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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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Vance Charges Vehicular Assault for Terrifying East Village Curb-Jump Crash

A motorist who allegedly left a path of carnage and destruction in the East Village a month ago has been charged by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance with vehicular assault, a felony.

Scene of the crash that left Akkas Ali in a coma and injured two other pedestrians and a cyclist. Photo: Daily News

Shaun Martin, 32, of Bayside, was racing down Second Avenue in a Nissan sedan just before 7 a.m. on June 19 when he jumped a curb at E. Fourth Street and drove through a sidewalk stand in front of a bodega, striking three pedestrians and a cyclist, according to published reports.

The crash left Akkas Ali in a coma. Ali, 62, was at his flower stand outside the bodega when he was hit. Police and media said two other employees of the store were hurt, along with a man who was riding a Citi Bike.

Martin was charged with driving while intoxicated on the day of the crash, reports said. He was also charged with possession of PCP, according to online court records.

Court records show multiple charges were added on July 5: two counts of first degree vehicular assault, two counts of felony assault with serious injury, a felony count of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs, felony driving while ability impaired, and felony DWAI by drugs and alcohol.

Court records indicate Martin has a prior conviction under VTL 1192, the state code section that applies to driving under the influence.

Vehicular assault is a Class C felony, for which possible sentences range from probation to 15 years in prison. A cursory search for other cases shows that vehicular assault is often charged by city prosecutors following alleged DWI crashes that result in injury.

We will keep an eye on this case. In the meantime, a fund has been established to help Akkas Ali and his family, and residents of the crash-prone East Village have applied for a DOT slow zone.

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NYPD: Repeat Drunk Driver Hits Three Pedestrians and Cyclist in East Village

An intoxicated and speeding motorist with a history of drunk driving jumped a curb and slammed into a storefront in the East Village this morning, putting three pedestrians and a cyclist in the hospital, according to NYPD and published reports.

Just before 7 a.m., Shaun Martin of Bayside was barreling south on Second Avenue in a Nissan sedan at 75 mph when he jumped the curb and plowed through a sidewalk stand in front of a bodega at E. Fourth Street, reports said. Martin also reportedly struck a fire hydrant, a street sign, a loaded bike rack, and a tree.

The Daily News and the Post quoted a witness who said the driver was racing another motorist, but an NYPD spokesperson disputed that account, and said only one vehicle was involved in the crash.

Three employees of the store were hurt, police said, along with a man who was riding a Citi Bike. The Times reports that the three pedestrians were outside the bodega. One of the victims is a 62-year-old man who was hospitalized in critical condition.

“He was lying on the sidewalk,” said one witness, to the Daily News. “His body was covered with flowers. I didn’t see him moving.”

The Times reports that the cyclist was struck when the driver tried to move the car back onto the street, while the Post says the cyclist was hit by a flying fire hydrant. The Times says the cyclist is in stable condition at Bellevue, and police told DNAinfo his injuries were “non-life threatening.” On his Twitter feed, NYT police reporter J. David Goodman said the cyclist is 30 years old.

DNAinfo had this eyewitness account:

“I saw him plowing through the trees,” said Diana Kirk, 42, who was sitting on her fire escape on East 4th Street and Second Avenue when she saw the white sedan “swerving.”

“He flew down the sidewalk,”she added, saying she saw the driver take out the Citi Bike rider. “There was blood everywhere. I saw his legs all bloodied.”

Though the cyclist got up, he immediately collapsed as if “in shock” she said.

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Bike Lanes Mean Business

Photo: Andrew Hinderaker

The East Village and Lower East Side have seen new bike infrastructure flourish in the past few years, and now have some of the best city bicycling infrastructure in the country, including what will soon be the nation’s longest protected bike lanes on First and Second Avenues, several on-street bike corrals, and, coming next spring, bike-share stations blanketing the neighborhood.

The effects of these projects don’t go unnoticed. After a few years of living with streets that are safer for biking and walking, business owners have come to embrace the redesigns and appreciate their widespread benefits – calmer motor vehicle traffic, more space for pedestrians, and better visibility for all. To date, over 150 businesses, theaters, galleries, and community organizations in the East Village and Lower East Side have joined New York City’s first Bike Friendly Business District, and more are signing up every day.

When I started as an intern at Transportation Alternatives’ Bike Friendly Business program, the first business owner I spoke to was Doug Jaeger. Doug is the curator of JsX55, a gallery located on the Clinton Street bike lane in the Lower East Side. He kept thanking me for taking the time to help him request a bike rack and offered to hand out bike safety information to his customers. His response was typical of most business owners I’ve spoken to since.

Veselka’s Tom Birchard is effusive about all the bicyclists rolling by who stop in for a snack at his restaurant. “I never could have anticipated how great having bike lanes outside of Veselka would be,” Tom told me recently. “Thousands of people see my store every day that never would have before the lane went in.”

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TA Survey: Customers on Foot Bring Big Business to East Village Retailers

Among East Village shoppers, 95 percent arrive on foot, by bike or by transit. Image: Transportation Alternatives

On the heels of launching New York’s first “Bike Friendly Business District” in the East Village and Lower East Side, Transportation Alternatives has released a new study [PDF] showing that people who walk, bike and take transit to the East Village are local retailers’ best customers.

In a random survey of 420 East Village pedestrians, 95 percent of respondents said that they usually walk, bike or take transit to the neighborhood, with only 5 percent using a taxi or private automobile. TA asked respondents how often they visit the area and how much they usually spend per visit, using the replies to calculate how much each person typically spends per week in the area. The interesting patterns emerge when you segment that information by how the respondents got to the neighborhood. It shows that bicyclists and pedestrians are bigger spenders than those who arrive by taxi and car.

That’s because the people who come to the area most often typically arrive by bike or on foot. Nearly two-thirds of pedestrians and bicyclists – but only 44 percent of drivers – visited the area five or more times per week. Although the subway is the most popular way to get to the East Village, only a third of subway riders visited the area five or more times each week, reducing each rider’s spending impact at retailers.

TA staff and volunteers conducted the surveys during the morning, afternoon and evening on weekdays and weekends in July. Nearly three-quarters of respondents were Manhattan residents, with more than half coming from East Village zip codes. “Respondents skewed younger and male,” said TA, with 53 percent under age 35.

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The Case of the Condemned Bike Rack: Solved!

Earlier this week, East Village blogger EV Grieve posted the above picture of an Astor Place bike rack scheduled for removal. He surmised that the bike rack could have been on the way out to make room for the 55-dock bike-share station planned for the location, but fear not: No such personal bike vs. shared bike parking fight is going down.

According to a DOT spokesperson, the rack is being temporarily removed in order to make room for a Summer Streets activity station. The city’s marquee car-free streets event runs down Park Avenue and Lafayette Street and the open expanse that is Astor Place is a perfect spot to place attractions like a “Cyclo-Phone” and to hold some on-street sunrise salutations. The bike racks will be back after the final Summer Streets installment on August 18.

Streetsblog’s own theory about the not-quite-mysterious bike rack removal didn’t pan out either. The city’s plan to reclaim thousands of square feet of street space at Astor Place and Cooper Square, which was unanimously endorsed by the local community board last January, was supposed to be under construction by spring 2012. Neither DOT nor DDC responded to a Streetsblog inquiry on when the city would break ground on that major new pedestrian space.