An Open Letter to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly

This letter originally appeared this month in Transportation Alternatives’ magazine, Reclaim. Author Steve Hindy is a member of the T.A. Board of
Directors. He and his wife, Ellen Foote, became
advocates of safer streets after their son Sam was
killed in a bicycle crash on the Manhattan Bridge
in 2007.

rasha_shamoon.jpgRasha Shamoon was struck riding her bike on Delancey and died of her injuries. NYPD failed to fully investigate the crash.

Dear Commissioner Kelly,

As you know, Mayor Bloomberg’s
PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New
York
calls for a range of projects to
improve mass transit, reduce congestion and
promote bicycling. The plans for transit may
be stymied or delayed by the recession, but
bicycling is booming in New York. DOT
Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is painting bike lanes all over town, and many commuters are switching from cars to bicycles
to save money, get in shape and reduce their
carbon footprint.

In 2008, bicycling in New York City grew
by 35%! The cycling boom means New
York’s Finest must recognize the rights of
bicyclists and accord them the same respect
that drivers of cars, trucks and buses receive.
A human being encased in two tons of steel
has the same moral weight as a human being
riding 25 pounds of steel, or one on foot.
A recent fatal crash indicates the extent to
which this is not now the case.

Early on August 6, 2008, Rasha Shamoon
was riding east on Delancey Street when she
was struck and killed by an SUV traveling
northbound on Bowery. Police interviewed
the 21-year-old driver and his two young
passengers who blamed the unconscious and
dying woman. No other witnesses were interviewed, even though several people reported
the crash to 911. No skid marks were measured. Remarkably, although the SUV driver
had six prior motor vehicle convictions, he
was allowed to leave the scene after giving a
statement. Shamoon, 31, a lecturer at Hunter
and City colleges, was the daughter of a physician who fled tyranny in Iraq in the late
1970s. She was by all accounts a wonderful
person and responsible bicyclist. Her bike
had front and back running lights and was
swathed in reflector tape.

There are many other examples.
As bicycling becomes more prevalent in
New York, police officers must thoroughly
and consistently investigate all crashes. Inconsistent and incomplete reporting undermines
efforts to improve the safety of city streets.
At the moment, crashes caused by negligent
drivers often are recorded in sketchy “aided
reports.” More detailed MV-104 reports are
only filed when there is physical contact
between cyclist and motor vehicle. This often
leaves injured cyclists with little recourse to
compensation.

Breathalyzer tests should be required for
all involved in a crash. Street
locations and conditions should
be noted so that data can be
gathered to improve safety and
prevent further crashes. Red
light and speed cameras should
be installed at dangerous intersections. The NYPD should
commit to a Vision Zero policy
for traffic fatalities, and thoroughly investigate all fatal
crashes to determine a formal
finding of cause and responsibility. Those in the wrong
should be fully prosecuted.
I recognize that cyclists also
have a responsibility to ride
safely. Transportation Alternatives is undertaking a new
campaign in 2009 to encourage
lawful riding on city streets,
starting in Brooklyn. “Biking
Rules in Brooklyn” will outline
the rules of the road for bicyclists.

I realize it is not the
NYPD’s problem, but I find
it sadly ironic that the District
Attorney goes on the warpath
when a handful of people die
in dramatic crane accidents in
Manhattan while more than
100 pedestrians and bicyclists
die on New York City streets
every year.

Over the past 20 years, the
NYPD has made amazing
progress in making the city
safer for its growing population. There is no
reason why a focus on the safety of bicyclists
and pedestrians should not be an objective
of the next 20 years. With the population
expected to increase by another million by
2030, bicycling will be a critical element of
that “Greener, Greater New York.”

Thanks,
Steve Hindy

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