TransAlt Leader: NYPD Must Stop Blaming Victims First

Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Ellen McDermott
Ellen McDermott

There were two fatalities on our streets on Wednesday: a young boy in Far Rockaway, and an adult cyclist in Borough Park. Cameron Brown was 7, and Pedro Tepozteco was 26.

A quote from the NYPD in the Streetsblog coverage of Tepozteco’s death struck me hard: “As the box truck was passing the bicyclist, the bicyclist fell into the side of the truck and was struck by the passenger side rear tires,” police said in a statement. In that sentence, all of the cyclist’s acts are active, and all of the driver’s are passive: the truck was passing, the bicyclist fell, the tires struck him.

On April 20, 2016, almost exactly three years ago, James Gregg was killed by an 18-wheeler, which was being operated illegally on Sixth Avenue in Park Slope. The immediate report from NYPD similarly exonerated the driver, as reported by Streetsblog: “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.’”

The next day, the NYPD changed its story somewhat, but still blamed Gregg for his own death. “Yesterday, police floated another theory: that the truck created a ‘wind force’ that sucked the bicycle underneath, which an NYPD spokesperson said is ‘normally what happens’ in these cases,” Gothamist reported.

Transportation Alternatives co–deputy director Marco Conner is quoted in that article, saying that, for that explanation to be plausible, the truck would have had to have been traveling at highway speeds, clearly illegal on Sixth Avenue. Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer who tweets under the handle @BicyclesOnly, is quoted, too.

“All too often in the crashes that I have looked at, there is very much a rush to judgment to say, ‘The cyclist did something wrong’ or ‘the pedestrian did something wrong and this was the cause,’ and not to look any further.… I have not seen the NYPD come out with a public announcement to the effect that this truck driver never should have been there. Why has that escaped them in their public statements? Don’t they understand that is absolutely devastating to Mr. Gregg’s survivors?”

The NYPD’s nearly automatic rush to exonerate the driver in the crash that killed Pedro Tepozteco is similarly devastating. It is technically against police procedure for officers to make these statements at the scene of a crash, but they do, persistently. Why isn’t the procedure followed? Victim-blaming by the police must stop.

Reporters who cover transportation in NYC are some of the best local journalists we have. … I trust these people to report on traffic violence fairly, and not allow the NYPD narrative to be the dominant one. But often crashes are covered by crime reporters, who routinely include the NYPD’s initial interpretation in stories. We need to reach them with Vaccaro’s message.

We’ve had great success in recent years with changing the language to “crash” not “accident.” But all too often, it seems that the NYPD’s culture is simply impervious to change.

If you have been a victim of traffic violence, or know someone who has, know that there is support available, through Families for Safe Streets.

Ellen McDermott is co-deputy director of Transportation Alternatives.

  • Joe R.

    Yesterday, police floated another theory: that the truck created a ‘wind force’ that sucked the bicycle underneath, which an NYPD spokesperson said is ‘normally what happens’ in these cases.

    Let me debunk this right now. Back when I was commuting to Princeton in the early 1980s I sometimes used to train watch at Princeton Junction. On occasion Amtrak trains skipped the station using tracks 1 and 4 (i.e. those nearest the platform), instead of the center tracks. The MAS in that location for tracks 1 and 4 was 110 mph. It was 125 mph for tracks 2 and 3. Never once did I see anyone in danger of being sucked under the train. If there was, Amtrak never would have run trains that fast next to the platform. Commuter railroads all over the country routinely have trains skipping stations next to the platform at 70, 80, sometimes even 100 mph. Again, if this caused people to get sucked under the train, they wouldn’t do it.

    On rural roads I was sometimes passed by trucks doing 50 or 60 mph. Never one did I feel I was in danger of being sucked underneath. Also, think about the laws of physics. Even if this was possible, it would take a certain amount of time for the bike being sucked in to actually move. By then the fast moving truck will have already passed.

    Mythbusters actually tested this:

    The verdict was no, it can’t happen. If anything, the force pushes you away from the train, not under it. Also, trucks on local streets are smaller than trains, plus they’re not moving anywhere near as fast.

  • Voter

    The mayor has been asked about this repeatedly and he refuses to do anything about it, which suggests he’s either okay with it or he’s a coward.

  • Komanoff

    Good stuff, Joe. But can you elucidate a bit as to why “if anything the force [of the passing train] pushes you away from the train, not under it”? Thanks.

  • Joe R.

    The train moving forwards displaces air. As it does so it creates positive and negative pressure zones around the train. The front of the train obviously is a high positive pressure zone. The sides are a lower positive pressure zone. The only place there is negative pressure (i.e. suction to a layperson) is towards the rear of the train, as air rushes back into the space formerly occupied by the train. Therefore, it might be possible to get sucked towards the train immediately after it passes, which in turn can cause a person to fall on the tracks, but it’s not possible to be sucked under the train as it’s passing. Here’s a good read on the aerodynamic forces:

    As the wake behind a train is turbulent, an object or person exposed to it will experience rapidly changing forces acting in a range of different directions. People waiting on platforms can be startled or lose their balance, causing them to fall and be injured. The gusts can blow dust, snow, and debris towards them, and loose items or equipment on the platform can be lifted or thrown about. Child strollers, wheelchairs and baggage carts can be pushed or overturned. Fatalities have occurred when child strollers were blown into the side of the train. The majority of serious incidents recorded in Europe were caused by freight trains running past platforms: they represent the worst case due to their poor aerodynamics, despite running at lower speed than HSTs. Nevertheless, it is important to limit the speed of non-stopping HSTs as they pass platforms.

    So yes, there can be deaths or injuries, but it’s mostly from things being blown around unpredictably as the train passes. None of this is really applicable to trucks, even at highway speeds. Trucks are much shorter than trains, and best case only move at perhaps 80 mph, generally less. On city streets there is zero probability of a cyclist being sucked under a truck, even if that truck might be going well over the speed limit. Of course, a cyclist can still be sideswiped by a truck, end up losing their balance, and get run over by the rear wheels. This has happened way too often in this city.

    As an aside, the whole topic of aerodynamics is something I find interesting to us cyclists. Most of the air drag we experience riding a bike is caused by us pulling along our wake, as the air flows back into the space we just occupied. That’s why something like a tail box on a bike can make it a few mph faster. It’s also why high-speed trains have a streamlined locomotive on both ends. When you apply aerodynamic principles to human power, the results can be amazing:

  • Vooch

    Might be interesting to calculate the wind force from a box truck driving at the city speed limit of 25 MPH.

    Betcha its nil.

  • Chaim Yankel

    If we licensed bicycles and riders the way we do motorcycles and enforced all traffic regulations equally, TransAlt would have a lot more creditability. As it is, the level of recklessness and ineptness on the part of cyclists makes most people wonder whether cyclists inadvertently contribute to their deaths. License everyone to ensure equal rights and responsibilities.

  • Joe R.

    NOBODY is going to jump through the hoops of licensing just to ride a fucking bicycle. You might as well license shoes for pedestrians because it makes about as much sense. Bicycle licensing schemes have failed miserably the few times and places they’ve been tried. They’re typically not enforced because the police have better things to do. If they were enforced, all they would accomplish is getting cyclists to stop riding, which seems to be the real goal of anyone proposing bicycle licensing.

    Also, generally the government requires licensing and training to do something dangerous. Driving a motor vehicle can be dangerous without proper training, that’s why we require licenses. The light weight and low speed of bicycles makes them a far lesser hazard than motor vehicles, so we don’t require licenses. If cyclists are so reckless, how come only a few people per decade die at the hands of cyclists in this city? Meanwhile, motorists kill over 200 annually.

  • Joe R.

    Just stand next to a traffic lane as trucks goes by. At best they blow your hair around a little. They certainly can’t suck a cyclist underneath. The police are really grasping at straws here, as well as betraying their ignorance of basic physics.

  • Komanoff

    Got it. Thanks Joe.

  • AJ75

    Why don’t they just put the bike lane between the sidewalk and the street parking area? Like have a marked lane for parking cars 4 feet (or however wide bike lanes are) from the curb.

  • AJ75

    “NOBODY is going to jump through the hoops of licensing just to ride a fucking bicycle.”

    Well, then they don’t get to ride a “fucking bicycle” on city streets. With traffic. Twit.

    “You might as well license shoes for pedestrians because it makes about as much sense.”

    Terrible analogy. Not remotely close to equivalent. Particularly because you’re not walking in the road. You’re not allowed to walk on highways. Pedestrians walk on the sidewalk in the city. Cars do not travel on them, however.

    “Driving a motor vehicle can be dangerous without proper training, that’s why we require licenses. ”

    Clearly, so is cycling.

  • AJ75

    “The only place there is negative pressure (i.e. suction to a layperson) is towards the rear of the train, as air rushes back into the space formerly occupied by the train.”

    And according to both the stories above, the cyclist was sucked into the rear wheels where the air would be starting to pull back in.

  • Joe R.

    Can’t happen. First of all, the negative pressure zone is behind the truck, not in front of the rear wheels. Second, speeds on city streets aren’t high enough for trucks to generate significant wind forces. Even at highway speeds the negative pressure is only high enough to cause a cyclist to correct their course. Learn some basic physics.

  • Joe R.

    Wrong. The statistics say cycling isn’t dangerous. Bicycle licensing isn’t happening for that reason. There’s no public safety benefit to doing so, plus it would create yet another expensive bureaucracy which would lose money.

    Motorists kill about 1000 times as many people in this city as bikes do. And this is despite the fact they’re licensed.

  • AJ75

    Can happen, and according to your own example. The negative pressure zone is behind the truck, but the air is going to be pulling back in toward the rear of the truck to fill it. Learn your own physics.

  • Steven Craig

    We need to license and register ALL vehicles period. The idea that a person with no knowledge of traffic regulations or even wearing minimum safety ( Helmet ) can enter the traffic system borders on the absurd. Perhaps, the NYPD will start seriously enforcing the laws on cyclists after the well reported incidents . Don’t hold your breath.

  • Steven Craig

    BRAVO, the revenue can go to fund the bike lanes and a chip in the bike can help recover if stolen AND be used to generate tickets to the owner for unlawful activity. A win/win

  • Steven Craig

    Again, BRAVO. We have all been intimidated enough by this lobby who only wants rights and funding BUT NO responsibility.

  • Joe R.

    I gave plenty of examples with links showing it’s not possible. And I didn’t give any examples to the contrary. You do know what behind the truck means, don’t you? That’s after the rear wheels pass. Even in the video of the cyclist being passed by the truck at 60 mph, he didn’t get sucked in under the rear wheels. He had to make a steering correction to avoid being pulled into the lane after the truck passed. Note that the speed of the truck was more than twice the legal speed limit on NYC streets, which means the wind forces were at least 4 or 5 times stronger (i.e. aerodynamic forces increase with the square of the speed). You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. I’m not going to waste my time arguing with an ignoramus.Talk to yourself.

  • Joe R.

    The trolls are out in force. Reported.

  • Joe R.

    Why are you posting the same crap under three names ( Steven Craig, AJ75, and Chaim Yankel )?

  • SBDriver

    Practically everyone enters the traffic system at a pretty young age as pedestrians. One does not have to drive to have a basic knowledge of traffic regulations, it’s generally learned at a young age.

  • SBDriver

    The fact that we let children ride bicycles but not drive cars says a lot about the potential danger and consequences posed by each of these modes of transportation.

  • Andy Stow

    “Pedestrians walk on the sidewalk in the city. Cars do not travel on them, however.”

    Cars hit people on the sidewalk, or cross the sidewalk and hit buildings, at least weekly in NYC. Often operated by licensed drivers.

  • Ali baba

    I didnt see any evidence of “victim blaming” in this article. If people get offended by the language used to describe an essentially straight forward incident that is their problem. It is not nypd’s responsibility to “soften” their description of an incident.

  • Joe R.

    “As the box truck was passing the bicyclist, the bicyclist fell into the side of the truck and was struck by the passenger side rear tires.”

    Sounds like victim blaming to me. They’re stating that a cyclist just happened to spontaneously fall as he was being passed by a truck. More likely, the truck passed too closely, sideswiped him, caused him to lose his balance and go under the rear tires. Exactly that happened when Dan Henegby was killed by a tour bus which passed him too closely in 2017.

    In reference to a similar incident three years ago, the police said this:

    “Yesterday, police floated another theory: that the truck created a ‘wind force’ that sucked the bicycle underneath, which an NYPD spokesperson said is ‘normally what happens’ in these cases.”

    While this is not victim blaming strictly speaking, it is an attempt to exonerate the truck driver by using a ridiculously implausible scenario (see my long posts elsewhere in this thread explaining that).

  • Isabella Chu

    License fees should be in proportion to road wear and tear. I believe the formula is $$/kg^4/100km. Speed is a factor too. I’d be delighted to register and pay if 1) motorists were charged proportionally to the size, weight and speed of their vehicle 2) insurance was also adjusted to the relative danger of vehicles. 3) Road use was adjusted accordingly. I expect when motorists start paying the true costs of their choice, bicycling and transit would see a boom unrivaled since the 1800s.

  • sockpuppet gonna sock

  • what up, sockpuppet?

  • you know what’s a win/win? when one fake persona agrees with another fake persona, but the personae (YEAH I TOOK LATIN MOTHERF*CKERS) are the same execrable piece of human garbage.

  • don’t respond to socky the sockpuppet

  • one troll. three names.

  • Joe R.

    Well, road wear is proportional to weight to the fourth power. A 2-ton car tears up the roads about 160,000 times as much as a 200 pound bike plus rider. Therefore, if we continued to charge motorists the same as now, a bike would have to pay well under one cent. That wouldn’t even cover the costs of processing the fee. Conversely, if we charged a bike enough to cover the overhead at the DMV, say, $50, a 2-ton car would be charged $8 million.

    Even if we charged proportional to weight, the 2-ton car would pay $1,000 under the latter scenario.

    You can make pretty much similar calculations for insurance. Either the amount bikes pay is negligible, not even enough to cover overhead, or motorists need to be charged many multiples of what they already are.

    You know what they say—don’t wish too hard for something. If we charged bikes enough to cover overhead, and drivers proportionally more, driving would easily become cost prohibitive.

  • Vooch

    It can not happen at 25 MPH.

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  • qrt145

    This is not victim blaming: this is blaming magical forces that make cyclist fall spontaneously.


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