Off-Route Semi Truck Driver Kills Cyclist in Park Slope [Updated]

Update: Times reporter Andy Newman tweeted a DCPI notice concerning this crash. NYPD identified the victim as 33-year-old James Gregg. Police say the truck driver and Gregg were traveling the same direction on Sixth Avenue when Gregg “collided into the rear tire of the tractor trailer.”

Update: Andy Newman tweeted a quote from police indicating the truck driver passed the cyclist, causing the collision. Also, I contacted National Retail Transportation, which operates the truck. When I explained why I was calling, the person who answered the phone said “I don’t know anything about that,” and transferred me to a customer service employee’s voicemail.

A truck driver killed a cyclist in Park Slope this morning.

The victim, a 33-year-old man, was riding on Sixth Avenue at Sterling Place when he was hit at around 8 a.m., according to the Daily News. Police had not released the victim’s name as of early this afternoon.

The truck was an 18-wheeler. Sixth Avenue at Sterling Place is a narrow neighborhood street. It’s not a truck route, but big rig drivers are a problem there.

Trucks longer than 55 feet are allowed on New York City streets with a permit, but only if the load is “non-divisible,” such as construction beams. A trailer carrying boxed or other loose cargo, like the one involved in this crash, would not be permitted on surface streets if the total truck length exceeds 55 feet.

Park Slope resident Rob Underwood says locals have tried for years to get the 78th Precinct to enforce truck route violations. As of March, the precinct had issued no truck route tickets in 2016, according to NYPD data. Precinct officers issued just five truck route citations last year.

Photo: Eric McClure
Photo: Eric McClure

Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek and reader Eric McClure were at the scene and spoke with police and witnesses. Naparstek said precinct cops were telling passersby that the victim was purposefully holding the side of the truck, as if to hitch a ride. But that also describes what a cyclist might do when passed by a large truck on a narrow street and is desperately trying to avoid being run over.

Cop chatter usually shapes the media narrative after a serious crash, and is often proven to be inaccurate.

Multiple sources have said the truck driver was wearing earbuds or a Bluetooth earpiece.

The NYPD spokesperson we talked with had little information on the crash. Police are still investigating, he said, and “no criminality” is suspected “at this time.” NYPD’s public information office did not have further details on the collision.

The victim of this crash was at least the fourth cyclist killed by a New York City driver in 2016, and the second killed in the last week. Three of the four deaths were in Brooklyn.

This morning’s crash occurred in the City Council district represented by Brad Lander.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I understand your point. In my mind though, accident doesn’t mean no fault, it means no intent:

    Every crash is a crash/collision.

    Most collisions are accidents in the sense that neither party intentionally crashed.

    Most accidents are one or both driver’s fault.

    The ones that aren’t accidents, where the driver intentionally crashed into someone/thing are attempted murder, basically.

  • Joe R.

    I could probably write a book about the subject of accidents/collisions/mishaps being that railroading is one of my hobbies. I’ve read more than my share of NTSB reports on railroad incidents. Maybe the term “incident” is better than either “accident” or “collision”. Usually when you investigate these things thoroughly, you’ll find somebody in the loop did something wrong. It’s not always the operator of the vehicle, either. It could be the maintenance staff, or the right-of-way maintainers, or even some random person. In general, almost nobody ever operates machinery with the intent to kill. It’s pretty obvious almost immediately when they do. Rather, these incidents tend to be caused by a combination of people failing to follow proper procedure, compounded by equipment which accepts erroneous input. Take for example the Amtrak incident near Philadelphia last year. The engineer entered a 50 mph curve at something like 106 mph. They’re still trying to figure out why but the incident also highlighted a fundamental problem with the system itself. There were no failsafes to prevent overspeed on that curve. Any system which depends solely on operators “doing what they’re supposed to do” is inherently unsafe. People aren’t perfect. They need backups for when they make the inevitable mistakes.

    When we apply all this to driving we can clearly see several problems:

    1) Driver training in this country is lax to the point of being criminal. If a highly trained locomotive engineer who had to qualify on a particular route before being allowed to operate a train on it could make a fundamental error then what about the millions of barely trained drivers on our roads?

    2) There are no failsafes to prevent unsafe operation of motor vehicles on most roads. We could have GPS speed limiting, especially on curves, collision avoidance detection, infrastructure which physically prevents unsafe speeds, retractable bollards to prevent passing red signals, and so forth.

    3) The mechanisms in place for determining the cause of collisions is faulty. At least when train or plane mishaps occur, the cause is throughly investigated, and measures are put in place to prevent a future similar incident. In the case of the Amtrak incident, PTC was installed on that curve to prevent overspeed.

    4) The reluctance to assign fault to vehicle operators for incidents, and an even greater reluctance to revoke the licenses of operators who have proven they’re simply incapable of driving safely.

    5) A lack of regular license recertification. This is required for every other type of heavy vehicle. Why we don’t periodically recertify motor vehicle operators is beyond me.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Some responses:

    1) Varies by state and area. NYC pass rate for the driving test is under 50%:
    And yet, it’s not like we have great drivers vs, say PA. May not be a direct correlation.

    2) These are coming. Auto braking on all new cars by 2020 or 2022. This issue is already ‘solved’ moving forward.

    3) Fault is usually determine d by the insurance companies after the fact. Which is why I use a dash cam.

    5) No resources for this: even to take a road test now you need to book about a month in advance, AND wait in la line of cars for about an hour until the instructor gets to you. Re-certifying everyone every few years? good luck. Periodic written tests maybe, but don’t know how much good that would do.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t read too much into the pass rate. Most drivers taking the test are trained by friends or family (i.e. amateurs). It’s no surprise then half would fail, even if it were an easy test. I’d like to see standards in place similar to pilot training. It should take many months of training to prepare for the test. Even then, the test should be rigorous enough so about half fail on their first try.

    As far as no resources for periodic retesting, that’s easily fixed by just charging enough for this retesting to cover expenses. There’s no rule that having a driver’s license should be easy or inexpensive. Also, combined with higher standards you’ll have a heck of a lot fewer people driving who would need to be retested. Yes, I know the auto industry will moan endlessly that their customer base just shrunk by perhaps 75%, but to me safety is more important than car sales. As I’ve said repeatedly, most people just plain can’t safely drive, nor should they. If self-driving cars eventually fix that, wonderful but for now we need higher licensing standards.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Having taken the test in NY at least; there’s nothing wrong with the test. The vast majority of people who are bad drivers do that by choice, not because they don’t know any better.

    I’ve driven in many places (germany, etc.) where the license process is like you describe; long, hard, expensive. No difference in the terrible behaviors I see on the road whatsoever. In fact, sometimes it’s worse. No matter how much training you have, if you text and drive, drink and drive, don’t wear seat belts, you’re going to have problems. Car ownership rate isn’t 25% of what it is here either. Their infrastructure is totally different though, (including more transit, smaller distances, and more reasonable speed rules on highways) and that’s the key to safety, not really education. Poor folks are more locked out of driving though because of this. Not sure I’m okay with that.

    Correct as to the self driving car part. That’s the future.

  • Joe R.

    You hit the nail on the head about making a choice to be a bad driver. That’s the one thing we don’t test for that we should-proper attitude. That’s why I favor much more difficult training and testing. It will weed out those who don’t really want to be good drivers. They’ll be unwilling to put the time in. One benefit to those willing to jump through the hoops of a harder test are the more reasonable rules you mention. Here in the US we make rules to the least common denominator. You have crazy low highway speed limits like 50 mph in NYC, or even only 65 mph on the Thruway. Speed limits of 120 to 160 kph (75 to 99 mph) are typical in Europe. Then you have the autobahn with no speed limit.

    There’s a fundamental difference though between here and places like Germany. You may see terrible driving behavior there, but how often? More importantly, it seems to me their behavior on local streets is a lot better than here. That’s all I really care about. If someone wants to drive like an asshole on a highway that’s fine. They can’t easily hurt anyone since everyone is protected by a metal shell. Another fundamental difference is when terrible behavior in these places leads to death or injury, often that person’s driving days are over. Here we have assigned risk pools to keep bad drivers on the road. We also have police who exonerate drivers shortly after arriving on scene.

    Poor folks are more locked out of driving though because of this. Not sure I’m okay with that.

    I’m fine with that for a bunch of reasons:

    1) It creates an inherent demand for more public transit by creating a captive audience. That in turn benefits everyone, including drivers, in the form of less road congestion. It also benefits middle class and the wealthy who now have good public transit as another option to get around.

    2) A car costs a huge percentage of income for a poor person on a low salary. Forced car ownership here in the US is one major factor preventing upward mobility. You’ll never get anywhere on that $12 an hour Walmart job paying car expenses. On the other hand, if you could bike to work all that car money could go right into savings or paying down debt.

    3) There’s a direct correlation between poor education/low intelligence/impulsiveness and poverty. The same deficits which often result in people being poor are the very things you need for safe driving. I’d feel much better knowing people who lack these skills can’t afford to drive at all.

  • reasonableexplanation

    “It will weed out those who don’t really want to be good drivers.”
    How? The vast majority of bad behavior isn’t something that can be caught on a test; like texting/drinking. I disagree with this.

    “You may see terrible driving behavior there, but how often? ”
    For Germany specifically, Very often. More often than in NY, less often than in other parts of the US.
    For places like spain, much more often; almost everyone was texting and driving there.
    In Europe I actually see a lot less terrible walking behavior than in NY. People will tut tut at you if you try to walk on a red light, and it seems nobody really darts out into traffic without looking like they do here.

    “We also have police who exonerate drivers shortly after arriving on scene.”
    That’s a local problem (NYPD, et. al) some places do this, some don’t, and some swing the other way and assign too much blame. It really varies by department)

    “It seems traffic is usually free-flowing, even in city centers.”
    Much like here, depends on the city. London is terrible, for example.

    “There’s a direct correlation between poor education/low intelligence/impulsiveness and poverty. The same deficits which often result in people being poor are the very things you need for safe driving.”
    Excluding the poor from an activity becuase, screw them, they’re probably dumb anyway is a really regressive, elitist way to look at the world, and I disagree with it strongly.

  • Joe R.

    The process of lengthy certification is what will weed out bad drivers. If you don’t take the idea of driving seriously, you won’t be willing to put in the time and money it takes to go through the process. More importantly, once you invest that time, you’re be less willing to jeopardize that license by doing something stupid.

    As far as excluding the poor, it’s not because we’re being elitist. Rather, it’s because they lack the financial resources to train properly to become a safe driver. They also lack the resources to properly maintain a vehicle. Who usually is driving rent-a-wrecks? Would you call excluding the poor from becoming pilots elitist also? There’s no valid need for anyone to drive. It’s an want, pure and simple. We’re not doing the poor any favors with lax driving and vehicle standards. It places them in danger, it places others in danger, plus it hurts them financially. The poor are already excluded financially from lots of activities. Do you consider that elitist? I’m all for doing things to help people get out of poverty so long as it doesn’t come at the expense of safety or quality of life. The best way to help the poor is to increase their mobility by providing them with more affordable means of transportation than private automobiles.

    BTW, London is a terrible, terrible example as far as driving. Their attitudes towards cars are much like in the US, although their licensing standards are a bit better. Japan probably has one of the most enlightened attitudes towards private cars. You need an off-street place to park before you can even own one.

  • Simon Phearson

    Which is more dangerous – owning the lane in front of a huge truck, or hugging the right side, giving the driver enough room that they think they can pass you? Isn’t the instant case instructive?

    There’s one street I ride on regularly where I consistently own the lane ahead of any large trucks. If I hear one coming up behind me, I move more emphatically toward the center. It makes me nervous, but no way am I going to invite them to pass by moving to the right. If they are threateningly aggressive, I’ll pull out of traffic altogether. But moving? Own the lane.

  • dporpentine

    You don’t “own” a lane in front of a vehicle like this. It’s stopping distance is guaranteed death unless it’s multiple car lengths behind you–which it can’t be and be on the same block as you, given it’s length. The options and odds are much better if you move out of the way.

    And the present instance is instructive of nothing at all–not least because we don’t now and never will know anything about what actually happened because there will be jack shit for an investigation. But if a sociopath wants to pass you, smash his rear tire into you, and invent a story about you grabbing onto the truck in some impossible way, that person can just as easily run you over and say you pulled out in front of him.

    All that said, here’s my conviction: I’m not going to second-guess cyclists killed by reckless drivers. I’ve made plenty of split-second decisions on a bike that, in retrospect, I realize were not the best idea. These include taking the lane and not taking a lane. But at the time–given that my life was being threatened–they seemed like the best option.

    I’ll leave the second-guessing for the “but was he wearing a helmet?” crowd.
    Nothing the cyclist could’ve done would’ve helped. A horrible human being driving a truck decided to drive where he shouldn’t have and that’s why it ended in death.

  • adarwinian

    Specialized tool: A tape longer that 55 feet. No problem.
    Officers who can actually read a measuring tape: Big problem.

  • the_big_bandicoot

    Whats the point having rules that are passed by local government for the safety of everyone, if the NYPD not only does not enforce the rules, but actually undermines it by blaming the victim when a truck kills someone?

  • new yorker

    It starts with having a Mayor able to stand up to the NYPD and clean house if they are unwilling to enforce the laws of the city.

  • Matt F

    It would be so cool if the mayor could hatch some sort of plan to reduce trafic-related deaths….you know, like a vision, all the way to 0 deaths.

  • Matt F

    but imagine how hard it must be for a trucker to illlegally drive down said street. He might damage a parked car. Much safer to stick the bike lane there.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    actually with a huge truck behind you, the only safe place is in the Middle of the lane i

  • Jonathan R

    I agree 100% with Dr. V; ride where you are most easily seen. Your argument about stopping distance is a straw man; why in hell would you be stopping in the middle of the street? Riding in the middle of the roadway gives you the most flexibility to avoid obstacles or poor road conditions. At the next red light, get out of the way of the following traffic and resume your journey.

  • dporpentine

    You could need to stop for ten million reasons, not least the terrible driving the of the vehicle that’s immediately in front of you.

    Anyway, glad to see everybody’s cool with shaming the dead cyclist.

  • Janeben

    I’m no fan of cops myself. However, I passed by the scene on my way to work ten minutes later and the (as yet uncovered) victim clearly did not have a helmet on. I am not blaming him in any way because the sheer size of the truck told me that it had no business being on that street at any point in time. The victim never stood a chance and I actually overheard an eyewitness describing what she saw to a police officer, and she gave the impression that the driver was more than a little reckless and that the cyclist was not at fault. In fact, she flagged down the driver immediately following the accident. The next morning, the police were pulling over other truck drivers. Let’s see how long that phenomenon lasts.

  • Joe R.

    This is an interesting discussion on taking the lane. I think it’s a gray area. My personal philosophy on cycling is to always leave myself an “out”. In a nutshell, I assume every road user will do the worst possible thing at the worst possible time. I need to plan for an escape route when that happens. I actually read this in a driving book but it’s probably more applicable to cycling.

    Getting to situations with big trucks, I tend to be more in your camp that it’s not a good idea to take the lane in front of one. However, I might do it only if I have an out. If the truck is far enough behind me that I can reach the next intersection and pull to the right to let it pass, then I might take the lane if that seems like the safer course. Before doing this I assume the worst case scenario, namely the driver decides to floor the accelerator the second I take the lane. Would I be able to accelerate rapidly enough in that case to get to the next intersection and go far to the right if that happens before the truck reaches me? If not, I don’t take the lane. I’ll never take the lane in front of any vehicle on a long bridge with no room. Might as well have a target on my back.

    I’m not going to second guess the cyclist here, either. He deserves better than that. The fact is the truck was banned from that street for good reason. The driver choose to ignore that rule. It cost someone their life.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    let them honk , take the Lane is a visible Option esoecially Since speed Limit is 25 MPH, and especially when taking weight Lane on 3-4 lane avenue.

    places I nearly always ride in Middle of lane:

    Broadway from 60th to 116th
    2nd Avenue from 65th to 33rd
    Crosstown streets – Essentially all One lane Crosstown streets
    72nd – CPW to RSD
    Chrystie – only Way to Avoid the hectic Zig zagging around double Parked trucks
    Fifth Avenue – 60th to where painted Lanes begin ( during Rush Hour will ride in Middle of One of the Middle Lanes from 57th to around 23rd by far the safest Option )
    Eigth Ave – Take the Lane at the PABT death trap

    Note – I ride a 45lb commuter style Bike rather slowly in normal street clothes.

  • Simon Phearson

    No one’s shaming everyone. I think almost everyone here understands that this driver is fully responsible for the cyclist’s death. All that we’re trying to do is process this tragedy so that we don’t end up featured in our own story on Streetsblog.

    Bottom line, my sense is that you’re more likely to be overtaken by a truck driver who mistakenly thinks he has the room than you are to be flattened by a truck driver who has to stop too suddenly. You’re also more likely to be doored or hit an unseen jaywalker riding toward the right than you are toward the center. There are lots of factors, and there are certainly situations where I might be disinclined to control the lane ahead of a big truck or bus (e.g., any avenue in Manhattan without a bike lane), but where I usually encounter truck drivers, it’s in circumstances where I need to do whatever I can to convince them that they can’t pass me until I reach an intersection or stretch of parking lane where I can pull out of traffic.

  • Joe R.

    I tend to avoid getting into situations where it’s even possible for a big truck to pass me before I get to a place where I can pull over. I’ll grant this situation may not be possible to avoid 100% of the time, but in my opinion it’s really the only safe course of action. From a cyclist’s perspective, there are few things more frightening than a big truck bearing down on you on a street where you have no place to go. If we designed our streets properly this would never happen.

  • neroden

    It should be illegal for the NYPD spokesperson to claim “no criminality” without an investigation. This is pre-judging the case in the media.

    “We have not completed investigations and cannot comment” would be suitable.

  • neroden

    Yep. “no criminality suspected” is prejudging the case and should be grounds for firing the spokesperson.

    In any case of a traffic crash, the *presumption* is that criminal activity happened, because it’s actually illegal to crash a motor vehicle on a public street. (Duh.)

  • the_big_bandicoot

    I don’t think its lack of will on DeBlasio’s part.

  • new yorker

    Then why silence from DeBlasio following this (and many other) similar incidents?

  • the_big_bandicoot

    Because when he criticized the cops all hell broke loose

  • HelenGretel6790

    Nice piece , BTW , you are requiring a WI 00-2011 , my business saw a blank document here

  • Brian McClernan

    Bikes are a hazard in Brooklyn and Queens most bike riders do not follow any laws. And it should be a stiff find for no front and rear lights at night like most don’t bother having. Disgrace

  • disqus_loe1KJxjUK

    Brian – please fuck off.

  • I have personally seen bicyclists grabbing onto trucks “hitching a ride” far more than once. What specific evidence do you have that this wasn’t the case in this accident, or are you just making stuff up trying to inflame the bike rider community?

    See what this bicyclist is doing? Let’s call this suicidal as there is zero chance that the biker involved can react in-time to avoid a crash in the event that the truck driver must brake. The truck driver can’t possibly see the bike rider where they are at either.

    I have personally blown a bicycle rear axle wheel bearing only doing 35 mph in my life too. What is going to happen to the bike rider when his rear wheel bearing explodes and his rear axle locks up? The car behind is going to run right over him with zero chance to react in-time to avoid him.

    Frankly if I am a cop and I see this, I arrest the bicyclist for reckless op. Figure at-least a $1000 fine.

  • How come NYC is exempt from US-DOT/FHWA laws governing Interstate freight? I am not in favor of that myself, NYC is the only US city that has exemption from Federal law governing Interstate truck operation.

    Basically if NYC can restrict the operation of heavy trucks which are legal to operate in the entire rest of the US, why doesn’t NYC force airlines using its airports to operate old propeller airliners as modern jetliners are too unsafe?


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