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Bicycle Infrastructure

Cops Stand by as Buses Block Bike Lane at Deadly Brooklyn Intersection

An Excellent Bus Service bus turns through the same intersection on Tuesday. Photo: Julianne Cuba

One day after the driver of a private charter bus killed 35-year-old Sarah Pitts at a notoriously dangerous Williamsburg corner, cops sat idling in their squad car as motorists parked in the bike lane and sped up to make the light through the same intersection — enraging friends of the victim who were across the street lighting candles and hanging flowers at a makeshift memorial.

Pitts is at least the 12th cyclist killed so far this year on the streets of New York City, and the 11th case in which safe bike infrastructure could have saved the cyclist's life.

"Just as every cyclist death is a tragedy, every cyclist death is also a policy failure," said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris. "All but one of the fatal crashes which claimed the lives of bicyclists this year took place on streets without protected bike lanes. These crashes could have been prevented, but safety has for too long been secondary to the convenience of drivers in New York City."

On Sept. 7, about 30 minutes after midnight, police say that Pitts — a prosecutor in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office who colleagues say dedicated her life to seeking justice — was fatally struck by the driver from Excellent Bus Service.

Cops say Pitts was traveling east on Wythe Avenue, where there are two lanes of traffic and a painted bike lane that’s routinely blocked by school buses in the largely Hasidic area, when she was hit by the massive charter bus, which was heading north on Williamsburg Street, likely onto the on-ramp of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

Just hours after Pitts’s bike lay mangled on the side of the road — with her water bottle and Black Lives Matter sign still fastened to its frame — police stationed at the corner on Tuesday afternoon refused to ticket the school buses blocking the Wythe Avenue bike lane. Friends say Pitts was heading home to Clinton Hill from a meeting with Riders For Rights, a group of cyclists fighting to protect protesters’ first-amendment rights, on the night she was killed.

Cops at the scene on Tuesday told Streetsblog they were there for a “Vision Zero thing,” but they were more focused on enforcement in the intersection and moving violations than on ticketing idling trucks and buses blocking the unprotected bike lane; they said that the school buses would leave soon, anyway, once the private yeshivas nearby let out for the day.

The NYPD's Collision Investigation Squad is investigating Pitts's death, but a law-enforcement source told Streetsblog that no criminality is suspected, citing video from the bus's dash cam that captured the fatal crash. Williamsburg News, which tweeted video and photographs from the scene of the fatal crash, reported that Pitts had gone through a red light.

But a review of seven of the upstate New York-based company’s plates found that its drivers have racked up a total of 28 violations since 2014, including five for going through red lights and four for speeding in school zones, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and How’s My Driving. 

In cases where a victim, defendant, or witness works for the DA’s office, like Pitts did, the District Attorney will refer the case to a special prosecutor, likely another district attorney in another borough. In Pitts's case, the Brooklyn District Attorney Office's new Street Safety Bureau, which was created two months ago in order to assist the NYPD, is supporting the investigation, according to Brooklyn District attorney spokesman Oren Yaniv.

Also at the scene on Tuesday were traffic re-constructionists from the firm SKE Forensic Consultant, who were collecting data and images of the area to be used in the case.

The area is known by cyclists as being horribly dangerous, because drivers speed onto the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and park in the bike lane with impunity.

Since August 2018, there have been a total of 126 crashes along Wythe Avenue between Keap and Heyward streets, causing 37 injuries, including to three cyclists and eight pedestrians, according to Crash Mapper.

An attorney for Excellent Bus Service told Streetsblog late Tuesday that the company is cooperating with the NYPD's investigation.

"The matter is pending under thorough investigation, and my clients are fully cooperating with NYPD and other transportation agencies," said Robert Margulies.

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