Eyes on the Street: Michael Collopy is Dead Because the City Failed Him

The chaotic intersection of 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue, where two people have been killed in the last two months. Photo: Julianne Cuba.
The chaotic intersection of 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue, where two people have been killed in the last two months. Photo: Julianne Cuba.

City officials are under fire following the death of a pedestrian after an apparent collision with a cyclist in Chelsea last month — but they’re being slammed not doing more to protect the most vulnerable road users at many poorly designed intersections in the city where cars are outnumbered yet get the vast majority of the roadway anyway.

Chelsea resident Michael Collopy, 60, is the second person to be killed there in two months — safe-street advocates and local pols warn he won’t be the last unless the city immediately does something to make it safer, like nix a lane of traffic, so that pedestrians and cyclists aren’t forced to squeeze into narrow pathways, said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents the area where the fatal crash occurred.

“What we need is better infrastructure and safer streets that make everyone safer, especially pedestrians and cyclists,” Johnson tweeted last week. “I want to see plans to improve this intersection immediately.”

His comments echo those of Hindy Schachter, who has every reason to be angry at cyclists after one killed her husband in 2014 — yet consistently blames bad road design for the continued violence on New York City streets.

“There are people who will talk about bad cyclists who whizz by them — sure let’s give that cyclist a ticket,” she told Streetsblog. “But the issue is not the few cyclist fatalities, the issue is the fatalities as a whole, the vast majority of which come from motor vehicles, and the solution is a totally different way of designing streets.”

The city should listen to her — especially at the chaotic intersection of Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street. Six cyclists, 18 pedestrians and 15 drivers have been injured at the intersection since January, 2016 — and it’s no wonder, given that the roadway has four through lanes for cars and two turning bays for drivers looking to go east or west on 23rd Street. That leaves very little room for pedestrians and cyclists.

Collopy’s death comes less than two months after a truck driver hit and killed 20-year-old Robyn Hightman on June 24 — video shows him lying severely injured on the ground just feet from Hightman’s ghost bike and makeshift memorial. Since then, several others within the same few blocks have just narrowly missed the same fate. And a woman pedestrian was critically injured last week by a car driver nearby.

Streetsblog visited the intersection of 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue on Friday at noon — around the same time Collopy was struck — and observed a sea of pedestrians trying to maneuver past cars and trucks, as some of the drivers inside them inched up into the crosswalk, selfishly forcing pedestrians to walk around and between their 3,000-pound machines.

Pedestrians are forced to walk around cars in the crosswalk at 23rd and Sixth Avenue. Photo: Julianne Cuba.
Pedestrians are forced to walk around cars in the crosswalk at 23rd and Sixth Avenue. Photo: Julianne Cuba.

In the span of one green light, Streetsblog counted about 25 vehicles heading north on Sixth Avenue. At about the same time, we counted roughly the same number of pedestrians crossing at just one of the four corners, and about a dozen cyclists.

One delivery cyclist said the intersection is havoc because it caters more to motorists than to pedestrians and other users of the public space. He criticized the city for creating only a tiny pedestrian island that separates the sidewalk from a row of traffic because the island is too small to accommodate all the users.

“This intersection is all set up wrong. The real problem is the island, it kind of incentives people to walk out and stand in the way,” said Gerardo Valencia. “They should really change it.”

Another pedestrian crossing the intersection said she regularly observes drivers invading her public space as they try to turn into the crosswalk, just as Streetsblog captured on camera.

“What’s really bad is when you’re allowed to walk and there’s other cars coming when I know it’s my right to cross and see another car just pass by,” said Conceptia Sulfrain.

Police had said that Collopy was struck by the unknown cyclist as he stood in the protected bike lane at Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street on July 31 — but the city medical examiner disputed an NYPD statement that the cyclist definitively caused Collopy’s death on Aug. 5. The investigation is ongoing.

“The ME has not yet made a determination (decided cause/manner of death) in this case,” said a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office.

But no matter what the exact events are that led to Collopy’s death, more must be done to protect pedestrians and cyclists, who are the most vulnerable people on New York City’s streets, said Transportation Alternative’s co-deputy director Marco Conner.

New York’s streets have been exceptionally bloody this year, with 130 road fatalities through Aug. 8 this year, up at least 20 percent from last year’s 108 over the same time frame. There have been 67 pedestrian deaths, up 15.5 percent from the 58 that had been killed by this point last year, and 18 cyclist deaths so far this year, up from eight by this point last year, an increase of 125 percent.

“All New Yorkers deserve safe streets and the ability to navigate our city without fear of injury and death. Every person killed on New York’s streets is one too many, regardless of the type of vehicle by which they’re struck. Michael Collopy’s death is a tragedy and could have been prevented,” said Connor.

The Department of Transportation says it will review the intersection for “potential improvements” as it does at every location where a fatal crash occurs, but did not comment on whether it would eliminate at least one of the lanes of traffic on Sixth Avenue to make room for more pedestrian and bike infrastructure.

Neither Mayor de Blasio’s so-called “Green Wave” bike-safety program nor his pedestrian-safety plan unveiled earlier this year includes any car-reduction strategies. In fact, under this mayor, driving by city employees has risen dramatically and the size of the city fleet has also grown by double-digits.

  • Vooch

    Traffic counts by Streetsblog (only one cycle)

    100 Pedestrians (very roughly) 73% of users
    25 Motor Vehicles 18%
    12 Cyclists 9%

    Roadway Width devoted to each mode (roughly)

    30% pedestrians
    70% Motor Vehicles
    7% Cyclists

    Net, Net
    Pedestrians should have at least 2.4 times more space alloacted
    Motor Vehicles should have 3/4 of their space reallocated to other users
    Cyclists should have 30% more space alloacted

    Translated into roadway width
    Pedestrians from 30′ feet to 72′ feet of width
    Motor Vehicles from 70′ to 18′ feet of width
    Cyclists from 7′ to 9′

    N.B. these are exceedingly crude figures based on a 100′ ROW, but I think everyone understands the reasoning behind the figures. Alloacte street space acording to demand. 🙂

  • Joe R.

    You need to take the speed of the user into account also. Remember there’s a safe following distance. For pedestrians this could be only a few inches but for comfortable walking I’d say about 5 feet is reasonable. For cyclists maybe 20 to 50 feet, depending upon speed. For motorists at prevailing traffic speeds, that’s typically about 50 feet.

    You also need to take the width of a lane of traffic for the user into account. For motorists it’s 10 feet, for bikes about 5 feet, for peds about 3 feet. Therefore, a motor vehicle requires about 10×50 = 500 square feet, a bike 5×35 = 175 square feet, and a pedestrian 3×5 = 15 square feet.

    Let’s correct the above figures based on the percentage of users to figure out the relative space allocation:

    0.18*500 = 90 square feet for motor vehicles
    0.09*175 = 15.75 square feet for cyclists
    0.73*15 = 10.95 square feet for pedestrians

    Total = 116.7 square feet

    Relative percentages of space for each mode:

    motor vehicles: 90/116.7 = 77.1%
    cyclists = 15.75/116.7 = 13.5%
    pedestrians = 10.95/116.7 = 9.4%

    At face value you would allocate 77 feet to motorists, 13.5 feet to bikes, and 9.5 feet to pedestrians. However, you also have to account for people entering/exiting buildings, as well as those who might be waiting on a corner to cross. Therefore, 15 feet of sidewalk on each side of the street is reasonable. That leaves 70 feet to be allocated between motor vehicles and bikes. If we give 13.5 feet to bikes, this leaves only 56.5 feet for motor vehicles. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the street can accommodate fewer motorists. They would just have to slow down enough so the average following distance is about 35 feet instead of 50 feet. That’s really the key.

    Note also none of this assumes loading zones or parking. Well, there should be no parking on major arterials. And if you install loading zones, it should come out of the space allocated to motor vehicles, not out of bike or ped space.

  • Vooch

    Joe,

    Why should efficient users be punished with less width ? Why should inefficient users be rewarded with more width ?

    If we have a shortage of capacity, then efficient users should be rewarded.

    Recalculate the carrying capacity of the widths which are based on current demand, I think you will see a yuge increase in carrying capacity of the street.

    🙂

  • Joe R.

    There are two ways to do it. I did it based on keeping the existing carrying capacity of each mode. The other way is to design the street to carry as many users as possible, with the caveat that in some cases there aren’t enough users to fill the space no matter what. For example, pedestrians are easily the most space efficient users but if you devoted the entire 100 foot width only to them it likely would be utilized to only a small fraction of its capacity. Based on what I see on Manhattan sidewalks, in most cases 15 feet is adequate, but there are some cases where you might to go 20 feet, and a few where you could even go to 25 or 30 feet. However, let’s use 20 feet on each side of the street. That leaves 60 feet for everything else. You would presumably want a bus lane since that can carry a lot of people. Now you have 50 feet. Add in a bidirectional bike lane with two lanes in each direction for safe passing. That would be about 20 feet wide. That leaves 30 feet. 10 feet of that should be reserved for a loading zone. Now you’re left with two general traffic lanes. Car traffic will eventually adjust so those lanes are moving most of the day.

    I think the way you did it you allowed way too much space for pedestrians (i.e. there would never be enough to fully take advantage of 72 feet of width, not enough for bikes, and not enough for motor vehicles. Regardless of whether we get rid of personal cars and taxis in Manhattan, we’re going to need buses, delivery trucks, emergency vehicles, and loading zones. Those combined are at least 30 feet.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Before saying what the city should do differently — or cyclists should do differently — or pedestrians should do differently — I really want to see a video.

  • Isaac B

    I knew Irv Schachter and admire Hindy (cycled with both in the past). And there are clearly problems with this street and most streets. And there’s no official word from the ME. And motorists are 100x more hazardous to people who walk. But if Streetsblog and the bicycle advocate community are conceding that a cyclist did hit Michael Collopy and contribute to his death (and is therefore the primary responsible party), then focusing on poor design of the street is a bad way to spin it.

  • thank you both for such thoughtful and top level thinking on this. would that anyone at DOT or NACTO had this level of perspective.

  • William Lawson

    I feel this article doesn’t do enough to point out that the NYPD has offered no evidence whatsoever that he was hit by a cyclist. I mean it’s not just that the medical examiner has disputed their claim, it’s also that there doesn’t seem to be one credible witness to confirm it, and not a single frame of camera footage. If he really HAD been hit by a cyclist at that location – which is always full of pedestrians – then we would have had multiple witnesses, a description of the cyclist etc. But no. And despite the fact that the location was almost certainly covered by at least one camera, they haven’t released any camera footage. If this really did happen, the NYPD would have been falling over themselves to seek out the footage and release it (even though they rarely do when peds & cyclists are hit by cars).

  • Vooch

    Joe,

    Love your thinking – all that time riding the Jitney cramming wasn’t wasted 🙂

    Pedestrains ? – let’s agree that 20′ each side is likely a decent Level of Service for Pedestrians. BUT…thats 20′ clear. You gotta subtract all the stuff that blocks pedestrian flow (signposts, planters, trees, street furniture, etc., etc. ) – Sight down those 6th AVE blocks and I betcha you’ll soon see that typically 8′ of the clear walking zone can be blocked and sometimes as much as 10′. Its shocking how much stuff is on our sidewalks.

    Soooooo. Let’s add 8′ on each side for stuff that gets put there. 20′ + 8′ equals 28′ each side or 56′ both sides.

    Bikes ? – I like your 13′ PBL number

    Motor Vehicles ? – remaining 31′ which is 72% more than the 18′ which is fair, but hey its all good.

    So we then have:
    56′ – Pedestrians
    13′ – PBL
    11′ – Bus Loading (plus loading zones)
    11′ – Exclusive Bus Lane
    9′ – Motor Traffic Lane

  • Vooch

    Rather than the Bike Viaduct – I’d much rather convert one lane of FDR/HRD (East Side) and Henry Hudson/12th Ave. (west side) for express cycling.

    Ditto for every parkway in the 5 boros.

  • Philip Neumann

    Really? Did you watch the video from the local news? Pedestrians jaywalking directly in front of cyclists who have the light — they don’t look up from their phones, they cross through the bike lane mid-block in several shots, without looking for oncoming traffic. I’d say the design, which the city has repeated across Manhattan, is flawed. Each street/avenue is unique and has different flows of pedestrians and cyclists, but it’s obvious from this universal design that the focus is on keeping cars moving (crowding of pedestrians on sidewalks be damned). If the DOT would venture out of their office bubble, they’d see the chaos they’ve tried to manage has actually just been redirected onto the sidewalks or the bike lanes or at every merging/turn lane.

  • Joe R.

    Right. All I saw was an interview with a street vendor, and his body language didn’t seem right. As a food vendor, doubtless he’s parked his food cart in bike lanes at times and had conflicts with cyclists because of it. As such, he’s not a reliable witness as he may just be using this as a chance to get back at cyclists by saying one was involved.

    There’s not one other witness, and no camera footage which I find odd. None of this should be taken as making light of the death of Mr. Collopy. He died from something. If it wasn’t a bike it could have been something else on that street, maybe even tripping on a street defect. The ME really needs to find the cause of death.

  • Ten Blocks

    Why aren’t traffic enforcement agents at this intersection at the very least?

  • Joe R.

    The evidence is at best tenuous that a cyclist was involved, although that still remains a possibility. That said, when one looks at the design of these PBLs, combined with the narrow sidewalks, it’s amazing that a lot more pedestrians (and cyclists) aren’t getting killed. It’s probably a testament to both at avoiding each other that things are as relatively safe as they are, given the poor design.

    And even if a cyclist was involved, it’s not a given they’re the primary responsible party. If a person on the sidewalk suddenly changes direction and walks out in front of a cyclist when the cyclist is a few feet away, there’s literally nothing they can do but look at the impending impact in slow motion. If cyclists had to anticipate that every person on the sidewalk might do this, they would need to travel at 5 mph. As such, there would be no point in even riding a bike instead of walking. On top of that, they are myriad other things a cyclist needs to watch out for, like turning vehicles, potholes, debris, etc. Given the workload, I can’t fault a cyclist who might miss a pedestrian who suddenly decides to veer into the bike lane.

    Anyway, regardless of what actually happened, this design is a clusterf*ck which will invite more such occurrences in the future. The city really needs to rethink things.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I used to ride by there. 6th Avenue is where I got a ticket for running a yellow light (the officers were behind the intersection and relying on the Walk/Don’t Walk sign, which turns red when the traffic signal turns yellow).

    And 14th Street is worse.

    I only started riding on 6th, and stopped going up Park Avenue South, because of the construction of One Vanderbilt. If I still worked in Midtown I’d probably have switched back to Park as soon as that building was finished.

  • Isaac B

    Streetsblog’s prior post on the death of Michael Collopy was that it was premature to say that a cyclist contributed in any way. Yet this essay’s lede “the death of a pedestrian after an apparent collision with a cyclist” hints at just that.

    If that’s Streetsblog’s position, it calls into question “due care” on the part of the cyclist, the same as we cyclists and walkers expect from motorists.

    As cyclists, we need to anticipate that people walking will do the unpredictable. If that means slowing down or, in some cases, dismounting, it needs to be done. Do we want to ticket walkers who wander into the bike lanes? Do we want fences and gates? Cyclists and walkers need to be allies and it does not feel like were fully there right now (and that’s to everyone’s detriment).

    And when something unavoidable happens, cyclists, who are more in touch with their environments than motorists, can be expected to stop, look, listen.

  • Joe R.

    No, we definitely should not ticket people who walk in bike lanes. That’s the pedestrian equivalent of ticketing cyclists who slow-roll red lights. However, a fence (except at crosswalks) isn’t a horrible idea. At crosswalks a cyclist should expect pedestrians, even if the cyclist has the green light, and exercise due care to avoid them. However, expecting them to do the same in between crosswalks is unrealistic. That’s why I support physical enforcement against pedestrian intrusions in between crosswalks.

    Ideally, the better answer is to take car lanes, and widen both sidewalks and bike lanes. I don’t see that happening any time soon.

  • Simon Phearson

    Streetsblog’s prior post on the death of Michael Collopy was that it was premature to say that a cyclist contributed in any way.

    Streetsblog’s journalistic standards have really plummeted as of late. The writers/editors here leap to conclusions and then almost immediately backpedal (no pun intended). I wouldn’t ascribe to them any particular position on what caused Collopy’s death, apart from wanting to promote the most clickbait-y version of events at any particular time.

    As cyclists, we need to anticipate that people walking will do the unpredictable. If that means slowing down or, in some cases, dismounting, it needs to be done.

    Same advice you’d give drivers?

    There are situations where cyclists ought to be especially on guard, sure. The bike lanes on the avenues in the whole Times Square/Penn Station corridor are among them. That said, we can’t be expected to be so hyper-aware and slow-moving that we’re able to come to full stops in order to avoid the most reckless pedestrians. That’s not safe for other riders, and it’s not reasonable to expect from cyclists. We don’t owe them a duty of care above and beyond any owed by drivers, just because we’re on bikes. Pedestrians need to observe their own legal obligations.

    Cyclists and walkers need to be allies and it does not feel like were fully there right now (and that’s to everyone’s detriment).

    You’re not talking about an “alliance” between cyclists and pedestrians. You’re talking about pedestrian priority, and cyclist deference. An “alliance” would look like pedestrians and cyclists respecting one another’s spaces. And I think I can say quite truthfully that pedestrians right now are far more likely to intrude on cycling infrastructure, with less awareness, than vice versa – and it seems clear, moreover, that they feel fully entitled to do so.

  • J C

    First sentence:

    “City officials are under fire following the death of a pedestrian after an apparent collision with a cyclist in Chelsea last month–”

    Collopy apparently collided with a bicycle? No, a bicycl hit Mr. Collopy hard enough to knock him down, and he smashed his head into the ground.

    Try dropping this false equivalence garbage.

    “after apparently being hit by a bicycle” could work were there not witnesses, but “apparently” isn’t really appropriate since witnesses saw him hit. So indeed the use of “apparently” is anti-pedestrian crap.

  • J C

    Because that would take such agents paying attention, I’ve seen them direct cars, stopped cars, to run red lights into a crosswalk with pedestrians in it. This was NOT simply signalling a car to go through the red at the end of a yellow.

    And as broader policy, the City ain’t real into caring about the dangers pedestrians face from “bikes” and bicycles.

    But such an agent probably wouldn’t do any harm.

  • Isaac B

    Same advice you’d give drivers?

    Yes.

    You’re not talking about an “alliance” between cyclists and pedestrians. You’re talking about pedestrian priority, and cyclist deference. An “alliance” would look like pedestrians and cyclists respecting one another’s spaces. And I think I can say quite truthfully that pedestrians right now are far more likely to intrude on cycling infrastructure, with less awareness, than vice versa – and it seems clear, moreover, that they feel fully entitled to do so.

    In NYC*, (IMHO) most people who bike also walk, but most people who walk don’t bike. (As a walker and cyclist, I advocate for both.) More people drive than bike and more people walk than bike. Plus, drivers have had decades of head-start spinning things in their favor. Their advocates can turn people who walk against people who bike and to a lesser extent, people who bike against people who walk. When a cyclist hits a walker, it’s always big news, and it does neither cyclists nor walkers any good, so let’s avoid it. We can’t prevent every crash. But when there’s a crowd, or people spilling into the street, or a narrow spot where cyclists and walkers mix, let’s be careful. I bike commute via the greenway. There are often walkers and runners in the path. Or there are narrow, mixed spots. I could yell or ring at the walkers, but then I’m just increasing ill will. So I anticipate erratic behavior and let it go.

    *(Outside NYC, people who bike are less likely to walk. They drive. They bike for fun. They might walk their dog, but that’s it.)

  • Simon Phearson

    Yes.

    It never ceases to amaze me how people will embrace absurdity rather than admit inconsistency.

    No one would reasonably expect drivers to act with the care you call on cyclists to exercise here.

    In NYC*, (IMHO)…

    I mean, this is all fascinating, really, but ultimately you haven’t done anything but add a lot of words to dress up a recommended servile deference shown by cyclists toward wayward pedestrians as an “alliance.”

    I’m not making a strategic point. Though that being said, I am skeptical that micro-action by cyclists could do anything to win pedestrians’ good will when infrastructure systematically puts those two constituencies into constant conflict. I’m polite towards pedestrians, too. I only “honk” at pedestrians whose actions very intentionally put me at risk. That doesn’t mean my efforts aren’t immediately forgotten by a pedestrian buzzed by a handful of cyclists running a red light.

    I don’t suppose, ultimately, that there’s any point to being unnecessarily rude or aggressive towards pedestrians. But you’re not calling on cyclists to behave safely around pedestrians. You’re recommending that we behave on cycling infrastructure the same way we would if we were riding directly on sidewalks. That’s stupid.

  • So a pedestrian was hit by a cyclist, but you want the blame to go to cars – not the cyclist?? This is the biggest problem; cyclists have become a very active and vocal group, and refuse to accept any responsibility whatsoever. Cyclists blow through red lights all day long, but the fault lies with the cars or the pedestrians – never the cyclists.

    There need to be crack downs on cyclists – and they need to continue no matter how much cyclists protest about it. There are so many cyclists now, they should have to have license plates on their bikes that get picked up on traffic cameras, and send them tickets when they run red lights.

  • Joe R.

    Of course you have the trolls coming in with the same nonsense whenever the topic is bikes:

    “Blah, blah, blah, don’t stop at red lights, blah, blah, blah, go through stop signs, blah, blah, blah, ride on sidewalks, blah, blah, blah, ride against traffic, blah, blah, blah, I’m almost hit at least ten times a day by cyclists, blah, blah, blah, should have licenses, registration, and insurance, etc.”

    Last I checked we don’t know for sure if Mr. Collopy even got hit by a bike, much less whether or the not the hypothetical cyclist actually did anything wrong.

    Even if we assume for a moment there was a cyclist, and he/she ran a red light, thereby making them 100% responsible, that’s not an excuse to punish all cyclists. Get the person responsible, punish them, end of story.

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