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Cy Vance Wins Murder Conviction for East Village Sidewalk Killing

Shaun Martin killed Mohammed Akkas Ali and injured three other people when he sped onto an East Village sidewalk in 2013. Image: WNBC

Shaun Martin killed Mohammed Akkas Ali and injured three other people when he sped onto an East Village sidewalk in 2013. Image: WNBC

A driver who killed a man and injured two others on a Manhattan sidewalk was convicted of murder, District Attorney Cy Vance announced today.

Mohammed Akkas Ali. Photo via Daily News

Mohammed Akkas Ali. Photo via Daily News

Shaun Martin, who reportedly had a history of drunk driving, was high on PCP and methamphetamine when he tore through the East Village in a Nissan sedan at speeds exceeding 50 miles per hour on the morning of June 19, 2013, according to a Vance press release.

Martin drove onto the sidewalk at Second Avenue and Fourth Street, hitting a fire hydrant, a pay phone, a muni-meter, and a tree before striking Mohammed Akkas Ali and two other people who were working outside a corner grocery store.

Ali, 62, died from injuries sustained in the crash. His two coworkers were “seriously injured,” according to Vance. A fourth victim, a man on a bike, was injured by crash debris.

Vance charged Martin with second-degree murder and a number of other felonies, including two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, two counts of assault, four counts of aggravated vehicular assault, one count of reckless endangerment, and two counts of driving while ability impaired. Judge Melissa Jackson convicted Martin of all charges this week, following a bench trial, Vance’s office said.

Said Vance in a statement:

Read more…

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Maloney: Use L Train Shutdown to “Upgrade Our Bus Service”

New York City should use the impending L train shutdown to make long-term improvements to bus service, U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney said at a public forum last night.

Carolyn Maloney

Carolyn Maloney

To repair the Sandy-damaged L train tunnel under the East River, the MTA will either close the subway line west of Williamsburg entirely for 18 months or run it at 20 percent capacity for three years. A decision is expected in the next few months, but in either scenario, hundreds of thousands of people will need other ways to get around.

Maloney’s district encompasses both sides of the river. Speaking after an MTA presentation on the project to a joint meeting of Manhattan community boards 3 and 6, she said her Brooklyn constituents have made it clear they need answers as soon as possible.

“We can sort of grab this time to upgrade our bus service, which always needs to happen,” Maloney told the room. “A lot of times when you start a service, it never ends, you know, we hold onto it. You’ll get 30,000 people doing it every day, it’ll be impossible for them to cut it.”

More efficient bus service along 14th Street will be needed to make up for the loss of the L train. It would also help the tens of thousands of people who already ride buses in sluggish 14th Street traffic. Last week, Transportation Alternatives and the Riders Alliance launched a campaign to turn the corridor into a car-free “PeopleWay” dedicated solely to buses, biking, and walking.

MTA reps last night said that signal priority and dedicated bus lanes will be essential to keeping people moving, but that the city — not the transit authority — has the final say on the design of the street.

When TA volunteer Willow Stelzer asked about making 14th Street off-limits to private motor vehicles, New York City Transit Vice President for Government and Community Relations Lois Tendler said that MTA is working on a traffic study in cooperation with NYC DOT.

“I think there is a recognition that we all have to think bold,” Tendler said. “If, you know, out of lemons you make lemonade, 14th Street could be a very interesting proposition for the whole city.”

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Eyes on the Street: Pedestrians Get Room to Breathe at Astor Place

The new "Alamo Plaza" awaits the return of the "The Cube" and the installation of new planted trees. Photo: David Meyer

People can walk across the new “Alamo Plaza” without worrying about Astor Place traffic. Photo: David Meyer

"The Alamo," also known as "the Cube," in July 2013. Google Maps

The 2013 Street View of Alamo, also known as “The Cube,” and the chunk of Astor Place that’s been pedestrianized. Image: Google Maps

The redesign of Astor Place and Cooper Square, first unveiled in 2008, is nearly complete. The new layout greatly expands pedestrian space in an area with lots of foot traffic.

While some construction work is still in progress around the subway entrance between Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue, the rest of the sidewalk expansions are all but finished — missing only final landscaping touches.

The capstone will be the reinstallation of Alamo, the sculpture famously known as “The Cube,” which previously stood on a traffic island between Astor Place and 8th Street. When it returns in August, the sculpture won’t be surrounded by traffic on all sides, instead sitting squarely in “Alamo Plaza” thanks to the pedestrianization of one block of Astor Place. Read more…

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NYC Needs a Car-Free 14th Street When the L Closes — And When It Returns

In 2019, the L train west of Williamsburg will be shut down so the MTA can repair Sandy-related damage to subway tunnels under the East River. Hundreds of thousands of people will have to find other ways to get around, and there’s no conceivable way to do that without dedicating a lot of street space to buses, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Enter the “PeopleWay,” Transportation Alternatives’ concept for a 14th Street solely for transit, cycling, and walking. Yesterday staff and volunteers with TA and the Riders Alliance were out at Union Square making the case for the PeopleWay and gathering signatures for an overhaul of the street. The campaign calls for improvements to be made permanent after the L resumes full service.

Even with a fully functional L train, bus service on 14th Street carries more than 32,000 weekday trips. Car traffic slows them down and leads to unreliable service. Sidewalks are too crowded. Biking without protection next to cabs, trucks, and buses is terrifying.

Now add L train riders to the mix. On a typical day, 50,000 passengers make L train trips that start and end along 14th Street. Another 230,000 ride between Brooklyn and 14th Street. To help all these people get around without the train, optimizing 14th Street for the most spatially efficient modes of travel isn’t a choice so much as a necessity.

TA estimates that a redesign with dedicated bus lanes, protected bike lanes, and more pedestrian space can double the capacity of 14th Street.

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Brewer to DOT: Start Looking Into a Bus-Only 14th Street

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wants bus-only lanes on 14th Street. Photo: David Meyer

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wants the city to study making 14th Street car-free so buses can carry the load while the L train is shut down for repairs. Photo: David Meyer

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is calling on DOT to study making 14th Street a bus-only thoroughfare while L train service is disrupted during Sandy-related repairs.

To allow for urgently-needed fixes to the L train tunnel, the MTA is considering either a full shutdown of service between Bedford Avenue and Eighth Avenue for 18 months, or a three-year variation that preserves about 20 percent of current service. At a press event this morning, the Riders Alliance revealed that most L train riders who responded to an online survey prefer to get it over with in 18 months — a position the MTA seems to share.

In either case, said Riders Alliance Deputy Director Nick Sifuentes, the city and the MTA need to take steps to keep people moving: “No matter what the MTA does, a shutdown will profoundly change transportation options for commuters on both sides of the East River.” Sifuentes said survey respondents “called broadly for robust, supplementary bus service in Manhattan and Brooklyn.”

In the survey, respondents suggested bus lanes in both Brooklyn and Manhattan and along the Williamsburg Bridge, as well as a number of other measures, including Citi Bike expansion, more capacity for bicycling on the Williamsburg Bridge, increased service on nearby subway lines, and increased ferry service.

“The shutdown will not be easy, but a robust set of alternatives would reduce the pain,” said Kate Slevin of the Regional Plan Association. “For example, 14th Street could become reserved for buses, pedestrians and bikes, and the Williamsburg Bridge could offer dedicated bike and bus routes. The MTA and DOT need to be bold.”

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Vance Brings Rare Murder Charge Against Driver Who Killed Man on Sidewalk

Last June, according to prosecutors, 33-year-old Shaun Martin, under the influence of alcohol and drugs, got behind the wheel of a Nissan Altima and began speeding down Second Avenue in the East Village. At 4th Street, he veered across three lanes of traffic, jumped the curb and slammed into four people, including florist Mohammed Akkas Ali, who came out of a coma but later died, reportedly after removing his breathing tube.

Mohammed Akkas Ali, who died after a curb-jumping driver now facing murder charges crashed in the East Village. Photo via Daily News

Mohammed Akkas Ali was killed by a curb-jumping driver who now faces a murder charge. Photo via Daily News

Now, Martin has been charged with second-degree murder for Ali’s death, along with aggravated vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, reckless endangerment, driving while impaired by drugs, and other charges. Court documents say Martin, who according to DNAinfo has prior arrests for drunk driving and cocaine possession, was high on PCP and alcohol at the time of the crash. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance announced the charges this afternoon.

“The death of Mohammed Akkas Ali is a tragedy that could have been averted,” Vance said in a press release. “Intoxicated driving, whether by drugs or alcohol, is completely at odds with the prospect of making New York streets safe for pedestrians and drivers alike.”

Murder charges for traffic killings are rare, and prosecutors usually only apply them to impaired drivers or drivers fleeing police.

In 2011, Vance reduced second-degree murder charges against a driver fleeing police to a manslaughter plea, reportedly after the state’s highest court reversed a conviction in a similar case. The next year, another driver fleeing police pled guilty to a second-degree murder charge brought by Vance and received a sentence of 17 years to life in prison.

Because the driver in this case was impaired and his behavior was so extreme, the charges could stick. Last year, the state’s top court upheld the murder convictions of impaired drivers who displayed “depraved indifference for human life,” which is the standard that will be used in court to weigh Martin’s murder charge.

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NYPD and the Press Parrot Driver’s Account of Crash That Killed Lisa Julian

Yesterday’s fatal East Village crash is another example of how NYPD and the press blame deceased pedestrians and cyclists based mostly on the word of the drivers who killed them.

“Woman, 47, crossing against light in NoHo struck by car, killed on Thursday,” read the Daily News headline. But the only evidence presented that Lisa Julian was crossing against the light came from Oliver Parris, who hit her with an SUV as she crossed Third Avenue at St. Marks Place at around 6:30 a.m.

Lisa Julian. Photo via New York Post

Lisa Julian. Photo via New York Post

Here’s Parris, as quoted by the Daily News:

“I was trying to swerve from her and I couldn’t do it in time,” said Parris, who said that Julian was crossing against the light. Parris was on his way home from his job as a newspaper deliveryman at the time of the accident.

“She was walking,” he said. “I don’t think she was paying attention.”

And the Post:

“She was crossing against the light. I had a green light,” he said sadly.

“I tried to avoid her. I swerved.”

Julian was pronounced dead at Beth Israel hospital. “She was a loving, upbeat, and interesting person,” Alexander Rubinstein, the victim’s boyfriend, told the Post. “She was very happy. It’s tough to talk about her right now.”

Reporters for the Daily News, the Post, and DNAinfo take care to note that Parris was upset, and that he did not flee the scene. These details cast Parris in a sympathetic light, and are offered in lieu of critical analysis. Not only do reporters accept Parris’s word that it was Julian who disregarded the signal, they don’t question whether Parris himself was “paying attention,” though state law requires motorists to exercise due care to avoid running people over.

Assuming that Julian did cross against the signal raises other issues. If reports are correct that Parris was driving straight ahead, why didn’t he see Julian in the street in front of him? How close did he get before he saw her? Why did he have to swerve in the first place? This information is critical to determining how the crash occurred. While it may be too early to expect answers to all these questions, it’s also premature to accept the driver’s account as definitive.

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A Safer, Saner Lafayette Street Is on Its Way This Summer After CB 2 Vote

Under the plan, a buffered bike lane would be converted to a protected bike lane with pedestrian islands. Image: DOT

After a unanimous vote at its transportation committee earlier this month, Manhattan Community Board 2’s full board last night unanimously passed a resolution supporting an upgrade of the buffered bike lane on Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue to a protected bike lane. The project [PDF] runs from Spring Street to 14th Street and will include a northbound protected bike lane from Prince Street to 12th Street, pedestrian islands, and narrower car lanes to slow drivers.

The project is set to finish construction this summer. Crews have already started grinding pavement on Lafayette to repave the street, which currently has faded markings and a pockmarked surface.

At last night’s meeting, five people spoke in support of the plan, including Scott Hobbs, deputy director of the Union Square Partnership, and William Kelley, executive director of the Village Alliance BID. Transportation Alternatives also submitted a petition with signatures from nine business owners and 76 people on the street.

“We felt there were tremendous advantages,” transportation committee chair Shirley Secunda said of the plan, noting that it will keep the same number of car lanes while slowing drivers down, upgrading the bike lane, and improving signal timing at crosswalks. “Right now it’s in terrible, terrible shape and very unsafe,” she said. “It’s a tremendously wide street and the way the street will be reconfigured would allow for shorter crossings.”

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CB 2 Panel Unanimously Supports Lafayette-4th Avenue Protected Bike Lane

Under the plan, a buffered bike lane would be converted to a protected bike lane. Image: DOT

Under the plan, a buffered bike lane would be converted to a protected bike lane. Image: DOT

In a unanimous 9-0 vote last night, Manhattan Community Board 2’s transportation committee endorsed a DOT plan to upgrade a buffered bike lane on Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue to a parking-protected lane, complete with new pedestrian islands, car lanes of an appropriate width for the city, and improved signal timing for pedestrians. The plan now moves to CB 2’s full board meeting on March 20.

“We’re here as part of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero campaign,” DOT project manager Preston Johnson said, pointing to safety gains similar projects have yielded on other Manhattan avenues. “This is a project that fits in with that by improving safety for all road users.” From 2007-2011, he said, six pedestrians, one cyclist and five motor vehicle occupants were severely injured in crashes on this section of Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue.

The proposal [PDF] does not remove any car lanes, but instead narrows them on the avenues. Currently, lanes on Fourth Avenue feature a 14-foot-wide travel lane and a 21-foot-wide shared parking and moving lane. Under the plan, car lanes would be narrowed to 11 feet, with the right-hand lane on Lafayette slimming down to 10 feet.

“You really have a highway standard… which is inappropriate for this context,” Johnson said. “These moving lanes are just overly wide, and we’re able to repurpose that space more efficiently.”

Under the plan, the existing buffered bike lane, which ranges from nine to 11 feet wide on the left side of the street, will shift to the curb. Pedestrian islands will be added to the floating parking lane to shorten crossing distances, which are currently 71 feet on Fourth Avenue and 48 feet on Lafayette Street, curb-to-curb.

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Patchwork Upgrades Move Ahead as East Side Waits for Complete Greenway

The East River Greenway, stepchild of Manhattan’s bikeway network, currently consists of segments beneath, beside, and sometimes even above the FDR Drive. A report issued by New Yorkers for Parks yesterday acknowledged that East Siders awaiting a continuous path will have to wait decades before they can walk or bike on a full-length East River Greenway. In the meantime, an uncoordinated series of plans, studies, and development projects attempt to piece together sections of the route.

New Yorkers for Parks found East Siders could benefit from better access to the East River Greenway in four different surveys, but plans for its completion remain scattered. Map: NY4P

For its study, New Yorkers for Parks measured the quality of and access to open space in the council districts represented by Dan Garodnick and Jessica Lappin, who sponsored the survey.

New Yorkers for Parks has now completed four open space audits for neighborhoods from the Lower East Side [PDF] to East Harlem. Eastern parts of these neighborhoods, which are beyond easy walking distance from Central Park, “are situated along the East River Esplanade, which would better serve residents if it were more accessible, continuous, and well-maintained.”

“Anyone who has spent time in Hudson River Park knows that the benefits of a continuous esplanade are quite great,” NY4P Executive Director Holly Leicht told Streetsblog. The Hudson River Greenway is the busiest multi-use path in the nation, and a critical route for bike commuters. “It’s very broken up on the East Side. It’s very piecemeal,” Leicht said.

The East River waterfront has been the subject of numerous studies and plans. The Department of City Planning released its citywide Greenway Plan in 1993, the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway Master Plan in 2004 and a citywide waterfront plan in 2011. There have also been vision plans that look at smaller sections of the riverfront, from the Municipal Art Society, CIVITAS, Hunter College planning students, and 197-a plans from community boards that looked at Stuyvesant Cove [PDF] and the area beneath the Queensboro Bridge [PDF].

In addition, the Blueway Plan lays out a vision from 38th Street to the Brooklyn Bridge, and EDC is leading a planning process that could bring new sections of the greenway online block-by-block between 38th and 60th Streets from 2015 to 2024.

Even when projects make the jump from the pages of a planning document to reality, the result, for the time being, is still a patchwork. But a greenway becomes truly useful only when it is continuous. Will this patchwork coalesce over coming years to create a continuous route?

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