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Years After Death of Ariel Russo, NYPD Chases Still Injuring and Killing People

Last week Franklin Reyes was sentenced to three to nine years in prison for the death of 4-year-old Ariel Russo.

NYPD pursuits have killed at least one person since the 2013 death of Ariel Russo, and injured an unknown number of other people.

NYPD pursuits have killed at least one person since the 2013 death of Ariel Russo, and injured an unknown number of bystanders and police.

Police pulled Reyes over on W. 89th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues, on June 4, 2013, after he drove his family’s pick-up truck across several lanes to make a turn. As officers walked toward the truck, Reyes, who was 17 and did not have a drivers license, hit the gas.

Police chased Reyes for eight blocks until he crashed onto the sidewalk at Amsterdam and W. 97th Street, where Ariel and her grandmother, Katia Gutierrez, were walking to Ariel’s school. Reyes hit them both, killing Ariel and injuring Gutierrez.

NYPD vehicle pursuits that result in death typically lead to serious charges for the people being chased. According to court records, Reyes pled guilty to manslaughter, assault, and two counts of fleeing police — all felonies. Gothamist reports that he was sentenced Friday.

“Ariel died a violent death because of your reckless behavior and you have not apologized,” said Sofia Russo, Ariel’s mother, in court. “You have shown no remorse.”

Nor has NYPD stopped engaging in car chases. NYPD policy says “a vehicle pursuit be terminated whenever the risks to uniformed members of the service and the public outweigh the danger to the community.” As in the case of Ariel Russo, and Karen Schmeer, and Violetta Kryzak, and Mary Celine Graham, many times a pursuit doesn’t end until the suspect crashes. In the wake of Ariel’s death, NYPD chases are still injuring and killing people.

NYPD hides police crash data from the public, so we don’t know exactly how much injury, loss of life, and property damage is caused every year due in part to the department’s open-ended pursuit policy. Stories about police pursuits that lead to injuries still surface regularly in the press. In March 2015 an unlicensed driver attempting to evade police killed Dave Jones on a sidewalk in Crown Heights.

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Amsterdam Ave Protected Bike Lane Finally Happening After 28-13 CB 7 Vote

Hundreds of people packed into Goddard Riverside Community Center last night to speak out in favor of DOT's proposed redesign of Amsterdam Avenue. Image: Luke Ohlson/Transportation Alternatives" width="529" height="397" /></a> Hundreds of people packed into Goddard Riverside Community Center last night to speak out in favor of DOT's proposed redesign of Amsterdam Avenue. Photo: Luke Ohlson/Transportation Alternatives

Hundreds of people packed into Goddard Riverside Community Center last night, most to speak in favor of DOT’s proposed redesign of Amsterdam Avenue. About a hundred more were denied entry because the venue reached capacity. Photo: Luke Ohlson

By a count of 28 in favor and 13 opposed, Manhattan Community Board 7 voted last night to endorse DOT’s plan for a protected bike lane along Amsterdam Avenue from 72nd Street to 110th Street. The vote affirmed a safety project that Upper West Siders have worked toward for several years, but the meeting itself devolved into farce, with some board members making a last-minute attempt to stop the redesign despite the long public process, endorsements from major elected officials, and the large crowd who turned out to support it.

More than 200 people packed the meeting room at Goddard Riverside Community Center, the vast majority in favor of the project. With a larger meeting room, the crowd would have been a lot larger — at least 100 people were denied entry after the room reached capacity.

DOT’s plan would calm traffic on Amsterdam Avenue by replacing a general traffic lane with a parking-protected bike lane and concrete pedestrian islands [PDF]. With four northbound moving lanes, Amsterdam’s current design leads to dangerous speeding and higher-than-average injury rates. The bike lane would provide a safe northbound complement to the southbound protected lane on Columbus Avenue. The project is on track to be implemented in the spring.

Local City Council members Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine spoke in favor of the project last night. But some board members appointed by Rosenthal and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer did their best to stop it.

In a ploy to prevent any change, former CB 7 Chair Sheldon Fine proposed a substitute resolution that called on DOT to address safety on Amsterdam Avenue without the protected bike lane. The resolution requested that DOT instead make the Columbus Avenue bike lane two-way, a design that doesn’t exist on any wide NYC avenue with frequent intersections and would introduce new conflict points between turning drivers and northbound cyclists. Fine argued that this wouldn’t amount to tossing several previous CB 7 votes out the window, but most people on the board weren’t buying it.

“This conversation has been going on for five years,” board member Mel Wymore told Fine. “What you’re proposing is first of all sandbagging a two-year process and secondly, the DOT had already told us that what you’re proposing would not be the safety improvements that we’re asking for here. We need a good bike lane not for the bikes, but to calm the traffic and save lives.”

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Why Arguments Against the Amsterdam Protected Bike Lane Don’t Hold Up

Tomorrow night, CB 7 will vote on whether to endorse DOT's proposal for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue from 72nd Street to 110th Street. Image: DOT

Tonight, CB 7 will vote on DOT’s proposal for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue from 72nd Street to 110th Street [PDF]. Image: DOT

This is the day Manhattan Community Board 7 will finally vote on DOT’s redesign of Amsterdam Avenue from 72nd Street to 110th Street, which will calm traffic and bring safety improvements — including a protected bike lane — to what is now a surface speedway cutting through the heart of the Upper West Side. It’s been a long time coming: CB 7 first asked DOT to design a protected bike lane for Amsterdam in 2009, and local residents have been asking for safety improvements longer than that.

The case for a protected bike lane and pedestrian refuges is clear. Despite serving as a neighborhood main street, Amsterdam is currently designed like a highway, with four northbound travel lanes that encourage speeding. From 2009 to 2013, two people were killed and another 36 severely injured along the project’s length, according to DOT. Just last month, on January 18, 73-year-old sculptor Thomas McAnulty was killed by a motorcyclist while walking across Amsterdam at 96th Street. Protected bike lanes are proven to reduce fatalities and severe injuries, and the neighborhood currently lacks a northbound complement to the bike lane on Columbus Avenue.

Thousands of residents and hundreds of businesses and neighborhood groups have signed on in support of redesigning Amsterdam, but opponents of the project are still trying to undermine it ahead of tonight’s vote. Here’s a look at why their arguments don’t hold up.

The safety argument. Bizarrely, CB 7 transportation committee co-chair Dan Zweig has argued that a protected bike lane on Amsterdam will make the street less safe, because removing parking spaces will expose pedestrians to drivers who fly onto the sidewalk. The truth is that the same basic design strategies the city is proposing for Amsterdam have reduced injuries by an average of 20 percent on the Manhattan avenues where they’ve been installed. Adding the bikeway will narrow the roadway, reducing the prevalence of speeding, and adding pedestrian refuges will shorten crossing distances for pedestrians while leading drivers to take turns more carefully. New York knows from experience that these changes save lives.

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Levine to CB 7: Support the Amsterdam Avenue Protected Bike Lane

Next Tuesday, Community Board 7 is slated to vote on the Amsterdam Avenue protected bike lane, and Council Member Mark Levine wants to be crystal clear: The street needs a redesign that includes a protected bike lane.

In a letter sent to CB 7 members today, Levine makes the case that by shortening crossing distances, reducing speeding, and adding a protected bike lane, DOT’s plan will bring Amsterdam Avenue “to a neighborhood scale,” making it safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicle occupants.

Council Member Mark Levine. Photo: William Alatriste

Council Member Mark Levine. Photo: William Alatriste

“The current design fails to meet the needs of the community and all users of this critical corridor, and poses a persistent threat to the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike,” Levine writes.

Levine represents the northern part of the project area, which goes from 72nd Street to 110th Street. Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who represents the rest of the project area, is also on the record supporting a protected bike lane for Amsterdam.

Earlier this month, the CB 7 transportation committee failed to endorse a resolution supporting DOT’s proposal, splitting 4-4. The two committee chairs, Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert, have consistently opposed street redesign efforts in the neighborhood since the 1990s.

The protected bike lane plan enjoys wide support among Upper West Side residents and business owners. Transportation Alternatives’ People First on Amsterdam Avenue campaign has collected 3,500 signatures and endorsement letters from more than 200 business along the corridor.

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Parks Department Proposes 9-Block Bike Detour on Hudson River Greenway

A Park Department proposal could prohibit cyclists from biking along the west side waterfront between 73rd Street and 82nd Street. Image: Flickr

The Parks Department is proposing to shunt cyclists away from this waterfront section of the Hudson River Greenway between 73rd Street and 82nd Street. Photo: Howard Brier/Flickr

Cyclists could be forced to take a winding, hilly detour away from the Hudson River Greenway between 73rd Street and 82nd Street, thanks to a proposal from the Parks Department that has the support of Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

As DNAinfo reported, Parks landscape architect Margaret Bracken presented the plan at Monday’s Manhattan Community Board 7 meeting. The proposal emerged from last year’s participatory budgeting process, which allocated $200,000 to reducing conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians on that part of the greenway. Overcrowding is a concern during the summer months, when usage increases dramatically.

CB 7 member Ken Coughlin said the participatory budgeting plan only intended the alternate bike route for “high-traffic summer months” [PDF]. Now, Coughlin and other people who bike on the greenway are concerned the detour will force cyclists into dark, steep paths that could be especially unsafe during the colder parts of the year.

Brachen and representatives from Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s office told attendees at Monday’s meeting that they did not want to have inconsistent rules guiding usage of the path. “My response to that is they’re taking a sometime problem and applying an all-the-time solution that puts cyclists at risk,” Coughlin told Streetsblog. “I only agreed to be an advocate for [the plan] on the condition that it would be seasonal. The crowding on the path is only a real problem during the summer and during the day.”

A Parks Department spokesperson argued that the new bike route “will not be a detour” because it will run parallel to the greenway. “The safety of all parkgoers is a top priority for NYC Parks,” Parks Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro said in an email statement to Streetsblog. “Working with cycling advocates, we are happy to move forward with adding additional pathway to The Hudson River Greenway so to better accommodate cycling traffic on this popular Manhattan destination.”

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CB 7 Members, Upper West Siders Back Amsterdam Ave Protected Bikeway

Image: DOT

The room was packed last night for DOT’s long-awaited plan for a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands on Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side [PDF], with about 120 people turning out at the Manhattan Community Board 7 transportation committee meeting. Most residents and committee members praised the plan, though no vote was held. DOT says it could implement the redesign between 72nd Street and 110th Street as soon as next spring.

The plan calls for a protected bike lane on the left side of the street, as well as pedestrian islands and various left turn treatments, including dedicated bike signals and motor vehicle turn bays at 79th Street, 86th Street and 96th Street. One motor vehicle lane and about 25 percent of the corridor’s on-street parking spaces would be repurposed.

With four motor vehicle moving lanes, Amsterdam is not designed like a neighborhood street. There were 513 traffic injuries, including 36 severe injuries, and two fatalities on the street between 2009 and 2013. When it’s not rush hour, 59 percent of drivers exceed the speed limit. Local residents have mobilized for many years to get the city to improve safety on Amsterdam. In July, CB 7 voted for the third time in six years to request action from the city on a protected bike lane on the street.

Despite those votes, transportation committee co-chairs Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert have consistently tried to stall street safety initiatives. At last night’s meeting, Zweig and Albert stayed mostly quiet while their fellow committee members expressed strong support for DOT’s redesign.

Six of the nine committee members expressed support for the proposal. “If we’re going to achieve Vision Zero, we need a new vision for our streets, and I think this takes us a long way there,” said committee member Ken Coughlin, urging DOT to move swiftly on the proposal. “If the health department came to us and there was an epidemic and they said, ‘Well we have this vaccine that’s going to stop it,’ why would they wait three or four months to implement it?”

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DOT Will Present Amsterdam Ave Protected Bike Lane Design Tonight

amsterdam_ave_redesign_large

Image: NYC DOT

It’s happening: At tonight’s Community Board 7 transportation committee meeting, NYC DOT will present plans for a northbound protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side.

The first phase of the project calls for a protected bike lane and pedestrian refuges from 72nd Street to 110th Street, which could be implemented as soon as next spring, according to a DOT press release. A second phase south of 72nd Street would follow.

The design will convert one motor vehicle travel lane to a protected bike lane, with pedestrian refuges and dedicated space for left-turning vehicles on some blocks. At intersections with major streets, split signal phases will separate bicycle and pedestrian traffic from turning drivers. At other intersections, the design calls for the “mixing zone” treatment, where bicyclists merge with turning drivers.

The proposal also adjusts commercial parking regulations on the east side of Amsterdam to cut down on double parking.

With bike traffic on Amsterdam growing rapidly and Citi Bike expanding to the Upper West Side, DOT sees significant potential for bike trips to replace thousands of short cab trips in the neighborhood.

Council members Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine, who’ve previously called on DOT to make Amsterdam safer, both expressed thanks for the proposal in the agency’s announcement.

This is a milestone in a very long and hard-fought neighborhood advocacy campaign for safe streets. You can help the redesign get to the next phase at tonight’s meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m at the Redeemer Church, 150 West 83rd Street.

Streetsblog will have more coverage tomorrow.

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Upper West Siders Call on DOT to Make Amsterdam Avenue a Complete Street

Next week — November 10 to be precise — DOT is expected to present a proposal to redesign Amsterdam Avenue for greater safety. The redesign is a long time coming. This summer marked the third time in the past six years that Manhattan Community Board 7 has asked DOT for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam.

On Halloween, neighborhood residents rallied with Transportation Alternatives for a “complete street” design of the avenue, with pedestrian islands and a protected bike lane. Until something changes, Amsterdam remains one of the most dangerous streets on the Upper West Side, with high rates of speeding and injuries.

The two local City Council members, Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine, have called on DOT to implement a protected bike lane on Amsterdam. You’ll see them in this footage of the rally captured by TA’s Luke Ohlson.

“This street you’re looking at right here represents cutting edge, state-of-the-art design principles from about a half century ago,” Levine said at the rally. “We know today that we can build streetscapes that balance the needs of motorists, of mass transit riders, of pedestrians, of bicyclists, of the disabled.”

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24th Precinct CO: We’re Making Streets Safer by Cracking Down on Cyclists

An Upper West Side NYPD precinct where motorists killed six pedestrians and cyclists in 2014 says it’s reducing injuries by cracking down on people riding bikes.

Captain Marlon O. Larin, commanding officer of the 24th Precinct.

Captain Marlon O. Larin, commanding officer of the 24th Precinct.

The 24th Precinct is where drivers fatally struck Cooper Stock, Alexander Shear, Samantha Lee, and Jean Chambers, prompting a public outcry that, coupled with the launch of Vision Zero, raised the profile of traffic violence as a citywide issue.

Though data show that motorist behavior is the main factor in most serious crashes, this week Captain Marlon O. Larin, the precinct’s commanding officer, credited a drop in injuries to an August cyclist ticket blitz.

DNAinfo reports:

In August, officers from the 24th Precinct handed out 135 summonses to cyclists for violating bicycle laws — such as running red lights, cycling the wrong way and riding on a sidewalk — up from 52 citations during the same period last year, police said.

That vigilance is paying off, with 12 injuries from collisions involving a bike or a car last month, compared to 20 during the same period last year, according to the precinct.

When bicyclists run red lights, they could get seriously injured and are putting themselves in “unnecessary harm,” said 24th Precinct Capt. Marlon Larin at a meeting Wednesday.

“I don’t think bicyclists should be able to [run] a red light. A car’s going to win,” he said.

Given the small sample, I asked data analyst Charles Komanoff about Larin’s claim.

“A drop to 12 from 20 for a single 30-day period is almost certainly random fluctuation rather than evidence of a statistically significant trend,” Komanoff said via email. “So we would need to see at least several months of data. And it would need to be correlated/connected geographically with the increase in summonses, given the distances covered by the precinct.”

According to the DNAinfo story, Larin also indicated that enforcement in the 24th Precinct is at least in part based on anecdotes, rather than data.

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Is DOT Setting Up the Amsterdam Avenue Bike Lane to Fail?

Up until a few years ago, when neighborhood residents approached DOT about redesigning a street for greater safety, they expected to get shot down by the agency’s top engineers. In 2004, one former DOT official summed up the department’s attitude as, “We will do pedestrian safety, but only when it doesn’t come at the expense of the flow of traffic.”

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo (top) is sounding a lot like CB 7 bike lane opponent Dan Zweig (bottom). Photos: Stephen Miller

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo (top) is sounding a lot like CB 7 bike lane opponent Dan Zweig (bottom). Photos: Stephen Miller

DOT has changed since then — there’s a greater recognition that moving cars should not take precedence over safety, economic vitality, and the efficient movement of people. But there are signs the agency is slipping back into old habits.

A test of the department’s commitment to safer street design is imminent on the Upper West Side, where persistent advocacy by local residents finally convinced DOT to develop a plan for a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands on Amsterdam Avenue. DOT is expected to present the plan to Community Board 7 in the near future. The trouble is, agency officials are talking as if they’ll frame the project as a choice between safety and traffic flow. That would be a page out of the old DOT playbook and a huge step backward.

When Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said DOT will come out with a plan for Amsterdam Avenue this fall, she added some caveats. “Amsterdam Avenue is challenging… Just the way the traffic moves and the configuration of the roadway do make it a more challenging road to redesign [than Columbus Avenue],” she said. “But we’re going to come up with some plans and we’re going to lay them out for the community board and for everyone who’s interested.”

Then at a press event late last month, DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo spoke candidly with me about how he views the politics of expanding the city’s bike network. At one point the conversation turned to the Upper West Side, where the agency had to be cajoled into proposing better bike lanes at the bowtie intersection of Broadway and Columbus Avenue last year. Russo defended the absence of bike lanes in DOT’s road diet plan for West End Avenue, saying they wouldn’t have been supported by residents of “green awning buildings” and local Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

I asked Russo why, in that case, Rosenthal is backing a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue. “I don’t know. She hasn’t seen the numbers yet,” he said with a laugh. What numbers? “Our analysis,” he replied. “We’re going to bring it to the community board and explain to people what the implications are, like the commissioner said.”

The implication is that DOT expects Rosenthal and CB 7’s support to wither after the agency presents its plan. And if DOT trots out traffic models that predict carmageddon when Amsterdam has a protected bike lane and one less car lane, the agency will certainly be leading the conversation in that direction.

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