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Incoming DOT Commissioner: ‘I Will Do More for Pedestrians and Cyclists’

6:57 PM EST on December 25, 2021

Incoming Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez sent a message by visiting the scene of Friday’s crash. Photo: Rodriguez’s office

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Incoming Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez promised in the wake of Friday's fatal Midtown crash to tackle the "pandemic of crashes" — and in doing so, perhaps signaled a new approach to communication and strategy for the incoming Adams administration.

Rodriguez also visited the scene of the crash.

"My priority on Day One as DOT Commissioner will be to increase pedestrian and cyclist safety by increasing the number of protected bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, redesigning intersections, and increasing automated enforcement technology," Rodriguez said in a statement on Saturday that reiterated an earlier promise to bolster 50 percent of the city's unprotected "protected" bike lanes.

The statement came one day after two people — a pedestrian and a cyclist — were killed by a truck driver on E. 61st Street in Manhattan, a crash that put an ugly punctuation mark on the bloodiest year of Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero initiative, one that was launched with great fanfare in February, 2014, and led to initial reductions in deaths that have been eclipsed by four years of rising deaths.

But Rodriguez suggested on Saturday that he will approach the problem more aggressively and more publicly. First, he issued a lengthy statement saying his DOT will do more to "curtail what are preventable deaths and serious injuries" — the kind of statement that DOT commissioners rarely issue. His visit to the crash scene is also something that sitting DOT commissioners don't typically do.

Indeed, after the death of 3-month-old Apolline Mong-Guillemin in September, Mayor-elect Eric Adams attended a vigil for her; DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman did not.

And Rodriguez also planned to attend a vigil at the site on Sunday.

Activists hailed the importance of even a symbolic gesture to a new approach.

"It’s a very good statement," said Ben Fried, the spokesman for TransitCenter. "If the Adams administration is going to get serious about reducing traffic violence, this is the type of message Ydanis has to deliver consistently and follow through on. He’s setting himself up well to make ambitious changes."

Eric McClure, the executive director of StreetsPAC, called Rodriguez's approach "a big and welcome change."

"Ydanis clearly has always been deeply affected by Families for Safe Streets and the pain that victims and their survivors have been put through, and I think he’s really taken it to heart," said McClure, whose political action committee did not endorse Eric Adams for mayor in the wide-open Democratic primary. "I think that visceral reaction to traffic violence will manifest in a new approach to trying to curb it, and I’m hopeful that he will be able to turn that sense of outrage and compassion into real action."

Rodriguez holds some debris from the crash.
Rodriguez holds some debris from the crash.
Rodriguez holds some debris from the crash.

Jon Orcutt of Bike New York also pointed out that Rodriguez sent a strong message by meeting with incoming NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell this week. "We're highly encouraged," Orcutt said.

Rodriguez's visit, of course, did not solve the mystery of what caused Friday's fatal crash.

According to police, at around 9:20 a.m. on Christmas Eve, the 66-year-old driver of a box truck mounted a curb, struck a fire hydrant, then cyclist Taurino Morales, 37, and pedestrian, Delfino Maceda, 46, before turning right onto Third Avenue.

But pictures and published reports tell a different, and conflicting story.

The Daily News reported that the driver claimed his gas pedal had gotten stuck. The paper also offered a detail that the driver's passenger, an unidentified 32-year-old man, had fallen out of the cab of the truck before the carnage.

The Post reported that the passenger had accidentally put the truck in gear when he got into the cab, but reported that the driver hit the gas instead of the brake. The paper's photos suggest that the driver did not "turn" onto Third Avenue but actually hit the hydrant near the corner, then the cyclist and then the pedestrian in a straight line, rather than a perpendicular turn, before ending the reign of terror midway up the block of Third Avenue between 61st and 62nd.

Both papers reported that the truck had gotten 271 parking violations over the past two years. The Daily News claimed the driver was arrested. The Post report does not provide that information, but a photo appears to show the driver in back-cuffs.

The deaths reminded Fried that all the positive words of an incoming DOT commissioner are meaningless if there is not action.

"At the outset of de Blasio’s first term, there was also a lot of optimism based on public statements about Vision Zero," he said. "The follow through on that turned out to be pretty incremental — City Hall’s actions didn’t match the message. So I’d be cautious about using today’s statement as a basis for comparison with previous DOT regimes. The real indicators are ahead of us."

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