No Right-of-Way Charge for Cab Driver Who Killed Senior in UES Crosswalk

An unidentified cab driver fatally struck 76-year-old Amelia Sterental in an Upper East Side crosswalk. NYPD and Cy Vance filed no charges. Image: WABC
An unidentified cab driver fatally struck 76-year-old Amelia Sterental in an Upper East Side crosswalk. NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance filed no charges. Image: WABC

A yellow cab driver fatally struck a senior in an Upper East Side crosswalk Saturday, and no charges were filed by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. The crash occurred in the 19th Precinct, where as of March officers had issued just 10 speeding tickets in 2015.

At around 2:43 p.m. Amelia Sterental, 76, was walking north across 60th Street when the cab driver hit her with a Ford SUV while turning left from Madison Avenue, according to NYPD and published reports.

From the Daily News:

The Miami woman was thrown over the taxi and ended up crumpled on the road in front of high-end clothing stores like Barneys and Calvin Klein, witnesses said.

“It smashed her and she went airborne and went over the back (of the car),” said Frank Semmel, 39, a retired New Jersey policeman.

“A street vendor who didn’t give his name said the cabby had ‘made a fast turn’ before he struck the unidentified woman in the crosswalk,” the Post reported.

“I heard screeching of the brakes,” another witness told the Post. “People started screaming. I turned around and there was a woman on the floor.”

Sterental, who lived in Bal Harbour, Florida, died at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NYPD told Streetsblog.

Police and press accounts of the crash suggest Sterental was crossing with the right of way and the cab driver was traveling at an unsafe speed. But as of this morning, NYPD and Vance had filed no charges against the driver, whose name was withheld by police.

Cab drivers turn onto 60th Street from left turn lane on Madison Avenue. Image: Google Maps
Cab drivers turn onto 60th Street from left turn lane on Madison Avenue. Image: Google Maps

The Daily News reported that the cab driver’s TLC license was suspended, but unless he is charged and convicted of an offense, such as violating the Right of Way Law, the suspension will in all likelihood be temporary.

“People who live and work in the neighborhood [said] that cabs generally zoom through the area trying to beat the lights,” WINS reported. “‘The cabs drive like maniacs over here,’ one man said.”

Drivers of vehicles licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission have killed at least five pedestrians since March, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

According to WNYC, city drivers killed 17 pedestrians and three cyclists while making left turns in 2014. In March, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told the City Council DOT engineering solutions are limited. “You can’t create a special turning lane and a special signal in every intersection for left turns,” Trottenberg said.

Amelia Sterental was killed in the City Council district represented by Dan Garodnick, and in Manhattan Community Board District 8.

Drivers hit at least two other seniors over the weekend, according to reports. Early Sunday morning a motorist fatally struck an unidentified woman on Fourth Avenue at 25th Street in Sunset Park when the driver “lurched out of his lane to avoid a second car that had just cut him off,” the Daily News reported. No charges were filed.

Hours later, at 6:15 a.m., a speeding driver seriously injured a man on Sixth Avenue near W. 25th Street in Manhattan, the Daily News said.

  • Joe R.

    Disgusting. Why bother having a right-of-way law if it’s seldom or never used?

  • ecsCoffee

    🙁

  • r

    You can’t create a special turning lane and a special signal in every intersection for left turns,” Trottenberg said.

    Trottenberg seems rather focused on what NYC *can’t* do. What a 180 from Sadik-Khan. What can NYC do to prevent these deaths? Surely the answer isn’t “Nothing.”

  • Some Asshole

    It shows they did something. Now vote for me, will ya?

  • neroden

    I believe it’s time to establish a charitable foundation to privately prosecute these cases. Clearly the “district attorney” isn’t doing his sworn duty.

  • kevd

    Maybe the TWU does have a point?
    Why are bus drivers arrested when cab drivers aren’t?
    Though I think the answer is to arrest and prosecute all of them, not none of them.

  • WalkingNPR

    Exactly. It does seem, from casual observation, that the law is being applied to bus drivers more than others. If that’s what TWU was complaining about, I’d be on their side. Instead, they’re asking for an exemption from the law, which is insane. I agree–better application of the law to all is needed.

  • WalkingNPR

    What can NYC do to prevent these deaths? Surely the answer isn’t “Nothing.”

    Ohhhh…THAT’s what the zero in “Vision Zero” is for….

  • Tyson White

    NYPD has the discretion when to make arrests. They don’t like Vision Zero, and certainly don’t like the mayor. To derail Vision Zero, you get the TWU (not the taxi union) on your side. Politics comes first before the people you’re supposed to protect.

  • phuzzie

    “You can’t create a special turning lane and a special signal in every intersection for left turns,”

    But you can build some modern roundabouts.

  • kevd

    Interesting.
    Hadn’t thought about it that way. Very clever PBA, very clever indeed.

  • Andres Dee

    Police sources revealed that the pede(de)strian was not hearing a helment or carrying a flashlight. A spokesman could not rule out that she was not texting…or had once read some text.

    Sad, sad, sad.

  • rao

    Surely technology could do what the police won’t. How about deploying a speed governor on cabs tied to GPS location? If the driver was limited to, say, 20 on Madison Avenue he wouldn’t have been able to make that turn like a maniac and that woman would be alive.

  • rao

    How could you use roundabouts at this type of location?

  • Neil W.

    Must have been headphones.

  • Daniel S Dunnam

    I was riding on 60th St. from the QB to Central Park and came upon this scene. The entire road was blocked, news crew vans were speeding up. The cab was stopped in the road and some belongings were scattered on the ground behind it. There was the distinct feel of tragedy in the air. I can think of something that might help prevent more incidents like this from happening: give 59th and 60th Streets major road diets with a dedicated, separated bike lanes, and kneckdowns. I ride from WB to the UWS frequently and the few blocks between the bridge and the park on the east side are by far the most life-threatening part of the journey.

  • Rabi

    An actually governor is a non-starter, but I’ve thought for some time that it makes sense to tie the meter to the speedometer. Cab speeds, meter freezes. (That is also a non-starter, but I think it makes so much sense).

  • Joe R.

    Easier solution is to mandate GPSes on every motor vehicle driven in NYC. Once a month you download the GPS data to the DMV. No download, your license is suspended. Once a month, the DMV sends out speeding tickets and red light tickets based on the GPS data. You don’t even need a very high fine. I’ll bet $10 per instance of speeding or red light running would result in many drivers getting bills of a few thousand dollars a month. Don’t pay the fine, license gets suspended until you do. Drive without a license and you forfeit whatever vehicle you’re driving.

    The problem with governers is you need to heavily modify the vehicle. With a GPS, no modifications are needed.

    BTW, the whole theory behind my idea assumes speeding is bad all the time. I personally don’t think it is, but if those in charge feel otherwise then I have a surefire way to stop it for good. I might even throw in a carrot for drivers. The GPS speed recording would be disabled on limited access expressways since speeding there can’t hurt anyone.

  • Joe R.

    I’m a big fan of roundabouts although I’m not how you might put one there. Easier solution citiwide is to just ban turns at intersections with high pedestrian volumes.

  • Joe R.

    Just change the fare structure. Right now it goes to a distance based fare above a speed of 12 mph. Just make it a time based fare of maybe $40/hour regardless of speed, period. That would totally remove any incentive to speed. In fact, it would give an incentve to drive slow and get stuck at lots of red lights.

  • jt

    How about our police/DAs actually try to prosecute people? Ho about some streets being better designed? Let’s start with those things.

  • whynotcompromise

    Your approach has many problems. Ignoring the terrifying mass surveillance aspect of the gps plan, there are several more issues with your idea:

    -How to handle out of city/ out of state drivers? Would motorists driving in from other parts of NY, NJ, or the rest of the US be subject to the mandatory gps? If so, how?

    -Speed governors: Even ignoring everything outside the city, there are highways in NYC proper that allow 50mph travel. So a 50mph top speed would do little for local 25mph streets.

    -Acceleration governors: On-ramps on NYC highways like the BQE, Belt, and Gowanus are notoriously short. Some underpowered cars already have trouble merging safely on them as is. Having an extremely low acceleration limit would be a huge safety hazard.

    -Power to weight ratio. A toyota camry (by no means a fast car) weighs 1.7 tons. and has 178 horsepower. At 30hp/ton you propose limiting it to 51hp? (For scale, the far smaller smart car has 70hp).

  • Joe R.

    As I said, I would disable the GPS speed recording on highways. No need for it there as there aren’t any vulnerable users. Point of fact I’ve been a big supporter of raising highway speed limits in NYC both to take traffic off local streets, and because the present 50 mph are ridiculously low in most cases.

    You could do the same thing if you went with speed/acceleration governers instead of GPS. I agree there might be a need to go from a dead stop to 75 mph in a 10 seconds for expressway merging but there is zero need for acceleration rates much over 1 or 2 mph per second on local streets.

    -Power to weight ratio. A toyota camry (by no means a fast car) weighs 1.7 tons. and has 178 horsepower. At 30hp/ton you propose limiting it to 51hp? (For scale, the far smaller smart car has 70hp).

    Yes, but you could use a battery for those quick bursts of acceleration while having a smaller engine. Or better yet just go with straight electric which makes more sense in a city anyway. There’s no need to have a huge engine when most of the time you use 30 HP/ton or less for cruising. Also, lower power-to-weight ratios might move the auto industry towards radically more aerodynamic shapes to allow higher speed cruising with less power. The boxes we’re currently driving unnecessarily waste energy.

    How to handle out of city/ out of state drivers? Would motorists driving in from other parts of NY, NJ, or the rest of the US be subject to the mandatory gps? If so, how?

    NYC only has a few primary entry points. Logistically it wouldn’t be hard to check for the required equipment at these entry points. Even better, why not just make either GPS speed recording or governors mandatory on a national level? I’m fine with disabling them on limited access highways as a compromise.

    Ignoring the terrifying mass surveillance aspect of the gps plan…

    These are public roads where your speed can be monitored now. It’s pretty apparent NYC has no desire to either enforce existing laws or punish drivers who kill people. In the end if we have to move to mass surveillance by necessity to save people motorists have only themselves to blame for not driving in a civil manner on local streets. Again, I don’t care what they do on highways. Turn off the monitoring equipment and governors on highways. For that matter get rid of the speed limits on highways, too. I’m just tired of idiots making local streets hostile to everyone else with the “red light Grand Prix” plus all this stupid jockeying around to gain one or two car lengths.

    While we’re discussing solutions, the real solution here is a drastic reduction in motor traffic volumes but NYC shows absolutely no desire to move in that direction.

  • whynotcompromise

    I’ll do my best to go point by point:

    I agree with you about highway speed limits. The situation now on NYC highways is a limit of 50 or lower, with traffic moving at 65ish most of the time. The legal limit should be more inline with the situation on the ground.

    In terms of gps based limiting: you underestimate how poorly GPS works in an urban environment, with tall buildings and other structures all around. An extreme example is the Gowanus expressway. It has local streets completely next to / parallel with it/ under it. You try to take an on-ramp there, your car limits you to slow acceleration because its gps signal is getting bounced around; good luck. This can be a fail-deadly system.
    This one of the reasons self driving cars are not quite ready yet: no real reliable way to always know where you are.

    Limiting acceleration overall seems…misguided. Most pedestrian accidents do not happen while acceleration, but when maintaining speed, or more often, turning.

    Electric engines/horsepower:
    This is unrelated: we were talking about the dangers of fast acceleration. I agree with you that hybrids make a lot of sense in the city, but that’s quite a different issue from whether or not they can accelerate fast enough to kill you. Getting hit by a prius hurts about the same as getting hit by a camry.

    NYC only has a few primary entry points
    Manhattan, maybe. Brooklyn/Queens/Bronx not so much.

    In most of the US people only drive on highways
    Not at all: total interstate+arterial miles in US: ~1.3M miles
    total local+collector road miles in US: ~73.2M

    In the end if we have to move to mass surveillance by necessity to save people motorists have only themselves to blame
    I completely disagree. NYC, with a population of 8.5 million, had 248 traffic fatalities in 2014. That deserves fixing, and vision zero/right of way law is one of the steps being taken in that direction. However, that’s a very small number. Moving to a surveillance state is not worth it for that. Think of stop and frisk as a parable: will cops catch more people carrying weapons by frisking anyone they feel like? Probably. Is it worth it though?

  • Interesting idea, but as a regular user of GPS to personally monitor my bike rides, I can tell you that the technology is simply not there yet to give accurate speed readings.

  • Joe R.

    Ironically my experience with GPS is different. The distance is so accurate it almost always agrees with my bike computer to within 0.01 or 0.02 km after riding 30 or 40 km. The speed readings sometimes bounce around a bit, but they’re generally accurate to within 1 mph.

    We can of course do the same without GPS by using a black box to record the car’s speed. With the huge, cheap SSDs available today we can record speed data and driver inputs for the lifetime of the car, making that data available for download whenever necessary. Sure, some people resist this on so-called privacy concerns, but operators of commercial vehicles already have to deal with being recorded. Private vehicles pose the same hazards, hence should be subject to the same scrutiny as a condition for being allowed to operate on private roads.

  • Joe R.

    That’s 248 fatalities, thousands of life-changing injuries, and tens of thousands of less severe injuries. Then you also have the indirect health problems caused by vehicle air pollution. So yes, it’s a major, very costly health problem which needs to be fixed. We can argue about the particulars. I personally never felt speeding in and of itself was the primary cause of deaths/injuries but many here, and many in charge, take the simplistic approach that it is. That’s why I offered my solution to curb speeding. My prediction is if it were fully implemented, at best it would cut the carnage in half. I think more effective measures would be street redesign to make driving fast physically impossible, coupled with radical measures to reduce traffic volumes. It’s really traffic volumes which lead to antisocial driving behavior. Like many rats crowded in a cage, eventually self-interest takes over group cohesive, and the rats fight one another for every scrap of food. It’s no different when you have lots of vehicles on the road. Delays and obstacles are rampant. Drivers will think nothing of putting others in danger just to gain 20 feet, or to make the next traffic light, or to make that left turn before the gap closes. If we solve our traffic volume problems we’ll likely be 90% of the way there as far as reducing traffic violence.

  • The greater the speed, the less the reaction time. Therefore speeding, in an of itself, is a major problem.

    The best solution in a city setting is to engineer streets which discourage driving past a desired speed, such as 20 miles per hour.

    But even on highways that are built for high-speed travel, excessive speeding is a big problem which requires solutions that may be invasive.

    What is simplistic is to rely on the “85th percentile” dogma. In fact, the ideal speed limit is the one which the community wants to set. If the community decides that a limit below that level is appropriate, then it is justified in taking measures to enforce that level.

  • ahwr

    The roads are public not private.

    I went for a walk yesterday my GPS said I was going 7mph at one point. Biking I’ve had it log me north of 30mph on a ride that I don’t break 20 on. It’s not accurate near tall buildings, not for what you want to use it for.

  • Joe R.

    What brand? Not all GPSes are created equal. I’m using a Garmin eTrex Legend HCx: https://buy.garmin.com/en-US/US/on-the-trail/discontinued/etrex-legend-hcx/prod8701_010-00629-00.html

    If you’re using one in a phone, I question how good the GPSes in phones are compared to a dedicated unit like mine. I occasionally get strange readings, or no readings, when passing through tunnels or long underpasses but smart software would discard any readings when the signal was weak.

  • Joe R.

    Totally agree about engineering city streets to discourage high speeds. I’ve been saying we need to do that for a long time. The 85th percentile “dogma” as you call it still applies, except that the community decides what the 85th percentile is to be, then reengineers the street so the actual 85th percentile falls in the desired range. That gives us good speed limit compliance with little or no enforcement.

    As for highways, the problem is speed differential more than absolute speeds. If the speed limit is set properly (actually the 95th percentile is used on limited access highways, not the 85th) then by definition dangerous speeders (those going much faster than everyone else) are exceeding the speed limit, allowing law enforcement to focus on those people only. Also note on highways those going much slower than average are statistically more dangerous than speeders. Hence we need both minimum and maximum speed limits on highways.

  • Yes, even highways should ideally be designed so that the 85th percentile speed is the one that is the desired speed limit. But, when it comes to existing, already-built highways, it is frequently impossible to do such a retro-fit. In those instances, enforcing a lower limit, and punishing those drivers who refuse to adhere to it, is entirely fair.

  • Joe R.

    On highways though there’s really no need for a “desired”, legislated speed limit except in the minds of control freak legislators. You only need that on local streets with vulnerable users. When you legislate speed limits on highways which are lower than the safe travel speed on those highways, you decrease respect for ALL speed limits, and also for traffic laws in general. We saw that with the national 55 mph speed limit fiasco. Arguably we made driving habits much worse as drivers first assumed it was safe to ignore speed limits (including those which were set properly), and later on to start ignoring more traffic laws. I regularly see private sanitation trucks flying through red lights late nights where I live. They don’t even bother to slow down. I never saw stuff like that 30 years ago. If we want good compliance with traffic laws, then those laws need to make sense.

    Let’s keep the legislated speed limits for local streets only, and let’s gradually reengineer those streets so actual speeds match the speed limits. I want properly set speed limits on highways both to draw motorists away from local streets, and to increase respect for traffic laws in general. A speed limit in general should mean “it’s really dangerous to exceed this speed” not “you’re not allowed to drive faster than this because your representative feels this speed is dangerous”.