Union Square Skateboarder Was Killed on Rejected Pedestrian Plaza Space

The crash that killed a skateboarder near Union Square yesterday occurred on a block that DOT intended to use as a part-time pedestrian plaza until the agency capitulated to neighborhood NIMBYs.

Union Square West between E. 17th and E. 16th Streets, where a man was killed by a truck driver yesterday, was proposed as a part-time pedestrian space in 2010. DOT dropped the plan in response to NIMBY objections. Image: NYC DOT

At around 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, the 24-year-old victim, whose name had not been released as of this morning, was run over by the driver of a delivery truck on Union Square West just south of E. 17th Street. Accounts vary, but according to NYPD the man was riding his skateboard when he “lost control” and fell underneath the passing truck.

Though there seem to be as many versions of the crash as there were witnesses, at 3:15 p.m. the Post reported that NYPD had declared the crash an “accident” and would not be filing charges against the driver.

As part of its 2010 plan to give room to pedestrians and cyclists around Union Square, DOT proposed that Union Square West between 17th and 16th Streets be designated as “flex space,” to be closed to motor vehicle traffic at certain times of day.

DOT did not announce the exact hours the space would be car-free before that facet of the plan was dropped in response to complaints from area residents. However, if the block was intended to be programmed as part-time plaza space, it seems likely that it would have been open to pedestrians and closed to motor vehicle traffic at lunchtime on a weekday.

Yesterday’s fatality occurred a short distance from where Roxana Sorina Buta was run over by a hit-and-run truck driver, at Broadway and 14th Street, in May.

This fatal crash occurred in the 13th Precinct. To voice your concerns about neighborhood traffic safety directly to Deputy Inspector David Ehrenberg, the commanding officer, go to the next precinct community council meeting. The 13th Precinct council meetings happen at 6:30 p.m. on the on the third Tuesday of the month at the precinct, 230 E. 21st Street. Call 212-477-7427 for information.

The City Council district where this crash occurred is represented by Rosie Mendez. To encourage Mendez to take action to improve street safety in her district and citywide, contact her at 212-677-1077, rmendez@council.nyc.gov or @RosieMendez.

  • Jeremy

    I think that block is cobblestones. When we talk about making streets safer for bikes, that includes non-motorized transport modes like skating.

  • Jeremy

    I think that block is cobblestones. When we talk about making streets safer for bikes, that includes non-motorized transport modes like skating.

  • There was also a bike accident that same day, on 16th and Union Square East. The rider was taken away in an ambulance but seemed to be mostly OK. (He could talk with the fireman that asked him about leaving his bike locked around the corner)

  • Adam Herstein

    The article should state more clearly what city this was in. We don’t all live in NYC.

  • Adam Herstein

    The article should state more clearly what city this was in. We don’t all live in NYC.

  • Anonymous

    No person should ever die at Union Square.   There are soooo many pedestrians there.  It just makes no sense.   Also, Union Square East/Park Ave between 14th and 18th street gets pretty hairy as well. 

  • Anonymous

    No person should ever die at Union Square.   There are soooo many pedestrians there.  It just makes no sense.   Also, Union Square East/Park Ave between 14th and 18th street gets pretty hairy as well. 

  • Anonymous

    Driver following too close.
    Accident, my ass!

  • Just sayin’

    The blog header says New York.

  • fj

    Extremely high predestrian, child, and playground densities simply demands that cars be banned from Union Square.

    It’s long overdue that cars be banned from the city; stop killing people; destroying our quality of life, and rapidly destroying life as we know it on this planet.

    After major climate event hurricane Sandy, it was like smokers dying of lung cancer lighting up one more time . . . Those long lines of car drivers waiting for gas to continue to rapidly accelerate climate change.

  • fj

    Yeah, while Rosie carry’s the progressive mantle she tosses it immediately when it comes to the simple common sense requisite of livable streets — and planet — that we must rapidly start eliminating cars.

  • Anonymous

    @03e6765e9e59d824b239ed0fe11c682c:disqus your anti-car bigotry is just senseless. Thermal control (heating/cooling) on buildings, alone, use more energy than transportation in US.

    Better start insulating and triple-glazing windows all over NYC. 

  • Adam Anon

    Union Square is scary to ride. I did that once and avoid that area ever since. I do believe that car traffic should be banned around there.

  • CheapSkate

    Later reports, which include a surveillance video, indicate the skateboarder may have been trying to avoid a one way cyclist.

    http://gothamist.com/2012/11/22/video_nypd_seeks_this_cyclist_in_de.php

  • CheapSkate

    Sorry that should’ve been wrong way cyclist.

  • Anonymous

    That video does not look right.  Something is weird.  The timing is off.
    We never see the skateboarder in the video, and see just a few seconds of the truck.

    The cyclist arrives at 17th St just as the truck is passing him on the right, the cyclist then stops and waits at the intersection to go – and the video stops before we see if he rides up  Broadway or turns left onto 17th.
    We are not shown any earlier in the video, when the skateboarder should have been going south across 17th St, then followed by the truck.  That would tell us how fast the truck was traveling and how close the truck was following the skateboarder.

    This timing might also tell us if the wrong way cyclist actually interfered with the skateboarder, or had already passed him well before the truck reached him.  In the video, the cyclist first appears to be right alongside the truck’s rear wheels just as the video starts.  The rear wheels are supposed to have run over the skateboarder, so the timing here does not make sense – the cyclist visible at rear wheels means the skateboarder has been already been passed by the bike, and is now behind the cyclist, down Union Sq West.  Therefore the truck has to catch up to the skateboarder and start overtaking him, some time later and some distance south of the video image.

    We also don’t know the exact location of the crash.  How far south of 17th Street did it occur.   We know it did not happen in the few feet south of the crosswalk, because the trucks rear end, including the wheels, is visible right next to the cyclist.  Then, after the truck has moved south, the cyclist remains standing still waiting on the traffic signal to move – unaware of any crash behind him.  The pedestrians around him also appear unaware of any crash.  Was the crash south of 16th? 15th?  Where?

    Based on what’s been released by the police in this video, there does not appear to be justification to blame the wrong way cyclist for the crash, since he probably passed the skateboarder long before the truck reached and overtook the skateboarder.

    Side comment based on a Gothamist still photo, the pavement along right side of the street appears to be heavily rutted.  I would not be happy riding a bike over those ruts; worse, they appear to be deadly for smaller skateboard wheels (fatal-flaw implication fully intended.)  The skateboarder would either have moved left to avoid the ruts or very likely would have a wheel caught and the board thrown.  Either move would put him in the path of the truck.

    I stick with my earlier comment, that the truck overtook the skateboarder
    unsafely – too fast and too close – in what is essentially a narrow
    single lane roadway that has been left open to motor vehicles primarily
    to provide land service access – delivery and drop-off, and not as a
    high speed – high volume through road.  It’s a roadway where motor vehicles should not be moving faster than cyclists or skateboarders – should not be passing, and should be looking out for pedestrians crossing from sidewalk to park.  The truck should never have been “alongside” the skateboarder in the first place.

    Until we see the full length of the video displaying the arrival of both the skateboarder and the truck, I contend the cyclist is probably not involved in causing the crash.  Rather, driver aggression or inattention was the cause.

  • Joe R.

    @andrelot:disqus I don’t think you can equate fj’s position with anti-car bigotry. It’s one thing to say cars should be completely banned, everywhere, and another to say we should just get rid of them in places where they make absolutely no sense, like dense urban areas. As far as I know, I haven’t heard fj advocate getting rid of cars completely. The idea of getting rid of private cars (and taxis) in places like NYC, particularly Manhattan, is eminently sensible. In an urban environment cars are slower, more space intensive, much more polluting, and much more dangerous than the alternatives. About all they offer is door-to-door convenience (sometimes, assuming you can park near your destination). Even that is a negative when you factor in obesity rates. Consider that upwards of 95% of the people getting around Manhattan are using modes other than car. Now consider the great inconvenience, use of valuable space, and carnage caused by the 5% who do. In any democracy, the needs of the 95% should trump the wants of the 5%, no matter how well-heeled that 5% may be. Getting around urban areas by private car, unless you’re severely crippled, is a want, not a need. Wants are fine up until the point where they clearly affect the health of others. Cars have long gone past that point which is why they need to go in urban areas yesterday, regardless of how much the moneyed few who use them will bitch. Remember 75 years ago NYC had nearly as many people as now but less than 5% of the number of cars, and yet commerce functioned just fine. We could easily return to that if the political will were there.

  • @Brownstone2:disqus The description of the video doesn’t claim to show the accident–and thank goodness, since that’s something I’d never watch. It claims to show the cyclist at the moment of the accident. The truck in the video is therefore not the truck that ran over the cyclist.

    Face it: this may be the first instance of a person killed by a cyclist in 2012. If that’s the case, I hope they catch this person and prosecute him.

    But let’s also face this: the police found and released this video almost immediately.  But with Sorina Buta, we had to go through the “no video available” crapola for weeks. And they still haven’t released that to the public or even to the family, if I recall correctly. And then there’s the Matthew Lefevre video debacle.

    Protecting drivers while attacking cyclists is starting to seem less like an unconscious product of windshield perspective and more of a conscious policy.

  • Driver

    Pause the video at the very beginning, you can see the skateboarder right next to the truck. If you watch closely, you can see the skateboarder go under the truck in the first second of the video, and you can see the cyclist pull to his left at this moment and then look back twice at the accident scene before deciding to leave. 

    What the video does not show is the important moments leading up to the accident.   If the truck driver overtook (passed) the skateboarder without sufficient passing room, then it is the drivers responsibility that he passes safely, and the driver should be at fault.   If the driver did not pass the skateboarder, but instead the skateboarder approached the truck from behind or from the side and got way too close, then it is not reasonable to blame the driver.  It is also possible that the driver passed the skateboarder with sufficient room, but the skateboarder made a drastic move that would not be reasonable expected.   In the video the entire curb lane appears to be open, so there should have been enough room for the skateboarder to have options, even with the approaching cyclist. 

    I think it is unfair to lay the majority of the blame on the cyclist.  The cyclist could be any number of obstacles in the street.  If a construction worker was digging up the street in that spot to repair a utility and the skateboarder went under a truck to go around it, would it be the construction workers fault?  The cyclist could have easily been a parked vehicle, a garbage can, a pile of dirt, a massive pothole, a pedestrian tripping into the street, etc. 

    I think the seconds leading up to the accident are important in determining who’s fault this actually was, and it is unfair to use the bicyclist as a  scapegoat for what was poor judgement on  the part of the driver, the skateboarder, or both.

  • Joe R.

    I agree with Driver here. Yes, the cyclist was riding against traffic, and yes, this is actually my biggest pet peeve when it comes to illegal cyclist behavior. That said, the skateboarder had plenty of options, including the one I usually take when facing a wrong-way cyclist-namely to ride as far right as possible so as to force them, rather than myself, to ride into traffic. I figure since they’re going the wrong way, they should be the one taking the more dangerous, evasive action, not me.

    Another thing to note is that the cyclist was stopped dead when the skateboarder crossed his path and went under the truck. This may have been because he saw the skateboarder swerving into the traffic lane, across his path, and hit the brakes to avoid a collision. Without seeing everything, it’s hard to figure out exactly what happened here but I’ll try an educated guess. The skateboarder thought he could pass in front of the truck, perhaps because the truck was going slowly when he first saw it. Unfortunately for the skateboarder, the truck sped up just as he was making his move, so he landed under it instead. Unlike a cyclist, who could have hit the brakes hard, a skateboarder can’t stop fast. He was basically committed. All he could have done to avoid the truck was to change direction. In a perfect storm of events, the wrong-way cyclist happened to be in the very space he could have used to avoid going under the truck. One can say in retrospect he should have chosen a head-on collision with the stationary (or near stationary) bike instead, but in the split second these things occur, that choice my never have crossed his mind. He may even have thought he could still make it in the narrow space between the truck and wrong way cyclist.

    If you want to assign fault here, assuming the events occurred as I described, I might place most of the blame on the truck driver for speeding up right after passing the skateboarder. That goes double if the skateboarder’s body language indicated he might be aiming for the space right in front of the truck. Even if not, when I encounter skateboarders while cycling, I tend to give them a wide berth because they are unpredictable and can’t really change speeds that quickly. Motor vehicles should do the same. As for the wrong way cyclist, he was of course in the wrong for riding against traffic. Beyond that, it’s hard to say how much blame he should incur here. The same accident might have occurred if the skateboarder was overtaking a stopped or slow cyclist riding with traffic.

  • fj

    andrelot, yeah yeah, anything to change the conversation away the horrific facts that cars are a major cause of climate change and environmental devastation; and predator-in-chief in global road accidents that kill over 1.3 million per year, 50 million people gravely injured; greatest killer of people under 25 . . .  welcome to the land of 250 million 1-ton wheelchairs funnier than the old ladies with walkers in Mel Brooks’ “The Producers”; as we all sing “Springtime With Hitler”.

  • @SB_Driver:disqus I think you’re right–that blur at the beginning might be the person on the skateboard.

    But I think you’re stretching pretty far in trying to exculpate the cyclist. If you think the driver can be blamed for potentially having passed too close to the skateboarder, I don’t see how you equate the cyclist with inanimate material. He’s a human being. He intentionally rode against traffic. That’s a dangerous practice that has consequences–just as passing too closely can.

  • fj

    D. Porpentine,

    The dangerous practice is the way we do transportation in this country where the mortality rate only dipped below 40,000 per year (and many millions injured) on our roads because of bad times and lower use.

  • “Amazing how complicated and full of epistemic anxiety the world gets when a biker might have been the principal cause of a fatal collision.”

    I had to good “epistemic anxiety”. I landed on a Buddhist web site, but I think I figured it out. You are accusing others of having hypocritical doubts about this case, in the most condescending way possible. Congratulations I guess.

    When a motorist may have been the principal cause of a collision that kills a pedestrian or cyclist, what happens on this blog? Readers demand that any video evidence is presented, that a thorough investigation is performed, that a legal process is followed to determine guilt. You know, the same thing I think everyone would like to see happen in this case. (And that may actually happen, only because a cyclist may be culpable.)

    But I’ll have to remember your epistemic anxiety line the next time a cyclist is killed while maneuvering around a motorist illegally parked in a bicycle lane. That should get some laughs.

  • Joe R.

    The only way a cyclist could be the principal cause of any death is if they collided with the person who died. That’s not the case here. To say the cyclist primarily caused this accident is like saying the pedestrian who went in front of the bus in Long Island last week was the primary cause of the bus hitting the house (and killing a young child in the process). No, the skateboarder had other options just as the bus driver did. It appears in the video that there was enough room in the curb lane next to the curb to pass the wrong way cyclist. Or failing that, the skateboarder could have opted to collide with the cyclist instead of attempting to pass him by going left, into the traffic lane. Sometimes other options aren’t clear cut. In the case of the bus driver, the best option was to stay in the lane and lay on the brakes. There may still have been a fatality, but in this case it would have been the pedestrian who was adamant about ignoring repeated warnings by the bus to get out of  the way rather than an innocent child. In the case of the skateboarder, perhaps he still would have been killed colliding head-on with the wrong way cyclist but I think his chances would have been way better. And if that occurred, then blame for his death would clearly be on the shoulders of the wrong-way cyclist.

    The cyclist MAY have been culpable here (and I would need to see the entire video to determine that) but he was not the principal cause. The skateboarder could just as easily have swerved under the truck passing a crossing pedestrian, a slowly moving cyclist legally going with traffic, and any number of other obstacles. Sometimes sadly people just make bad choices in the split second they have to make a decision. It’s happened to all of us, me included, at one time or another. Most of the time we don’t pay with our lives for these bad decisions. The tragedy here is this person did. Maybe the real lesson is that we shouldn’t have heavy, fast moving vehicles around vulnerable users. Nobody should have to pay for a mistake with their lives.The point here is if you’re driving/cycling and someone jumps in front of you seemingly obvious to their own safety and in violation of rules of the road, you can’t blame this person for everything which may happen next. The errant person can only be blamed for their own death if that’s the end result. If a motorist decides to swerve to avoid them, and causes a multicar pileup which kills 100 people, then the motorist is primarily responsible for those deaths. Yes, the instinct is often to swerve, but in heavy traffic the best course of action is to just lay on the brakes (if nobody is tailgating you) and stay in your lane. If anyone is going to die, it’s best that it be the person who jumps into traffic, oblivious to life and limb, than innocent bystanders who have nothing to do with it. That goes double in the case of a cyclist/skateboarder/roller blader encountering an errant person. By swerving to avoid the errant person you’re actually placing yourself in grave danger. I’ll opt to hit a person who jumps in front of me, even a small child, 100 times out of 100 if my only other option is to swerve into a lane where I can’t ascertain in time if the way is clear. I might still get badly hurt, but it’s better than getting run over by a motor vehicle. Chances are good however both me and the person I hit would come out of it without life-changing injuries. Can’t say the same if a motor vehicle is involved somehow.

  • Joe R.

    Just to clarify my previous post before it’s misinterpreted, I feel this accident may not even have a primary cause. Rather it’s a perfect storm of errors on the part of the wrong-way cyclist, truck driver, and skateboarder all coming together at the worst possible moment. It’s sort of like when you might be riding on a nearly deserted road, and then go around a double-parked car at the exact moment the only car for ten blocks is passing through. You’re lulled into a false sense of complacency, then suddenly confronted with a life-and-death situation requiring an instantaneous reaction. I think much the same thing here happened-to all three parties. Each might have previously done what they did 100 or even 1000 times without issue. You get into the habit of automatically doing what works most of the time, at least until the one time it doesn’t work.

  • Joe R.

    Here’s a great example of the type of thinking I was talking when I mentioned habitually doing things which usually but not always work:

    http://www.alkrug.vcn.com/rrfacts/mindset.htm

  • Driver

    Joe, I am in agreement with you, however although it does appear in the video that there is plenty of space between the cyclist and the curb, there is a huge pothole in that spot that extends from the curb approximately 18 inches.  Unfortunately this may have likely played an important part in the skateboarders decision.  

  • Anonymous

    We don’t know exactly what happened here. But just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that it’s true that the cyclist was going the wrong way, the skateboarder tried to avoid crashing into the cyclist and ended up under the truck. Further, let’s assume that the truck driver wasn’t breaking any laws at the time. If that’s the case, the cyclist would 100% be the “primary cause” in my book. Why? Because he was the one who first broke the law and created an unsafe situation as a result. Or, in stronger terms, the cyclist was the aggressor, and the skateboard just made a poor defensive move.

    If I throw a knife at you, and while trying to dodge it, you fall under a moving truck, whose fault is it if you get crushed by the truck?

    The bus crash case is ethically different in my view, but let’s leave that one for another time.

  • Joe R.

    @qrt145:disqus Assuming the events occurred as you described, I might agree except for one thing-the wrong way cyclist was undoubtedly visible to the skateboarder for at least several seconds before the incident happened, and probably for even longer. It was a straight road and I highly doubt either he or the cyclist were going all that fast. The skateboarder had some time to pick a course of action. This is quite a bit different than if the cyclist were to run a red light at a low-visibility intersection, for all intents and purposes suddenly appearing where nobody expects him to be. In that case, he could be blamed for everything that happens because nobody has time to react to his presence.
    I’m saying this from the standpoint of someone who both dislikes wrong-way cyclists and has had several close calls with them. Yes, wrong way cyclists are both annoying and dangerous. That said, even in extreme circumstances (i.e. I’m going 20+ mph and encounter a wrong-way cyclist on an e-bike going about the same speed) I have a bit of time to figure out way to do.

    The bad pavement Driver mentioned may have played a role here, also. I still feel this was a case of a bunch of small errors and assumptions on the part of all three parties involved happening at the worst possible moment. If there’s any blame to be placed on the wrong-way cyclist beyond simply riding against traffic, then it would be for not yielding to anyone moving with traffic. Upon seeing the skateboarder, he should have stopped before the pothole and moved as far left as practical. A gesture to let the skateboarder know that he was allowing a place for him to pass would have been helpful also. When you ride against traffic you’re doing something which can catch some people off guard. As such, it’s incumbent to ride a lot more carefully and courteously than you would if you were riding legally with traffic. The wrong-way cyclist is certainly guilty of failing to do that.

  • Joe R.

    Note: By “Upon seeing the skateboarder, he should have stopped before the pothole and moved as far left as practical.”  I mean as far left as possible from the skateboarder’s perspective, not the wrong-way cyclist’s.

  • So let’s say someone doors me–doesn’t even actually hit, just opens a car door in a way that makes it clear that if I keep going, I’ll crash into the door, maybe into the person, end up on the road, get hurt. And I move to avoid that dooring, something happens, and I get run over by a bus, people here would agree that the bus killed me and the person who doored me is blameless, right? Right?

    If so, maybe you should look up the comments on threads related to Jasmine Herron.

  • @n8han:disqus I think you meant to post your reply to me here:
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/11/26/three-nyc-traffic-deaths-three-very-different-nypd-investigations/
    Always glad to be helpful!

  • Joe R.

    @twitter-951559544:disqus In the scenario you outlined I would say the person who doored may be culpable, and perhaps the primary cause if they flung the door open just as you passed by, giving you little time to react. A lot of the determination of responsibility for an accident has to do with whether or not any of the parties involved had enough time to make choices. If the door was in your full view for a few seconds, then I might say YOU are the primary cause of anything which happens because you had plenty of time to decide what to do, and to look if the traffic lane was clear before swinging around the door. Street users encounter obstacles all of the time. Unless the obstacle suddenly appears right in front of you, nobody but you is responsible for the results if you make a bad decision trying to avoid said obstacle. If the obstacle was due to illegal activity on the part of another person,  then they are at least culpable if something bad happens, but not necessarily the primary cause. Chances are good if the police were here and saw everything, they likely would have just issued the cyclist a ticket for riding against traffic and sent him on his way. Or at least that’s how they would treat things if the cyclist were a motor vehicle.

  • Fran D

    While the preceding posts contemplate the culpability of the parties involved and the existing conditions on the street,  I am stunned that no one points out that the bicyclist left the scene of the accident !!  This bicyclist at very least contributed to the death of 20 year old Kyle Larson. It is inexcusable that the he did not stop to offer help.

  • Joe R.

    @443793af0c5dff615a3cf45dccd34e9a:disqus Help in what way? Was the cyclist an EMT tech or an MD? About all the cyclist could potentially have done to help would be to call an ambulance, assuming he had a cell phone.

    As for leaving the scene of the accident, this is not surprising given the negativity against cyclists which has appeared in the media for the last two years. He may have felt he would be nailed to the wall or publicly made an example of regardless of the circumstances. The media is just itching for a fatal incident involving a cyclist.

  • kai

    Good one less stakebaroder

  • Marie C

    Asshat. Guess u would say that if it was YOUR brother or child, huh?

  • 1bestdog

    Sad but skateboarders put everyone at risk and they could care less.

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