Outrage Over Pedestrian Death on Amsterdam Centers on Do-Nothing Community Board

Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

erica imasciani facebookHours after a pedestrian was run down and killed by a drugged up hit and run driver on Amsterdam Avenue, street safety advocates and at least one local politician knew where to focus the anger: on the uptown community board that has consistently blocked a redesign that would have made the speedway safer.

Police said that Erica Imbasciani, 26 (pictured right), was killed when Tyrik Cooper, 27, slammed his huge GMC Denali into her at 141st Street as he sped down Amsterdam late on Friday night. He fled the scene as Imbasciani died, crashing into another car, where he was finally caught by cops, the Daily News reported.

Cooper, of the Bronx, was charged on Saturday with vehicular manslaughter, leaving the scene, operating a motor vehicle impaired by drugs, and driving without a license.

Hours later, activists railed at the dangerous conditions on the roadway.

“Erica was killed on a stretch of Amsterdam Avenue where local residents and safe streets advocates have demanded a redesign that puts safety ahead of driver convenience — but Community Board 9 has stood squarely in the way,” Transportation Alternatives said in a statement. “While Council Member Mark Levine has long supported the redesign, Mayor de Blasio has still refused to act.”

The statement cited the roadway’s “wide span” that “encourages drivers to speed.”

“Amsterdam Avenue below 110th Street has been redesigned with pedestrian safety enhancements and protected bike lanes,” the statement continued. “Uptown communities like Hamilton Heights, where this crash took place, deserve the same safety treatments.”

Council Member Levine also called out local board members in a series of tweets.

Levine did not call out CB9 Chairwoman Carolyn Thompson by name, but others did. Last year, Streetsblog’s coverage of the board’s rejection of a DOT-backed street safety plan for Amsterdam between 110th and 162nd streets [PDF] clearly identified the main opponent of safety.

“All it’s going to do is slow traffic down,” Thompson said at a “town hall” meeting on the project. “Every time you say you’re taking out a lane, you’re slowing traffic down.”

Thompson had been presented with evidence that so-called “road diets” do not, in fact, slow down vehicular travel on a roadway, but she did not want to listen to facts.

“I don’t care what they’re saying,” she said, also ignoring statistics showing that 141 people were injured in the 19 months that she refused to move the project forward. “It slows traffic down.” Another CB 9 veteran, Ted Kovaleff, also objected publicly.

From left: CB 9 transportation chair Carolyn Thompson, vice chair Victor Edwards, and transportation committee member Ted Kovaleff. Photo: David Meyer
Opponents of safety: (from left) CB 9 transportation chairwoman Carolyn Thompson, vice chairman Victor Edwards, and transportation committee member Ted Kovaleff. Photo: David Meyer

Perhaps now that a person has been killed by a driver going too fast, Thompson may reconsider the advantages of roadways that make it more difficult to speed. Indeed, the TransAlt statement on the latest crash anticipated reactions like Thompson’s, reminding activists of the chain of events that occurred after Dorothy Bruns killed two children on Ninth Street in Park Slope just over a year ago.

Activists had also sought safety improvements on that street, but they had been delayed. Almost immediately after the crash, the Department of Transportation moved rapidly to add protected bike lanes and other safety measures — even though Bruns killed the children after driving through a red light.

“Although reckless driving was a factor in this particular crash, safe street designs can mitigate bad driver decisions,” TransAlt said, anticipating that some community members would argue that some crashes can’t be prevented. “That’s why Mayor de Blasio must instruct the Department of Transportation to redesign this street in a way that puts safety first. We’re not going to eliminate traffic deaths in New York City if we continue to let drivers steer Vision Zero.”

Forty three people have been killed on city streets so far this year — up 20 percent from the same point in 2018.

The Department of Transportation is under no obligation to listen to CB9’s rejection of the proposal. It could begin fixing Amsterdam Avenue whenever it wants. Commissioner Polly Trottenberg has recently been under fire from some Council Members for not moving faster on safety redesigns and deferring too much to local community boards.

The agency’s own statistics show that roadways that have been redesigned experience a double-digit drop in crashes and a 21-percent drop in injuries.

Thompson could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

  • PDiddy

    The community board members who have been fighting against the traffic calming measures need to be sued by Imbasciani’s family for negligence and stripped of their positions.

  • r

    The mayor bears the ultimate responsibility and has blood on his hands. So does Polly Trottenberg. Her department contains the experts and yet they deferred to a bunch of anti-change motoring zealots on a community board. Now a person is dead. Yeah, remove these people from the community board and from having any say over how street safety is managed, but let’s save the largest share of our anger for the motorhead in City Hall.

  • Nicholas L

    Drug policy, mental health and huge SUVs have a role here too. I feel self driving will not allow as many wrecks. We also need traffic calming and slower, safer streets.

  • Nicholas L

    I believe they should.

  • Jacob

    In DeBlasio’s NYC, it literally takes death to gain the political will to enact needed street safety improvements.

  • Daphna

    Mark Levine could appoint different people to Community Board 9. The Manhattan Borough President as a courtesy allows the city councilmember for the district to appoint half of the CB9 appointees. But Mark Levine and Gale Brewer, two politicians who advocate for safer street re-designs, consistently re-appoint CB9 members who block every possible street improvement.

  • Daphna

    The DOT does not need community board approval. The DOT is creating their own delays to implementation, and then ironically complaining about these self-created delays as if there is some requirement to get CB approval, by voluntarily seeking positive resolutions for plans from these groups of political appointees (CBs), many of whom do not represent their communities in a truthful way, but instead push for their own self interests.

  • Jeff

    a redesign that puts safety ahead of driver convenience

    The sad thing is that it’s not even “driver convenience”–it’s the _perception_ of driver convenience that wins over safety. 4 – 3 road diets organize traffic in a more consistent, predictable way, and reduce the friction that occurs when drivers have to go around those making left turns from the lefthand lane, and/or drivers double-parking in the righthand lane. As a result, average speed and throughput are more or less maintained (and, if you ask me, driver convenience is enhanced!).

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Operating a motor vehicle impaired by drugs.”

    Isn’t that about to be legalized? At least with regard to a drug that is non-addictive and impairing in any dose and quantity, we have been assured.

  • crazytrainmatt

    These 4->3 road diets have been going on for decades all over the country, and it’s amazing they need any sort of approval. If the CB wants to vote against turn bays, then DOT should prohibit all left and right turns and see how long that lasts. There are plenty more examples in the outer boroughs that should have been converted ages ago.

  • JK

    About 75% of households in CB9 do not have a car. Ted Kovaleff does, and he worries far more about parking and his weekend driving getaway to Vermont than he does about the health and welfare of his neighbors who walk and bike. This is same guy who opposed protected bike lanes on Riverside Drive. Term limits on CBs can’t start too soon.

  • AMH

    #banSUVs

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    “Isn’t that about to be legalized?” Answer: No.

  • Reader

    It’s also pretty convenient to get in fewer crashes and not be responsible for killing anyone.

  • jeff

    Mental health has a role here? As in, it’s not the driver’s fault – he’s the victim of an illness? What’s the name of the disease, “I-don’t-care-if-I-kill-somone-itis?”

    And drug policy? Right – it’s not the driver’s fault he was impaired by drugs. The policy did it to him – he’s a victim!

    Somebody ought to do a fundraiser for this poor driver. Buy him a new car. Give him an award for his bravery – it takes real character to persevere in the face of mental illness and drug policy and the trauma of a pedestrian ruining your Friday night fun.

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