Cyclist Michael Schenkman Death; What Could Be Done and How It Fits Into the Big Picture

When cyclist Michael Schenkman was run over on Northern Boulevard on the morning of August 24, he became the 16th cycling fatality in New York City for 2016 so far.  This number surpassed all of the cycling deaths for the full year of 2015.  Over multiple years things have been getting safer due to efforts nationally and in parts of New York City.  However 2016 seems to have an increased number of fatalities locally and nationally so far.

National Safety Council estimates 2016 to have 9% more fatalities then this time last year and 18% more fatalities then two years ago.  This year could have the most American fatalities in nearly a decade, with an estimated 438 fatalities for this upcoming Labor Day weekend alone.

Half of New York City’s cycling fatalities have taken place on Department of Transportation Vision Zero Priority Designations, like Northern Boulevard.  Similarly, hit-and-runs were overwhelmingly in Priority Designations areas.

We have already identified the problem (105 fatalities across America every day this year) and where to fix it locally (the Vision Zero priorities seem to be well focused).  The next steps are to make real change with how we create safe environments on the road. Many calls for change have been made, but few have been implemented in Eastern Queens, even around our most dangerous streets like Northern Boulevard.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblywoman Marge Markey came together to ask the Mayor to take action on Northern Boulevard.  They held a press conference in February 2014 on Northern Boulevard where 4 pedestrians waiting for a bus (including a 7 year old) were run over by a hit-and-run driver.

The Westmoreland Homeowners Association of Little Neck wrote to Maura McCarthy (Queens Borough Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation) on December 6 of 2013 requesting a multi-use redesign of Northern Boulevard:

We write today to respectfully request consideration by the New York City Transportation Department of creation of a bike lane between our community and the nearest established part of the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway/Bikeway…The Bikeway is accessible from our Westmoreland district via Northern Boulevard/Rt.25A to entrances at the intersection of Northern Boulevard and the Cross Island Parkway (CIP). Though Northern Boulevard has capacity for three lanes of traffic in each direction between Douglaston and the CIP, and two lanes plus parking from Douglaston to the city line, plus a painted median strip, there is currently no accommodation for bicyclists on Northern Boulevard. The nearest detour is almost two miles and involves taking an unmarked route over hilly and highly trafficked streets. In other words, there is no safe, direct route by bicycle from our neighborhood to the Bikeway.

If this request would have been implemented, it may have saved Michael Schenkman’s life due to the traffic calming it would have created at the site of the crash. Michael’s son, Peter (a former assistant commissioner for safety and emissions on the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission) hoped his father’s death would shed light on the importance of creating protected bike lanes, especially on hectic roads like Northern Boulevard according to the New York Times (paywall).  These are far from the only requests for safe cycling infrastructure going in this area.

Despite an understanding of the problem, knowing where fixes need to be made, and outcry for those fixes, Eastern Queens is still not getting the infrastructure needed to save its citizens.

The pedestrians and cyclists advocacy group Transportation Alternatives is dedicating their annual NYC Century Bike Tour on September 10th to Michael Schenkman memory (he was also a member of their organization).  Since his death Transportation Alternatives is planning a demonstration to “Demand Safe Passage for Cyclists and Pedestrians” this Thursday, September 15 at 7 pm (follow this link to RSVP and find a starting location).

Every piece of safe infrastructure helps make our entire community safer. Work with us to build a better protected greenway or start your own project and we might be able to help you. By working together we can build the community that Eastern Queens deserves because no one should be killed for just trying to get to a park.

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