riding habits of commercial cyclists as a safety “crisis,” reported the Daily News:

“But when it comes to the crisis, and it is a crisis, of people’s safety, pedestrians’ safety, that many of the commercial bicyclists do not have regard for, then this city has a legal obligatioan to protect the law-abiding citizens, who only want to cross a street.

“Commercial bicyclists treat it as the Wild Wild West,” added Vacca, chairman of the Council’s Transportation Committee. “That has to stop.”

He demanded “civil and criminal penalties” — though how harsh remains unclear.

The less sidewalk riding and wrong-way cycling, the better, but the only promising policy proposal that surfaced at the hearing seems to be a measure that would hold restaurant ownership liable for the traffic infractions of their delivery cyclists. As Times reporter David Goodman conveyed exceptionally well with his profile of delivery cyclist Lin Dakang this March, these guys are risking their necks in traffic every day and dealing with intense financial pressures to get food to people while it’s hot. Having restaurant owners absorb the cost of the traffic tickets would create the same incentive structure that exists in other workplaces.

“If you run a hair salon and your employee isn’t wearing a mask, you get the ticket,” said Juan Martinez, general counsel at Transportation Alternatives, pointing out that contractors get fined when workers don’t wear hard hats at construction sites and businesses like FedEx pick up the tab for parking tickets incurred by their on-the-job drivers.

As for the rest of the package, does anyone serious about street safety actually believe that a separate force of bikes-only ticketing agents is going to improve matters? The NYPD already racks up a fair amount of bike citations in hotspots like the Upper East Side. Nearly half of the 19th Precinct’s summonses for failure to obey traffic signals in 2011 went to cyclists, a stunning percentage when you consider the high rates of injury and death caused by motor vehicle drivers in the neighborhood.

A more effective sidewalk riding deterrent is coming to the Upper East Side this year: the new protected bike lane on First Avenue. Sidewalk cycling has declined dramatically where redesigns have made people feel safer biking on the street. The more streets that get this treatment, the less pedestrians and cyclists will fight over sidewalk scraps, and the more protection everyone will have from reckless motorist behavior.

Turning to the purported safety “crisis” posed by commercial cyclists, let’s take a moment to put things in perspective. If you’re walking on the sidewalk in New York City, curb-jumping motorists pose a greater threat than scofflaw cyclists. Last month, UPS worker Mike Rogalle was killed by the driver of an SUV while performing his rounds on a Lower Manhattan sidewalk. Motorists plow into sidewalks and injure pedestrians with shocking regularity in New York City.

But after a landmark hearing on NYPD traffic enforcement and crash investigations this February, the City Council has so far failed to produce the follow-up legislation promised by Vacca and Peter Vallone, Jr. The genuine lethal threat of dangerous driving is going unaddressed while the council shifts into overkill mode on the scofflaw cyclist front.

The least the City Council can do to make up for this new round of counterproductive grandstanding would be to pass a resolution endorsing a bill that will actually save lives: Albany’s speed camera legislation, which for the first time has sponsors in both houses.

Noah Kazis contributed to this post.

  • Paul

    When there are no more deaths caused by motor vehicles, then perhaps I’ll take sidewalk cycling a little more seriously.

  • Anonymous

    THANK YOU for running this piece, and I hope you stay on top of this topic of car-jumping cars in NYC.  It happens very regularly, often causing pedestrian injuries, and it deserves serious and immediate attention. 

    Just five days ago I witnessed the aftermath of a rather crazy looking car-on-sidewalk crash:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/10798592@N08/7294685828/

  • adam

    Just some slight of hand to divert attention away from the real problem, which would in fact require a lot more work to solve…

  • Anonymous

    Obviously I meant to say “curb-jumping cars.”  I was trying to sound righteous, not comic…

  • Danny G

    If you want to end this delivery cyclist “crisis”, change the law so that their salary is no longer categorized as being tip-dependent (as waiters are), and then discourage tipping for food delivery on a citywide basis.

    You will know the program is successful when you find yourself heating your food up in the microwave for 10-20 seconds.

  • Ben, it’s not just a $100 fine for riding on the sidewalk – if there are pedestrians nearby, it gets bumped to a criminal misdemeanor and the cops can confiscate the bike (AC 19-176).

    NYPD already has the ability to issue fines to the businesses that hire bicycle delivery people for violations of AC 10-157, such as not filing the annual report with NYPD or not keeping a log book.  This in addition to NYPD’s ability to ticket the sidewalk cyclists or the couriers who aren’t wearing a vest or jacket identifying their employer.

    One might wonder why the latest proposal is to create a new DoT squad to enforce against sidewalk riding – has City Council lost faith in NYPD’s ability to do their job?

  • Jk

    Sorry to see sidewalk cyclists getting a pass from Streetsblog and TA.  In many of the city’s densest neighborhoods, including mine, sidewalk cycling is at intolerable levels.  My kids and I have to deal with sidewalk cyclists everyday — last night two. I’d like to see a crackdown on sidewalk cyclists. Why not? Would it take away from near non-existent enforcement of dangerous driving laws? Really? How?

    This is really much more similar to cracking down on rowdy bars than broadly on bad driving. Which is why historically, the PD’s most effective enforcement — the 19th Pct’s Operation Spoke on the Upper East Side — was done by the same team that did underage drinking and bar enforcement.

    Lastly, why are commercial cyclists different from commercial drivers? If a Fed Ex driver or cabdriver commits a moving violation, they get the ticket and the points on their license, not their employer. Last time council tried to pass a law imposing penalties on the owners business owners it was vociferously opposed by bike messenger companies. This law won’t fly and is a bad idea.

  • Joe R.

    The blanket NYC prohibition against sidewalk cyclist never made any sense. If you’re riding on an empty sidewalk, you’re not endangering anyone. Perhaps in the Manhattan CBD it makes sense to prohibit sidewalk cycling, but not on the nearly empty sidewalks in the outer boroughs which could do double duty as protected bike lanes. This is a case of the City Council not being able to see past Manhattan when they pass laws. Rather than have a new DOT squad for enforcement, the City Council should take a long, hard look at the law and modify it. Basically, allow sidewalk cycling except where prohibited by signs. Let each neighborhood decide whether or not sidewalk cycling is appropriate.

    I also agree with Danny G. If delivery cyclists are so dangerous, perhaps we should change laws so as to make delivery much more expensive for the restaurant. This would have the effect of forcing people to pay much more for delivery than they currently do. Eventually, most people would go back to picking up their own food, and the “problem” of delivery cyclists would go away.

    Of course, none of this does anything to combat the biggest cause of pedestrian death/injury on sidewalks-namely motor vehicles.

  • Albert

    A reason for much sidewalk delivery cycling is the lack of two-way residential streets (not avenues).  A delivery cyclist would apparently rather go the “wrong” way on the sidewalk than go the wrong way on the street — counter-intuitive as that might seem.

    It’s another result of the car-centric design and car-relevant laws that make our streets the de facto exclusive domain of cars.  The rest of us can just go hang.

  • Station44025

    Joe R.: Yes. Thank you. 

    The fact is that sidewalk and wrong way riding are two of cyclists’ most important tools in avoiding their own injury or death.  Perhaps sidewalk riding should also be allowed in any location where a vehicle or other obstacle is blocking a bike lane.

    It’s interesting to note the very crowded shared ped/bike lane winding through Brooklyn bridge park.  As far as I know, it has not been a scene of mass carnage, but rather a place where people largely get along and enjoy themselves.

    My hope is that the introduction of a massive number of bikes and new cyclists to the city via bike share will make more people realize that safe, useable bike infrastructure is still severely lacking.  I’m fine with ticketing cyclists for sidewalk riding on a block with a protected lane, but otherwise I think people should use common sense and take the safest route.

  • fj

    On this city’s streets cars, trucks, and buses are armed and dangerous otherwise a lot more people would be using it with much more rational mobility solutions.

    Recently asked a friend why she did not bike around since it definitely would be a lot more convenient for.  She said she just has enough trouble crossing the street safely and truly believes that there’s a car with her name on it (just like a bullet).

  • fj

    jk, There are many places in this city where it is absolutely legal for cyclists to travel with pedestrians and these places are many times jam packed and everything is quite agreeable.  Even on the Brooklyn Bridge where pedestrians constantly crowd the cycling lane and it seems cyclists seem to have become a lot more forgiving in this regard.

    A cyclist is essentially a pedestrian plus about 30 pounds for the bike and with the option to go 3 times faster.  That is it.  Whether someone is running or cycling too fast in a crowded area is equally dangerous.

    The real convoluted set of regulations and convoluted complexity is caused by the life-threatening existence of cars.

    Just try to envision some case studies if cars did not exist and how many traffic lights, convoluted laws and regulations would exist? 

    And, the density seems high when cars are around since they take up so much space.  When you see a bunch of cars waiting for a light: that might be only 6, a ridiculously small number for pedestrians and cyclists.

  • fj

    If you’ve ever been in an office building where they have to change wiring etc. in the floor they just lift up the panels, make the changes and put the panels back. That alone should give you an idea of the extreme waste, complexity, and difficulty heavy machine transport causes, even on city sidewalks which must normally be made of concrete to bear the — hopefully — occasional extreme weight.

  • HamTech87

    @twitter-93223785:disqus “Just try to envision some case studies if cars did not exist and how many traffic lights, convoluted laws and regulations would exist?”

    No need to envision it.  Just buy Peter Norton’s book, “Fighting Traffic,” and learn the history of all these “convoluted laws and regulations….”

  • Mark Walker

    Joe R: “The blanket NYC prohibition against sidewalk cyclist never made any
    sense.” Speak for yourself. You don’t speak for me as a pedestrian. Or for the majority of pedestrians.

    “If you’re riding on an empty sidewalk, you’re not endangering
    anyone.” A sidewalk on which I am walking is not an empty sidewalk. Do you exit the sidewalk every time you see a pedestrian step onto it? I doubt it.

    I have to say “it is illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk” to some numbskull in my neighborhood at least every other day. It’s nice to have the cops on my side for a change. Vehicles belong on the street.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not about to advocate that cyclists go on the sidewalk. It’s rude and they usually don’t belong there. But as annoying as I find those who routinely do it, in 34 years in this city I can’t remember ever being threatened or endangered by one. And rarely do I ever feel the need to step out of the way for one. Are people really so easily cowed?

  • Joe R.

    @m_walker:disqus I’m usually a fan of your comments but here I’m finding myself at odds. You’re thinking from a Manhattan-centric point of view. There are actually four other boroughs you might wish to visit from time to time where very little of what you say is applicable. The sidewalks in much of the outer boroughs are empty enough for bikes and pedestrians to safely coexist. And the car traffic here is often menacing to timid cyclists, which is why some cyclists take to the sidewalks. I’m so f-ing sick and tired of a City Council who can’t see past the Manhattan CBD dictating inane laws to the rest of the city.
    If a parent wants to ride with their young children, how exactly do they do it? Do they ride in the street while their children are on the sidewalk? Or do they allow their young children to ride in the street, which is basically an accident waiting to happen on a lot of roads? This is but one example of why this law was not well thought out. In the Manhattan CBD I agree wholeheartedly with banning bikes from sidewalks as there isn’t even enough room for pedestrians. Everywhere else though it should be on a case by case basis. In some places which are only crowded during the day you might only ban sidewalk cycling during business hours. In many others there is no need to ban sidewalk cycling at all.

    No, I rarely ride on sidewalks, but then again I’ve been riding for 34 years. I did often ride on sidewalks a lot the first few years I was riding because it seemed a safer alternative than the streets. And I never had anybody complain about. In fact, it was legal at the time to do so. It might be nice to return to such a time when people were more tolerant. The fact that some people may find bikes on sidewalks annoying doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. Why do we allow electric wheelchairs which can weigh over 500 pounds with occupant, and some can travel over 15 mph, on sidewalks? Those are a far bigger hazard than bicycles if you ask me. They’re not as nimble, and the driver often has severely compromised reflexes and senses due to age/ill health.

    I also vehemently disagree with the classification of bikes as “vehicles”. If that’s the case, then so are electric wheelchairs, skateboards, roller blades, etc. and all should be forced to go in the street as well. The real classification of bikes should be somewhere between a vehicle and a pedestrian. As fj says, “A cyclist is essentially a pedestrian plus about 30 pounds for the bike and with the option to go 3 times faster.” Note the word “option”. A sidewalk cyclist can opt to go no faster than a pedestrian if the sidewalk is very crowded. I remember doing exactly that many times when sidewalks were crowded. I presented no more hazard than if I was walking. Pedestrians and cyclists coexist fine in many parts of the world. With proper etiquette it would work fine here as well.

    @wkgreen:disqus I’m not about to advocate that cyclists go on the sidewalk either, merely that they have that option in cases where the street is unsuitable for cycling for long stretches, or if they’re riding with children. Walking your bike on the sidewalk to get around a single obstacle is one thing, but if the street is generally impassable for blocks or miles, then nearly everyone will opt to ride on the sidewalk instead. And like you, I don’t really remember ever feeling threatened by a sidewalk cyclist. I did occasionally step out of the way as a courtesy, but I was never forced into doing so because the cyclist continued barreling down on me.

  • Joe R.

    For those who might be interested in returning some sanity to the subject of sidewalk cycling, there are no public health statistics to support the idea that sidewalk cycling is uniformly dangerous each and every time it is done. Legally, in order to have a basis for passing any law which bans or restricts an action, it is incumbent upon the legislators to show that said action poses a public health issue the majority of times it is done via statistics, not anecdotal evidence. The fact that many people may complain about something, or just not like something, is not a valid basis for making said action illegal if the statistics say otherwise. If you do that, then you start down the slippery slope where anything can be made illegal. The hard fact is given the number of instances of sidewalk cycling citiwide daily (most likely in the hundreds of thousands or even millions), the injury/death rate is extremely low, certainly well under any threshold which would dictate a blanket ban on the practice. Now the injury rate may be high enough at certain places and times to show sidewalk cycling there presents either a reasonable public health threat, or perhaps there could be a congestion issue on very crowded sidewalks. Those two things could be the basis for banning it in the Manhattan CBD. However, based on lack of sufficient statistical evidence, 19-176 as it exists must be thrown out by the courts.

  • Mark Walker

    Joe, R., for what it’s worth, I live above West 96th Street and rarely set foot in the CBD. One might argue that Upper Manhattan is more like the outer boroughs than like the CBD. As for the outer boroughs, I have made hundreds of trips each to Brooklyn and Queens, and dozens to the Bronx, over the past 30 years. There are not many neighborhoods in four out of the five boroughs in which I have not walked (Staten Island is the final frontier). I spent last weekend in Coney Island, Brighton Beach, and in the Arthur Ave. Italian food district. The fact that there were no bikes on the streets in these neighborhoods was a great comfort to me. I wish cyclists were as considerate in my own neighborhood. They’re not. And most of them are not delivery people — they’re good folks like you who merely think the rules just don’t apply to them. The fact that cyclists rarely kill pedestrians is beside the point. Cyclists insult, frighten, and menace pedestrians. You’re deluding yourself if you think that doesn’t take a toll.

  • Mark Walker

    Correction: When I said “no bikes on the streets of these neighborhoods,” I meant “no bikes on the sidewalks.” Bikes on the streets, no problem.

  • Anonymous

    This just seems incredibly fucked up that in this City, where pedestrians and cyclists are killed all the time, where the accident investigative services say they only investigate Car on Bike/Ped accidents where the person is likely to die (hence, no investigation for Michael McKean who was hit on the sidewalk, and no criminality suspected for the driver), because they don’t have enough resources to address this?!?!  But yet they contemplate setting up a brigade to crack down on cyclists?  WTF 

    These are people’s lives.  Riding on the sidewalk can save lives.  Just ticket people who are being reckless.  My commute to work necessitates that I go the wrong-way, to do otherwise would be reckless (I have to cut through a parking garage and shit).  

    This is just terrible.  Are these people just terribly misinformed or what?  Biking saves lives.  Cars take them.  HEEELLLLLLOOOOO Obesity epidemic?

  • Mark Walker

    Let me clarify one more thing: Is a bike a vehicle? Let’s ask merriam-webster.com: “Definition of BICYCLE: a vehicle with two wheels tandem, handlebars for steering, a saddle seat, and pedals by which it is propelled.” So, it is a vehicle. This vehicle is regulated by laws. The question about to be debated by the city council is whether the laws are being enforced consistently enough. Reasonable people may differ on this — but I am increasingly making my concerns known directly to my local precinct and elected officials. Because trying to persuade someone who fails to acknowledge that a bike is even a vehicle is like talking to a brick wall.

  • Joe R.

    @m_walker:disqus You’re correct that there are far fewer bikes on the sidewalk in places like where I live (Eastern Queens) than in your neighborhood. And I rarely hear complaints about those that are. Remember though that where you live is more or less ground zero for sidewalk cycling. Maybe it’s because of the heavy motor vehicle traffic there. Regardless, you’re looking at it solely from your point of view. Ban sidewalk cycling in the Manhattan CBD? Certainly. Ban it in your neighborhood? Perhaps. A lot depends upon whether or not the sidewalks there have enough room for cyclists and pedestrians to safely coexist. I can’t say one way or another as I don’t live there.
    I still feel proper etiquette on the part of cyclists would greatly reduce the amount of frightening and menacing you mention (I won’t argue that this doesn’t take its toll). If a cyclist chooses to ride on the sidewalk (let’s pretend for a moment that it’s not illegal), then they should realize the sidewalk is primarily the domain of pedestrians and operate accordingly. That means give pedestrians a berth of at least 5 feet, or slow down to 3 to 5 mph if you can’t. And it also means riding at a speed appropriate to pedestrian density and line of sight. Even if the sidewalk is empty remember people can still come out of buildings. In general, you really shouldn’t ride much over 10 mph on sidewalks unless they’re completely empty and there are no buildings nearby. Most times you should ride even slower than that.

    I hate to say this but it bears mentioning. I think some of the casual disregard I’ve occasionally witnessed for pedestrians by sidewalk cyclists is payback of sorts for pedestrians who meander into or otherwise space out in bike lanes. Like I said, a little etiquette would fix this. If more pedestrians were a bit more considerate of the space reserved for cyclists, I suspect cyclists would return the favor by either staying off sidewalks completely, or at least operating in a non-threatening manner when on sidewalks. A little consideration can do a lot more than ill-conceived laws and enforcement brigades.

  • Joe R.

    @m_walker:disqus 
    A vehicle is a mobile machine used to transport people or cargo. By that definition a bicycle is a vehicle. So is a baby carriage or a shopping cart. Should baby carriages or shopping carts be prohibited from sidewalks? I think we can both agree no. The point isn’t whether or not a bicycle is a vehicle by the standards of the dictionary, but whether or not it is closer to a pedestrian than a motor vehicle, and should be governed by laws somewhat in between both. Right now bicycles are governed by MOTOR vehicle laws even though they’re much smaller, more nimble, have greater visibility, and have very limited ability to repeatedly start/stop. In many cases motor vehicle laws not only make things less safe, but attempt to force cyclists to do things they’re physically incapable of doing. I don’t argue we need some laws as a framework, but we should at least see if the laws themselves make sense before enforcing them. Many here, not just me, have argued endlessly that quite a few of the laws pertaining to bicycles just don’t make sense. Blanket prohibition of sidewalk cycling everywhere in the city is one of those gray areas.

  • fj

    What if neighborhoods contained only public plazas where pedestrians and cyclists could roam?

  • Miles Bader

    I live in Japan, in a place where (1) there are vastly more bicyclists than anyplace in NYC, and (2) 80% of them ride on the sidewalk.  Occasionally it’s annoying, but it very clearly works out.

    Moreover, AIUI, in many cases, this sidewalk-riding is technically illegal!  The police look the other way because there aren’t any actual problems for the most part, and trying to enforce such laws would almost certainly cause far more trouble than it solves.

    That isn’t to say that there aren’t places where it would be better for cyclists to use the street but it’s very clear that cyclists and pedestrians can co-exist pretty successfully in many cases.

    Obviously cyclists should be using some common sense—if
    you’re riding on the sidewalk, ride more slowly, be alert and considerate, and don’t do your Lance Armstrong
    impression—but if there’s going to be enforcement, it should target those who are actually causing problems; it seems idiotic to just demonize everybody who does it.

  • Joe R.

    @google-9ed3368a6439fa92efd353af4436290d:disqus Thank you! That’s exactly the point I’m trying to make. A little mutual respect goes a long way. Certainly reckless riding anywhere, street or sidewalk, merits a fine. But enforcing laws which make an action which is harmless 99.999% of the time illegal is bad public policy. Actually, having these laws on the books, period, is bad public policy. How long before a cop stopping a sidewalk cyclist misinterprets something (i.e. perhaps the cyclist reaches for his/her ID), and now you have someone dead just for cycling on the sidewalk? I’m honestly surprised it hasn’t happened yet. The less contact between the police and the general public, the better. That means the police should only act when they see something truly dangerous, not technically illegal.

  • Avid City Walker

    I don’t have any solid numbers, but I would guess that the number of pedestrians killed or seriously maimed by reckless cyclists in the entire history of the bicycle’s existence is lower those killed or seriously maimed by motorists in NYC this year.  Maybe even this month. It seems insane to even spend time discussing a “danger” that kills maybe — I don’t know — one person a decade? —  when the real danger, reckless motorists, kills dozens of New Yorkers each year.

  • Jesse Greene

    Three things come to mind. First, New York has become so gentrified that rogue cyclists are our biggest threat! Second, we need many more bikes on the street than we have now if we want to stop this persecution. When Giuliani tried to crack down on jaywalking it was seen as an intrusion on a fundamental right — not because jaywalking was any less illegal but because everyone does it. In other words, this is all politics. Third, until more people get on bikes cyclists will continue to be in the position where laws are enforced against them but never in their favor. If it seems unfair that the city is more than willing to ticket you for sidewalk riding but won’t do a damn thing to clear double-parked cars from bike lanes, that’s because it is.

  • Anonymous

    If the issue is pedestrian safety and the target is commercial
    employers, why would you start with Chinese food guys on bicycles? It just seems so silly in comparison to the dangers posed by, say, private garbage carters, whose trucks seem to kill scores of pedestrians each year and are notorious for reckless driving. Have the carters held responsible for the actions of their drivers. Or hold medallion companies responsible for their taxi operators. But what’s the difference – NYPD doesn’t really enforce traffic rules anyway. Unless the bills come with funding the most they will amount to is a line item in the monthly ticket tally each precinct puts out.

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  • Dmjnyc Dmj

    Get them OFF the streets. There’s nothing worse than walking along the sidewalk while dodging crazed bicyclists riding on the sidewalk at to speed. I’ve been hit twice by bicycles on the sidewalk, once breaking my wrist as a result. Of course there’s no liability insurance for bicycles and we had to go to court to get reimbursement for my medical bills. The biker was basically destitute and I’m still receiving a tiny amount of money each month, now five years after this irresponsible jerk mowed me down. The penalty should be $1000.00 fine and 60 days. There’s a reason they’re called sideWALKS.

  • Dmjnyc Dmj

    If you’re too much of a coward to ride in the street then get off the GD bicycle and walk!

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