Volume 75, Number 20 | October 05 - 11, 2005

Senior cyclist killed near South St. Seaport; police search for bus

By Daniel Wallace

Police are still searching for the driver of a bus that killed a 65-year-old female cyclist on Water St. on Sept. 16.

Jen Shao, a Chinatown resident, was riding her bike in the far right-hand lane of Water St. at 9:42 am when she was struck and killed by a passing bus near the intersection of Gouverneur Lane. A nearby fruit vendor, Abdul Mannan, saw people running toward the road and left his cart. Arriving at the curb, he saw Shao lying lifeless on the ground.

“There was no blood, but she was clearly dead,” Mannan said. “Her cycle was beside her.”

Police said Shao had probably lost balance and fell under the rear wheels of the passing bus, which proceeded north on Water St. without stopping. Police were not sure if the driver knew if he or she hit a cyclist and they did not know what type of bus it was.
The director of Ng Fook Funeral Home, where Shao’s body was taken, said she was a Chinatown resident with at least one son but he had no additional details.

Since she was killed, police have been looking for information. A security guard in the J.P. Morgan Chase building on Water St. said officers canvassed the area thoroughly and came into his building asking to review security tapes.

“Cameras were pointed in the wrong direction, though,” said the guard, who declined to give his name.

Police have posted notices on nearby newsstands soliciting eyewitness accounts.

But bicycle advocacy groups in the city believe police activity is not enough.

“This is another tragic example of the loss of human life that could have been prevented,” said Matthew Roth of Time’s Up!, a bicycle group.

According to Time’s Up!, 121 cyclists were killed by automobiles in the city between 1995 and 2001. And over 17,000 pedestrians or cyclists were struck and injured in the city each year.

This year, bicycle fatalities are on the rise.

“The number of deaths has almost doubled,” said Noah Budnick of Transportation Alternatives, another bicycle group. “Through July there have been 11 fatalities; there were only six fatalities through July 2004.”

Budnick believes the rise in fatalities is the result of cycling’s increasing popularity in New York and the city’s corresponding failure to keep pace. Of over 6,000 miles of city streets, only 420.1 miles have either dedicated bike lanes or suggested routes.

In 2004 the city reissued the “NYC Cycling Map,” offering safety suggestions for concerned bicyclists. On the map, Water St. is listed as a “recommended biking route.”

But on Water St. where Shao was killed, there is no bike lane.

As tragic stories like Shao’s pile up, cyclists are getting angry.

“There’s an anti-cyclist bias in the city,” said Robert Fader, a New York personal injuries lawyer who represents between 25 and 30 bicycle cases each year. “Drivers seem to think they don’t have to share the road with bicycles; and that sentiment sometimes spills over to the police. Cyclists are upset.”

Channeling their anger, bicycle groups are fighting back. This June, Time’s Up! sponsored a street stenciling project that memorialized pedestrians and cyclists killed by motor vehicles. The goal of the project was to raise public awareness of the alarming number of sudden deaths that occur within New York’s landscape of concrete and continual motion, where such things are easily forgotten

“There are far too many cyclists dying in a city where the streets could be made safer,” said Roth. “We hope to change that.”

One way in which advocacy groups are trying to reduce the cycling hazard is through the New York City Bike Safety Action Plan, which was created by Alternative Transportation’s Budnick and has been sponsored by 20 organizations in the city.

The plan recommends, among other things, that the police increase their enforcement of traffic laws, particularly in residential areas. Current policy mandates only that police issue summonses in cycling and pedestrian accidents if they witness the violation.

The plan also asks the city to perform a study of cyclist deaths over the past 10 years, citing the causes, factors and locations of each incident.

“A similar study was done in Toronto,” Budnick said. “And a very substantial list of recommendations to improve bicycle safety resulted.”

Budnick said the action plan was presented to the Police Department and the city Department of Transportation in July; and a copy was sent to Mayor Bloomberg’s office.

He said city officials have, so far, not responded.

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