A witness to the aftermath of a Hudson River Greenway crash that sent a cyclist to the hospital says NYPD officers, including personnel from the Collision Investigation Squad, said they did not intend to investigate the cause of the collision, explaining to bystanders that it was an “accident” while blaming the cyclist.
Just after 9:30 a.m. last Thursday, July 24, a NY Waterways bus driver and a cyclist collided at the greenway and W. 40th Street, in Hell’s Kitchen. Responders transported the cyclist to Bellevue Hospital in serious condition, FDNY said.
Reader Hilda Cohen, who alerted Streetsblog to the crash, asked officers at the scene if they would impound the bike as evidence. “Why would we investigate?” an officer said, according to Cohen. “This was clearly an accident.” Cohen told Streetsblog the officer who made those comments was with the Collision Investigation Squad.
While “accident” implies no one was at fault, Cohen said police also preemptively blamed the cyclist. In the comments on our post last week, Cohen wrote: “The attitude was nightmarish, with comments like: ‘A bus isn’t gonna yield to anyone,’ [and] ‘The only reason this happened is because that guy was going too fast on his bike.'” NYPD also told Cohen the cyclist “hit the bus” before he was “dragged under the front wheel.”
The dismissiveness on the part of NYPD in this case is alarming for many reasons. For one thing, had they conducted an investigation, officers might have spoken with cyclists about the conflict between greenway users and turning drivers at the intersection where the crash occurred.
Cohen told Streetsblog via email that she spoke with cyclists, as well as police, at the scene. “There was really a lot of talk about who was at fault, and sadly the majority figured the cyclist was at fault simply because it was a bus,” she said. “The fact is it is a bad design. Turning vehicles should yield to the path users — it is quite blatant — but the comments from the NYPD were excusing the driver, because it was a bus.”
There is a sign at 40th Street instructing turning drivers to yield to greenway cyclists and pedestrians, as shown in Cohen’s photos. Another reader posted video of the crash site to document conditions there. Wrote attorney and traffic law expert Steve Vaccaro last week: “This is a serious design defect present at several spots on the Greenway, with the green light for the southbound [motor vehicle] traffic turning right at the same time as the green light for north and southbound bike traffic. The only thing preventing disaster is a small sign telling drivers to yield to cyclists that isn’t even present at all of these conflict points.”
An NYPD tow truck driver who failed to yield killed Carl Nacht eight years ago as he rode on the greenway at 38th Street. By neglecting their responsibility to determine what caused last week’s crash — whether it was failure to yield, street design, or both — NYPD investigators forfeited an opportunity to prevent future collisions and additional injuries and deaths.
More broadly, NYPD’s willingness to assign culpability to the cyclist in the absence of an investigation betrays a bias against crash victims. It’s of a piece with the department’s habit of leaking crash details to the press that serve to blame cyclists and pedestrians for their own injuries and deaths, and it’s incompatible with the goals of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. Finally, according to Vaccaro, NYPD’s failure to investigate serious traffic crashes is against state law.
A few weeks from now it will be a misdemeanor for drivers to strike cyclists or pedestrians who have the right of way. “The NYPD were somber, and respectful enough,” Cohen wrote last week, “but with this attitude, Intro 238 will never be enforced.”