Saturday, August 20, 2011

Jeffrey Axelrod Fatality: Illegally Parked Car, Blocked Vision Define Crash

UPDATE, 8:15 pm August 20, 2011
The section where Axelrod was killed is for NO STANDING ANYTIME
Cyclist Jeffrey Axelrod, 52, of Brooklyn, NY was killed when he was crushed between the wheels of a cement truck on Thursday on Delancey Street. 

Several media reports have said that Axelrod went through the red light, and then concluded that he was killed by the truck when he had trouble with his chain ring--because he went through the red light.

Reports also focus on the one witness account, cyclist Martinez, that Axelrod was “wobbly” and fell between the truck’s wheels. According to media reports, like this one from L Magazine, the cyclist is attributed the blame.

Something just didn't seem right to us, so we went back to examine the facts. What we found--or what has been pointed out by the cycling brains of New York City, is quite different than what has been reported.

Left and right placed lights present blind spots especially for cyclists riding behind a truck
For one, the media says that a witness named Martinez said that both the cyclist and the truck turned right, but that the cyclist turned right after the light turned red. 

Really? How is that possible then that the cement truck and the cyclist were next to one another once they had turned?

Okay, let's assume the driver of the cement truck had come to a stop or was crawling along. Hard to believe, but possible. 

If he had, then why would Axelrod have fallen under his wheels? Why was there not enough space between the truck and the parked car?

Another writer to e-bikes answers that question: because the parked car was not supposed to be there.

This is a fact that no journalist has brought to light--nor has that matter the NYPD or the city's Department of Transportation. 

Writes Stephen Bauman: "One aspect of this accident has not been covered - the presence of illegally parked cars. The entire block was a no standing zone except for loading/unloading trucks, when the accident occurred. The media photos clearly show parked cars adjacent to and ahead of the cement truck." 
DOT's  list shows street all NO STANDING regs except trucks

Bauman, a retired electrical engineer who has twice ridden the Brest-Paris-Brest event (750 miles in 90 hours) and was one of the three founders of the Five Borough Bike Tour, brought to light the implications that illegally parked cars --that have not been towed--have for the safety of cyclists: "Parking regulations have a very low priority legally. They are not viewed as a "safety" issue. They do not generate points on a driver’s license. Illegally parked cars are most definitely a safety issue to cyclists, who must use the curb lanes," said Bauman. We haven't been able to check this by going to the scene, but the city's DOT does list the parking rules for every street, and we have been able to confirm that the cars were not supposed to be parked there. 

A spokesman for the NYPD said the initial accident report noted that the cars parked in Axelrod's way were "Legally parked."
The turn (see right) off Chrystie to Delancey--see how truck would block the light

Traffic lights are also a hazard for cyclists, especially in how they are placed in New York City, and may have accounted for the cyclist not seeing that the light had changed.

Light placement does not follow the national standards because so many of them must be placed here, said Bauman. Consequently, with New York City lights, there will be blind zones where for a period of time you will not be able to see the traffic signal. If you look closely at the intersection (our shots from Google Earth,) you can see both lights on Chrystie St. are on the sides of the intersection (far right and far left).. 

That blocked field of vision is worse for cyclists when they are approaching a changing light: "The slower you are the longer the time you will be in the blind zone, and for the cyclist, that is the amount of time for the light to turn red," said Bauman, who visited the site yesterday. "

But If a truck is in front of you it will block the red light the entire time, and you will never see it." 

Now let's go back to our earlier assumption: that the cement truck turned when the light was green but the cyclist didn't. We kind of doubt that. Based on the logistics of the crash, the double parked car, and the placement of the accident, we think the truck cut the cyclist off when he turned, and the cyclist had no where to go, --saw the parked car which would squeeze him --got "wobbly" because he had to stop, and couldn't, and then was squeezed between the truck and the illegally parked car.

There are other possibilities, but none of them match what has been reported: (a) the cyclist and the truck went through the red light together, the truck cutting the cyclist off, who then got squeezed, ((b) neither went through the red light but the truck cut the cyclist off and he was slammed in between the illegally parked car and the truck; (c) the truck went through a changing light, as did the cyclist and when the cyclist turned the corner, was squeezed by the narrowing space between the truck and the illegally parked car.

One thing we do know: if the truck was in front of Martinez--the one witness, who was also on a bike, it is unlikely he could see the traffic signal until after the truck had turned.


Anonymous said...

As a good friend of Jeff's and someone who talked bikes and rode bikes with him over the years your post explains a lot of questions I have been going over in my mind since this tragedy. Jeff was an experienced cyclist and not one that would take a lot of chances. All cyclists in this city have close calls every day, for something like this to happen is completely out of character with the experienced city cyclist. I know exactly what he was thinking when this tragedy occurred because it has happened to me and all cyclists who ride in this city. After attending his funeral with friends and his family on LI yesterday I am left thinking I have to do something to make sure this does not happen again.

Jenny B and Ana Banana said...

I totally agree. An investigation should be opened by a civil lawyer at the very least. At best, the NYPD's accident investigation team needs to be notified by the family that they do not believe the accounts being presented, and because the report itself is wrong (stating that the cars were parked legally)it needs a closer look. My guess is he was cut off, but more work needs to be done to find out.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this reporting. It would seem that an advocacy group such as TA could allot some of its funds to legally challenge the NYPD shoddy investigation/lack of traffic law enforcement in these cases. In lieu of our legal system taking the responsibility of holding careless, homocidal drivers accountable, I hope the large majority of victims families are filing wrongful death suits against these drivers and at least making them hurt financially.

Rob H said...

This is a horrible tragedy and I want to point out that Delancey street should be considered just too dangerous to bike on. Even the most experienced city cyclist is at risk on this street, and it should be avoided unless DOT makes traffic changes to accommodate bikes. I would suggest riding on the bike lanes on Rivington or Grand instead.

kenny phlegm said...

While I cannot speak to the issue of illegally parked cars on Delancey, I will note that the witness to the accident told me that the cement truck was continuing west through the intersection from Delancey street, not turning right onto Delancey from Chrystie as the cyclist was. All the media reports I have read from those who were there (Daily News, Post, DNAinfo, myself) do not state that the truck was turning right.

It was terrible accident, and clearly much more must be done to Delancey street now to prevent further tragedy.

chris robbins/gothamist