Horrified City Calls for Safe, Car-Free Broadway, But Mayor Says ‘Not at This Time’
5:21 PM EDT on June 21, 2022
“Not at this time."
Mayor Adams dashed residents' and workers' hopes of a new city push to pedestrianize Broadway in the wake of Monday's horrific crash, even as advocates doubled down on their calls for the slowly changing roadway to be finally rid of cars.
The mayor did not completely dismiss the idea that cars could eventually be fully banished from the pedestrian-filled Great White Way, but he's said he wasn't ready for that yet.
"I love open streets," he said at an unrelated press conference on Tuesday, one day after a cab driver struck a cyclist and then three more people on a sidewalk on Broadway at W. 29th Street. "Ydanis Rodriguez, our commissioner [will] come forward and tell me what’s the best way to do it. I love Times Square, that extra space we have. ... So he’s looking at if that’s one of our target areas.”
As Adams spoke, one of the city's foremost advocacy groups, Transportation Alternatives, called for him to continue to its logical end the city's ongoing "Broadway Vision" project, which has succeeded in fully pedestrianizing only six blocks of the 25 blocks of Broadway between Times and Union squares. Several other blocks have been redesigned as shared streets, meaning that car drivers are asked (but not required by law, by the way) to drive at 5 miles per hour alongside cyclists and pedestrians. The DOT has been working with area business improvement districts to create such configurations.
“Our streets are in crisis," said the group's executive director, Danny Harris. "We are demanding aggressive efforts to make New York City streets safe. Don’t waste time and resources with more studies. ... A car-free Broadway would have prevented this heinous crash.
“This was no accident," Harris continued. "This crash was entirely preventable. ... New York City has the tools to keep our streets safe. But when elected leaders hold back these tools or lack the political will to get these done, the consequences on our streets are horrific.”
Sara Lind, the policy director of Open Plans also called for "full pedestrianization of Broadway."
"Pedestrians and cyclists are in harm’s way because our streets force them to share space with reckless drivers and unmitigated vehicular traffic,” she added.
That harm is exacerbated by the fact that thousands of drivers remain on the roads despite driving records with repeated instances of recklessness. The taxi in Monday's crash amassed eight speed-camera violations and two red-light violations since November 2019, though it is unclear who the driver was. The Taxi and Limousine Commission told Streetsblog on Tuesday that the driver — whose name has not been released — was in good standing at the time of the crash. (The agency declined to answer other questions.)
In the aftermath of the crash, police officials suggested that the cyclist was at fault for pedaling his Citi Bike through a red light, and the mayor also said he was "disappointed to see the cyclist go through the red light." A video exclusively obtained by Streetsblog does suggest that the cyclist at least ran a yellow light, but also that the cab driver started moving before the light changed and for some reason did not see the bike rider directly in front of him.
In any event, Harris pointed out that the victim-blaming was misdirected.
"A cyclist did not hit and severely injure pedestrians," he said. "This heinous incident was caused by a driver, and made worse by an unsafe street without a concrete-protected bike lane. This bike rider, along with four pedestrians, now face life-altering injuries because the driver of a multi-ton vehicle barreled into them. These reports retraumatize victims and distract from the root cause of traffic violence on our streets.”
The few fully pedestrianized areas of Broadway do not include the block where the crash occurred — and area workers and residents want that to change immediately.
"Absolutely, it should be pedestrianized," said John Arnone, an area techie. "I am a big fan of how they shut down the streets [for cars] and made them just walking areas and sitting areas. It has a lot of benefits to pedestrian safety, but also has a lot of economic benefits because the restaurants can put [out] the seats and people go there to hang out, and then they'll grab a bite to eat, so it would boost the economy."
Arnone also pointed out that car-free streets are better for the general wellness of a city.
"Drive down the street here — nobody's getting out of these cars go into these shops," he said. "This is a walking city. So by leaning into a walking city, you will end up with a much more enjoyable and economically viable place. ... And with that, you make it more friendly to walk around."
Another area worker said Monday's crash was eminently avoidable.
"If they had had that [no cars as on Greeley Square] then this would have never happened," said Ma Dou. "The mayor should protect the streets from crashes. Plus, it would be cool, more social spaces for the people."
One area worker referred to the mayor's comments directly after the crash, when he suggested that crashes are simply "tragic events that can happen with vehicles, pedestrians and bikes all come together at the same time."
"If there aren't any cars, then there are no accidents," said Cyathonia, another worker who declined to give her surname. "They should make it no cars in the congested areas of Manhattan. ... It should be all of Midtown, the tourist areas."
As she spoke, workers for the Flatiron NoMad Partnership scrubbed blood off the sidewalk from the victims, all of whom remain in area hospitals, police said. One of the workers said it was just part of the job.
The business improvement district's president, James Mettham, issued a statement calling for more "life-saving pedestrian areas and fully protected bike lanes."
He added that his group has "an ongoing belief in streets that prioritize the enjoyment and safety of people."
In one footnote to Monday's crash, an initial report in the New York Times turned out to be false. The city’s Paper of Record reported that police had said they were investigating whether the driver suffered a “medical episode” that led to the crash — repeating a familiar claim used by authorities before in an attempt to absolve the driver of wrongdoing.
But on Tuesday, Det. Sophia Mason, a spokesperson for the NYPD, told Streetsblog she had no idea where that theory came from.
“I don't see anything that says medical condition, I don’t know where they got that from,” she said.
The skepticism and confusion over whether or not the driver had a medical episode has played out many times before. Most recently and notably after a fatal crash in Astoria in April 2021, when 37-year-old Xing Long Lin was killed by reckless driver, Maro Andrianou — who previously used the surname Yerolemou.
Like after the crash in Flatiron, cops in Astoria spun up a narrative that Andrianou had also suffered a “medical episode.” But her ex-husband refuted that claim about his former spouse, telling Streetsblog days later that his ex-wife’s physical health was perfectly fine.
“No she never had a medical condition. … No, it’s all lies,” he said at the time.
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