NYPD: No Reason to Investigate Greenway Crash That Hospitalized Cyclist

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.

By declining to determine what caused a collision between a bus driver and a greenway cyclist, NYPD failed to take steps that could prevent future injuries. Photo: Hilda Cohen
By declining to determine what caused a collision between a bus driver and a greenway cyclist, NYPD failed to take steps that could prevent future injuries. Photo: Hilda Cohen

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.”

  • Ian Turner

    Someone is going to get killed here, and if Delancey St. is any guide, that is what it will take for there to be any engineering changes.

  • Reader

    No nice way to say it: if you ride a bike in NYC, even on a greenway where it’s supposed to be safe, your life isn’t worth a damn thing to the NYPD. You are other, less than, and not a real person. And the same goes for people on foot.

  • Motor vehicles have already killed at least two people on the Greenway, one of them very close to where this incident happened.

  • BBnet3000

    If we were serious about cycling Delancey Street would have a bikeway like Allen Street all the way to Allen Street, creating a T that would enable people to get from Brooklyn to points north and south in Manhattan easily.

    They could even put the first 4-way green for bicycles in North America at Allen and Delancey.

  • BBnet3000

    He was going “too fast”? There seems to be a misconception that bike paths are for going slow on, probably because they are so poorly designed that even the off-street ones are too narrow to pass comfortably on. Some crazy lady yelled at me on the East Side path under the FDR for going too fast (~15-18mph?) and ive been taking the quite horrid South Street for the most part ever since.

    What exactly is “too fast” on a bike anyway? Even roadies are probably doing 25mph sustained on level ground, which is what we just got the default speed limit changed to for cars. If drivers cant yield to someone going 25mph how are they supposed to handle a 2-way stop?

  • Reader

    “Too fast” = any speed you were going when you were hit by a bus driver who didn’t yield.

  • com63

    After Intro 238 goes into effect, is there any way to force NYPD to open a criminal investigation? If you ask to file a criminal complaint, do they have to take it and do something with it?

  • I’ve been arguing for a while now that there’s a continuing, powerful cultural bias in the NYPD against, among other groups, cyclists, whom they seem to see as a troublesome out-group: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2014/05/an-angry-off-duty-police-man-rainy.html As for the “too fast” thing, it’s just nonsense, isn’t it? If the police were worried about the consequences of excessive speed, they’d start by setting up some speed traps on the West Side highway, right next to where this crash happened. I’ve seen vehicles going down there at easily 70mph. When I worked in midtown, for a while I was cycling daily past the wreckage of a vehicle that crashed there at 100mph. The speed limit’s 35mph.

  • J

    NYPD on #VisionZero: “A bus isn’t gonna yield to anyone”. More evidence of a deeply permissive and fatalistic view towards traffic violence. This will NEVER get us to Vision Zero. DeBlasio, what are you doing about this?????

  • Joe R.

    There is a point of contention even among Streetsblog regulars about what speeds are appropriate for bicycles, so it’s no surprise the NYPD and the general public have the kinds of opinions on the matter which you allude to. It also doesn’t help that bicycles are small vehicles which to a casual observer appear to be going a lot faster than they really are. I was once cycling and happened to be going about 25 mph when I went by a woman who noticed me while she was walking on the other side of the street. A few minutes later I was going the opposite direction, but was going slower for reasons I forgot. The woman asked me why I was riding so fast with something along the lines of “I saw you a couple of minutes ago and noticed you were really flying. The cops can give bikes speeding tickets you know.” While her concern about me possibly getting a ticket was nice, I stopped and just out of curiosity I asked her how fast she thought I was going. She said between 50 and 60 mph. She was dumbfounded when I told her I was only going 25 mph, 5 mph under the speed limit. She didn’t believe me, but I told her my bike computer was carefully calibrated by wheel size so it measured my speed/distance to about 0.1% accuracy. I also showed her my GPS which incidentally gave speed readings which matched my bike computer. Even if she didn’t believe me on the bike computer, the general public knows GPS speed readings are very accurate. I don’t know if my attempt to educate her worked or not, but it made for an interesting encounter.

    Yes, I highly doubt all that many cyclists in this city are going much over 25 mph sustained. My opinion is that if a bike path can’t be safely negotiated at the speed limit of the adjacent street, or at least at the upper limit of what strong cyclists are capable of (25-30 mph) then it has serious design defects. Sure, there will be times when the path is crowded and everyone must slow down, but the design of the path shouldn’t preclude the speeds I mentioned at times when this isn’t the case.

  • I get the feeling that, in quite a few policy areas, the new mayor hadn’t worked out quite how much needed to be done to overcome years of complacency and dangerous attitudes. I really think he didn’t at all grasp quite how serious his problems with the police were.

  • Bobberooni

    Sigh… yet another biker killed in a collision with a truck at a fully signalized intersection. In Boston, a study found that half of bike accidents involve trucks and buses. It looks like the bus was turning right off the southbound West Side Highway. The two most likely scenarios is either (a) a classic right-hook, or (b) the biker ran a red light. If it is (a), is there a way to adjust the lights to avoid right-hook conflicts, as has been done for many of the protected lanes on the avenues?

    Clearly, the cops said a lot of stupid things, and that doesn’t help. Without any posted speed limit on the Greenway, it’s hard to make a case the biker was going “too fast.”

    Either way, I am convinced that better biker’s education could save a lot of lives. And it is something that we can do for ourselves, rather than waiting for all drivers to watch out for us. I would suggest the following points:

    1. Bikers must apply what they know about traffic. I’ve seen too many bikers who seem to be absolutely clueless, as if they forgot everything they learned in driver’s ed as soon as they hop on a bike.

    2. Bikers must remember that the Greenway south of 59 St is a like regular city street, with intersections and cross traffic. Yes, it’s a bike path. Yes, it’s easier to ride and safer than most NYC streets. But it still has cross traffic, and requires the same awareness that you would apply at any other intersection. Could we get some signs posted on the Greenway to remind bikers of this?

    3. Bikers must remember that although trucks constitute a minority of vehicles on the road, they are involved in 50% of bike accidents. Being extra-aware of trucks is one of the best thing that we can do, as bikers, to stay alive.

    In the meantime, we should certainly continue to advocate for fixes to dangerous street design that, for whatever reason, end up with people getting killed.

  • Bobberooni

    That’s the problem, there is too much belief that the Greenway is “supposed to be safe.” It is an excellent bike road, one of the best I’ve seen anywhere (including Germany). But the reality is, it has intersections, which are an opportunity for collisions.

    If you want to ride your bike in total blissful unawareness, the Greenway north of 59th St. is a great place to do so. Actually, I take it back. You could still cause injury to other bikers, pedestrians, diners crossing the path around 65th St, etc. if you don’t pay attention.

  • Bobberooni

    So let’s start thinking of engineering or signage fixes to the problem.

  • Bobberooni

    “My opinion is that if a bike path can’t be safely negotiated at the
    speed limit of the adjacent street, or at least at the upper limit of
    what strong cyclists are capable of (25-30 mph) then it has serious
    design defects.”

    Most bike paths in NYC are not safe at 25mph. I ride an electric bike that does 22mph sustained, and there are tons of places where I have to slow down. The protected bike lanes on the avenues should probably have a speed limit of 15mph.

  • Bobberooni

    Cops are supposed to apply and enforce the law, not invent it. “Too fast” is faster than the posted speed limit. If there is no speed limit, then it’s hard for a cop to make a judgement of “too fast.”

  • JK

    I’d like to see a Greenway Users Group that methodically drew attention to the greenway’s numerous engineering, enforcement and operational issues. Anyone want to help get that rolling? Things are really not getting better on the greenway, there is no sign of intelligent government life gradually improving the vehicle crossings, markings or signage, and the user conflict just gets worse and worse. Maybe there is an advocacy group that would want to help get this going. Does anyone know of any?

  • Joe R.

    Unfortunately many times even the poor surface condition of the streets forces me to ride at a lower speed than I am capable of but my general point is bicycle paths should be designed for at least 25 mph, meaning no curves which require slowing under that speed, and definitely no blind crossings like this one. The fact is many paths in NYC don’t meet these standards as we’ve both discovered but the real solution is fixing them so they do. If there are spots here and there where it wouldn’t be cost effective to do so, then at least post signs in advance advising riders to reduce speed to whatever number is safe. That should have been done here.

    The protected bike lanes on the Avenues frankly aren’t safe at any speed. Between the mixing zones, people walking across with handtrucks from delivery trucks, food carts, and pedestrians using it as a sidewalk extension they’re population control devices, not safe, comfortable places to ride. Sorry to be so harsh as I know many here love them, but I call ’em like I see ’em.

    Prospect Park West is an example of great on-street bike infrastructure. It’s a pity it’s relatively short. It’s also a pity there aren’t many places in NYC where the street layout would allow it to be duplicated.

  • Bobberooni

    > bicycle paths should be designed for at least 25 mph

    And highways SHOULD be designed for at least 65mph. But the reality is that is not always practical/feasible, and there are numerous places that require caution and lower speeds.

    Are you asking that bike paths along the avenues be designed for >25mph, in a city where cars can rarely sustain such a speed and the default speed limit will soon be no more than 25mph? That would seem to be unreasonable.

    > The protected bike lanes on the Avenues frankly
    > aren’t safe at any speed.

    I agree with your observations. But in NYC, using them is optional, so I don’t see how their presence takes anything away from your experience. Yes, we need better driver’s ed on this point.

    I have come to grudgingly agree that the protected paths are safer than the previous alternative, and I welcome them for that reason. I don’t think it’s possible to make a high speed / enjoyable bike path through the heart of Manhattan.

  • Joe R.

    Are you asking that bike paths along the avenues be designed for >25mph, in a city where cars can rarely sustain such a speed and the default speed limit will soon be no more than 25mph?

    20 mph would be more than adequate here. A 20 mph design speed pretty much covers 99.9% of users. If there are spots where only 15 mph is feasible, that’s fine too provided they’re for relatively short segments. However, the reality is in places those bike paths aren’t safe even at single digit speeds due to a combination of design and wanton disregard by nearly everyone that these are for bikes, not for parking/food carts/walking.

    I have come to grudgingly agree that the protected paths are safer than the previous alternative, and I welcome them for that reason. I don’t think it’s possible to make a high speed / enjoyable bike path through the heart of Manhattan.

    At low cost, no there isn’t. Biking in much of Manhattan in general isn’t something I consider safe or enjoyable due to the congestion/pollution. Protected lanes may make it marginally better sometimes, but until we get rid of some large percentage of motor vehicles Manhattan is not going to be a great place to bike, other than the Greenways.

  • lop

    Much like with cars, I would assume the speed limit is the maximum allowable speed under ideal conditions, not a speed that is always appropriate around every curve in inclement weather or when it’s crowded. “too fast” would then mean too fast for the conditions, or reckless operation etc…

  • BlameTheVictum

    You are right about speed limits being contingent. However, is “too fast” any speed, or even stopped, when you get right hooked by a bus? Remember the cyclist was going straight through with the right of way while the bus was crossing said right of way. Who should we suspect failed to control their vehicle here? Is it worth investigating?

  • walks bikes drives

    Electric bikes are technically not legally allowed in bike lanes or on bike paths.

  • walks bikes drives

    I use an airzound on my bike. It makes protected bike lanes MUCH safer.

  • AnoNYC

    Why not elevate the greenway when it crosses paths with the moving lanes? This would force automobiles to proceed with caution or risk damage. Could help. Like in this photo:

  • Bobberooni

    Oh horrors, here comes the evil electric bike, a morally corrupt vehicle in that it doesn’t involve 100% mitochondria power. BTW, smoking weed isn’t allowed in bike lanes either. The anti-electric bike sentiment in NYC is just one more aspect of anti-bike attitudes in general, especially since the biggest users of electric bikes (restaurant delivery) exist on the bottom of New York society and have no political power.

    Hopefully, this problem will be fixed over time, since e-bikes are such an incredible technology. My e-bike gets 1800mpg electric equivalent, which gives it a carbon footprint even lower than the extra food you have to eat to power a manual bike. Compare that to the ~35 pmpg of a typical bus system, and the ~55pmpg of the NYC subway.

    But what does this have to do with the topic, which was about whether or not bike lanes should be built for a 25mph design speed?

  • Bobberooni

    I think this is a good idea. Vehicles turning off the West Side Highway would see a ramp up, which says “driveway, be cautious” to them.

  • Bobberooni

    But since most cops have never been on a bike, they have no idea what is or is not safe for conditions.

  • Mike

    From everything I can tell, this is the driver’s fault.

    That said, this section of the Greenway is really dangerous. Biking at anything other than a rather slow speed along here, while technically within your rights, is actually pretty stupid. There are joggers in the lane, motor vehicles making dangerous turns, tourists unfamiliar with bike lanes wandering into the bike lane from the Intrepid and other tourist traps, and so on. Yes, it should be a situation where you can go 25mph, but it’s not a situation where that’s a good idea. Would you rather be the guy laying on the ground badly injured who can claim the moral high ground or the dude who gets home safely by going frustratingly slow for a few blocks to accommodate the reality of illegal actions by motor vehicles and pedestrians being where they shouldn’t?

    I for one don’t want to see anybody get hurt, and for that reason urge all my fellow cyclists to slow way down and be very careful through this stretch until conditions there change.

  • J

    This is already (sort of) the case at Houston St. My understanding is that the city DOT actually fought against it, and it was the state DOT that overruled them and put it in anyway.

  • J

    The NYPD clearly doesn’t care about safety, preventing injuries or death. The main priorities seem to be providing cover for fellow officers, getting family and friends out of binds, meeting quotas, and generally doing as little work as humanly possible. The NYPD is in a deep deep malaise, and de Blasio could spend an entire term trying to reform it. Bloomberg, for all the good he did, just said screw it, in terms of NYPD reform and basically ignored the issue for his three terms.

  • John

    I think NYPD’s attitude to cyclists is epitomized by the location of the mounted unit’s HQ, and the way its officers exercise their horses. to whit, NYPD put a stable next to the busiest bike facility in the city so that they can, literally, block bicyclists and sh*t on them when the mood strikes them, all in the service of a unit whose entire purpose is the suppression of people’s first amendment rights. Why anyone would expect an organization that did this to protect cyclists from motor-vehicle traffic is beyond me.

  • qrt145

    I thought the entire purpose of the mounted unit was to pose for pictures with tourists!

  • lop

    To a point, but I don’t think some has to drive to be able to know what is or is not a safe speed or maneuver in a car for cyclists and pedestrians, and since cops should go after bikes mostly for endangering pedestrians, that perspective would be enough to judge if a cyclists actions were reckless, or too fast for the conditions.

    Not that NYPD officers generally have that perspective however.

  • John

    That too …

  • walks bikes drives

    Sorry man, you’re wrong. I don’t need any extra food for my pedaling. I take it straight from storage 🙂

    Not liking ebikes is not being anti bike, though. I think you are right that a lot of the anti ebike “movement” comes from perceptions from delivery riders. But it is not about political power. From my personal anecdotal evidence: I have lived, biked, walked, and driven in the city for a long time. Delivery riders used to be annoying when they rode on the sidewalk or salmoned. But that was just annoying. Now, on the ebikes, they have become dangerous. They still ride on the sidewalks and salmon, but now at faster speeds. Every Manhattanite has multiple stories of hits or near misses with them, and these stories are more plentiful with the ebikes.

    But I am not anti bike. Not even close. I commute on bike every day. I ride for fun. I put more miles on my bike than on my car or my feet. But yeah, I have a problem with a lot of the delivery riders that ride ebike. (Notice I did not say all)
    I have a problem with anyone that jeopardizes other people’s safety no matter what they ride or drive.

    But that wasn’t the point. I wasn’t making any judgment about you or your choice to ride an ebike rather than any other bike type/style out there. I was just making a technical remark that vehicles with motors, which is what an ebike is, are not allowed on bike paths.

  • walks bikes drives

    My son loves them.

    I thought the mounted unit was supposed to only be there temporarily. And that was about ten years ago…

  • walks bikes drives

    That is very true. As long as the grade is steep enough that the buses take notice. Adds strength that if they go over it too quickly, riders will complain about the comfort, forcing drivers to slow down no matter what.

    From my view of the pictures, it looked like the bus made a continuous turn, ybr rider, probably at speed with the legal right of way, tried swerving right to avoid. If the bus had stopped earlier or had been traveling more slowely, the rider would have had greater time to maneuver and possibly avoid the bus.

    I hope he sues the hell out of them. And maybe, as part of the damages, can get the company to foot the bill for safety improvements.

  • walks bikes drives

    I have long been a propenent of putting more cops on bikes and having them ride in the bike infrastructure. That could save a lot of issues with bike /police interactions, give greater perspective, and when they get pissed at having to go around a car stopping in a bike lane, they will write a ticket. An actual threat of tickets will get drivers to stop.

  • walks bikes drives

    Oh, and it had nothing to do with the design remark 🙂

  • walks bikes drives

    There was already a sign at that exact intersection. More on the engineering side.

  • The stretch from the 90s to the 200s is really quiet and safe, especially now that they fixed that sinkhole. One time I nearly fell asleep on my way home cycling, as you say, in “blissful unawareness.”

  • Except that it is disproportionately a cop car stopped in the bike lane.

  • This particular stretch of the Hudson River Greenway would be perfectly safe at 25 MPH, if only the cars and buses would yield.

  • This is already the case. Look closely at the photos.

  • From my years of experience passing that exact intersection daily, I think it is most likely the bus was stopped, probably for some time, as many bikes passed in front of it. Then came a brief lull in the progression of bikes, except for this one guy pretty far away, and the driver misjudged the cyclist’s speed and attempted to cross the greenway before the cyclist got to him. Moments later, the cyclist is nearly upon the bus and is unable to stop in time. He tries swerving a bit right (the direction in which the bus is heading) in the hopes of going around the bus, but still ends up colliding with the front of the bus.

  • If (b) then the bus had red, too, so not likely.

    I like the idea of a separate light phase for right turns for MVs.

  • walks bikes drives

    Hense the reason cops on bikes could make life better: 1) fewer cop cars 2) cops will listen to their fellow officers if it affects them.

  • WoodyinNYC

    The Number One complaint to 311 is about NOISE.

    I usually blame car alarms, car- taxi- and truck-horn blowing, police abuse of sirens, etc.

    Sorry to learn that you are contributing more than your share to noise pollution in our city.

  • Bobberooni

    Sigh… this is the same logic against change used by so many auto drivers: “until they (bikers) stop running red lights, I don’t think we should build a bike lane.” Etc. Later, you point out that maybe we should be going after people acting dangerously, rather then giving them privilege (or lack thereof) based on their chosen vehicle.

    But are ebikes on bike paths really the problem? Or are ebikes driving the wrong way, ebikes on sidewalks, ebikes running red lights the problem?

    Technically, ebikes are not allowed at all in NY State, so of course they’re not allowed on bike paths either. But that law needs to change. And when the law gets changed, I don’t think it makes sense to ban them from bike paths. By law, ebikes are limited to go slower than the strongest traditional bikers out there (I get passed every day in Central Park).

    A more sensible approach, I believe, would be to regulate e-bikes at a higher level than traditional bicycle, due to their greater potential to cause harm in the hands of amateurs. I registration and licensing process could do a world of good, and I’d be more than happy to comply. That would be far better than the situation today, in which I’m an outlaw every time I go to work.

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