UPDATE: Cyclist is Killed in Queens — The Sixth This Year

Photo: @licwalkers
Photo: @licwalkers

A cyclist was struck and killed on Borden Avenue in Long Island City on Thursday morning — on a stretch of roadway where locals demanded more protection for bicyclists and pedestrians.

An NYPD spokesman said cyclist Robert Spencer, 53, was traveling westbound on Borden Avenue at around 7:51 a.m. when he was struck by the 51-year-old driver of a Chevy Cruze, who was heading southbound on Second Street in the industrial part of the booming neighborhood. The driver of the Cruze remained on the scene.

Spencer was taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital, where he died.

“There are no charges at this time,” the spokesman said, “but the investigation is ongoing.”

Though the area is industrial, it is next to a new park and is quickly becoming a residential area. There is a protected bike lane on Second Street, but not on Borden, which is wide and dangerous. As such, residents of a building one block from the death site wrote to the city and their Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer demanding a two-way protected bike lane on Borden from Vernon Boulevard to the waterfront park and other safety measures “such as speed bumps, raised pedestrian crossings, etc.”

“The natural makeup of the long straight sections of road encourages reckless driving,” wrote the shareholders of the Murano, a condo building between Vernon and Fifth. “In addition to speeding, we have seen drivers failing to yield to pedestrians, in addition to numerous instances of double parking on a daily basis.”

Van Bramer, who helped get the park built, supported the local effort.

“In response to constituent concerns, I wrote a letter to the DOT on March 4, raising issues about this location and informing the DOT that I believe the residents’ requests for traffic calming measures, including a protected bike lane on Borden, are reasonable and should be pursued,” he told Streetsblog.

The unidentified cyclist would be the sixth death of a bicyclist so far this year. On Feb. 28, cyclist Aurilla Lawrence was killed by a hit-and-run driver who has not been caught.

In all of 2018, 10 cyclists were killed.

The crash site is in an industrial zone. Photo: @licwalkers
The crash site is in an industrial zone. Photo: @licwalkers

To put all the carnage in perspective, in 2018, there were 4,854 reported crashes in the 108th Precinct, or roughly 13 per day. Those crashes resulted in reported injuries to 84 cyclists, 169 pedestrians and 998 motorists, with one pedestrian and two motorists dying. Many other injuries were not reported.

In the wake of the crash, Transportation Alternatives’ Senior Director of Advocacy Tom DeVito issued a statement:

Borden Avenue connects the southern end of the Long Island City waterfront with the Vernon Boulevard business district and the Pulaski Bridge. The block where this crash occurred is the weak link in an otherwise protected bike lane network along Center Boulevard and 2nd Street.

Not satisfied with the “sharrows” in the New York City Department of Transportation’s current design, residents of a nearby building lobbied their local community board for protected bike lanes along Borden Avenue, but the community board refused to consider their request. The street should be redesigned without delay.

Even so, a piecemeal approach to redesigning known dangerous streets is no way to achieve Vision Zero. That’s why we’re calling on the City Council to take up the bill which would establish a “Vision Zero Street Design Standard,” a protocol designed to ensure that proven safety improvements on our streets are made as a matter of course with every redesign and not held up due to petty politics. The Vision Zero Design Standard bill has been debated for over a year and a half and, with 44 co-sponsors, has overwhelming support. There is no reason this shouldn’t be law already.

We’re on pace to see three times as many people killed while biking in 2019 than the total killed in 2018. We shouldn’t wait for people to die to fix our streets. Council Speaker Johnson and Mayor de Blasio must make passing the Vision Zero Street Design Standard legislation a top priority.

The Department of Transportation said in a statement that it has added “enhanced” crosswalks and painted curb extensions at Fifth Street from Borden Avenue to 46th Avenue, and also converted a portion of Fifth Street to a one-way street.

“With regards to this recent tragedy, DOT will look into potential safety enhancements at Borden Ave and Second Street, as we do following any fatality,” said spokeswoman Alana Morales.

The agency says it has bigger plans for a major street reconstruction in the Long Island City/Hunters Point area, though it is unclear when that will happen.

Story was updated at 5:10 p.m. to add a quote from the Department of Transportation.

  • Zero Vision

    What’s nuts here is that the Murano was probably required by city law to have parking when it was built. Meanwhile, there’s utterly zero planning or requirements for how these buildings and the people who live there will get around safely if they’re not in cars. This death could have been prevented had Mayor de Blasio had any kind of holistic vision about transportation and the future or if he even cared more about people than parking.

    Plus, we have one person on a bike dying every other week in 2019 so far! In what other area of society would City Hall or the NYPD accept this level of carnage?

  • Sankeferrin

    That whole newly developed area—while possessing some decent bike infrastructure—has very little throttle dealing with the cars in the area. Borden is absolutely terrible between Vernon and the entrance to the LIE, and utterly unrideable (and, I’d argue, unwalk-able due to cars parked on all the sidewalks) from there to Greenpoint Ave.

    Center Blvd is too wide and needs speed bumps at the very least on every block—asshole in cars blow up and down easily going 40+ MPH.

  • Elizabeth F

    Get ready for a bicycle ticketing blitz in LIC…

  • Simon Phearson

    Yeah, Borden gives me the heebie-jeebies. I don’t go down there.

    I also stay away from Center. You’re absolutely right that it’s a misengineered, too-wide street. I have no idea what they were thinking. A completely irresponsible piece of urban design, plopped right on the waterfront. I hate that whole neighborhood.

  • Larry Littlefield

    So they are saying the cyclist ran the light. I’ll await the video, but if it’s true that would explain why the NYPD reported it to Streetsblog.

    And by implication, we can make assumptions about cyclist and pedestrian deaths reported to MSM and drivers who leave the scene accordingly.

    Let’s say, for the sake of argument, the NYPD is right about this. How badly was the driver of the motor vehicle hurt? That should inform decisions — including street level decisions — about enforcement priorities.

  • AstoriaBlowin

    It’s like someone went to south Florida and thought this is what we need in NY! It’s awful, total waste of land also. The neighborhood could be much denser and more walkable, instead its towers in the park style garbage.

  • Simon Phearson

    That’s the perfect description. That is probably exactly what they were thinking. It’s supported by the fact that there’s this wasteland of parking garages right behind the towers.

    While LIC gets a lot of deserved snark, the waterfront is why I appreciate what they’re doing more inland. Lots of new development, plopped down in the middle of a neighborhood, radically transforming its character, much of it tax-subsidized. So yes, awful, awful, awful. But it’s coming to market over a longer stretch of time; there is more variety in the infill; and the chaotic street network is being preserved. There’s also a good mix of commercial/residential – maybe not enough, but better than on the waterfront. I am hopeful it might develop some character, eventually.

  • David Henri

    Robert Spencer, 53 is not an “unidentified cyclist”. Why isn’t the person who was operating the motor vehicle named?