Volume 76, Number 28 | December 6 - 12, 2006

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

On Tuesday, bicyclists passed a memorial for Eric Ng, who was killed on the Hudson River Park bike path at Clarkson St. last Friday night, above. Only a few yellow bollards — like the one below at W. Houston St. — spaced about a mile apart on the bike path indicate to drivers that the path is not for cars; plus, the bollards bend over, allowing cars to drive over them.

Drunk driver on Hudson Park bike path mows down cyclist

By Lincoln Anderson

In a city where speeding cars and trucks rule the road and bicyclists ride at their own risk, the Hudson River Park bike path would seem to offer one of the safest places to cycle.

Yet the death of bicyclist Eric Ng, a 22-year-old New York University graduate, on Friday night at Clarkson St., a block north of Houston St., after being struck head on by a drunken driver speeding down the Hudson River Park bike path, is the second death of a cyclist on the path in the last five months. According to reports, Ng (pronounced “Ing”) had left a concert at the Knitting Factory on Leonard St. and was biking north, heading to a party in the East Village. The car, a silver BMW, going southbound, was driven by Eugenio Cidron, 27, an East Village resident who had attended a party with co-workers at Chelsea Piers and had mistakenly turned onto the bike path, according to news reports.

Cidron had been driving at a high speed and Ng was killed instantly in the crash, according to police. Cidron was charged with drunken driving, manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

On June 22, Dr. Carl Nacht, 56, an avid marathoner, was cycling on the bike path at 11:30 p.m., when a Police Department tow truck struck him as it crossed the bike path while turning into the auto tow pound on Pier 76 at W. 36th St.; Nacht died three days later from head injuries suffered in the collision.

The Hudson River Park bike path is clearly separated from car traffic by a rock wall and planted median. Yet, it is intersected at various points by crossings for vehicles, such as at Gansevoort Peninsula, where the city has a garage for Sanitation Department trucks; as well as at W. Houston St. for the Pier 40 parking garage; and at destinations further to the north like the Circle Line and passenger ship piers.

As a result, bikers being struck by or colliding with vehicles crossing the bike path is not new, and has been an ongoing concern. In addition to the worst instance, Nacht’s death, bicycles colliding with vehicles crossing the path have resulted in more than a few close brushes and dislocated shoulders.

But the fact that a drunken driver so easily was able to get on the protected bike path — with fatal consequences — has heightened concerns to the point where something, at last, may now be done to correct the situation.

Currently, the only physical barriers to keep car drivers from driving on the path are yellow pylons screwed into the center of the path at spots such as just south of Chelsea Piers and at W. Houston St., near the entrance to Pier 40. There are also special stoplights on the bike path with bike symbols on the lights — though these are not physical barriers to drivers.

The bike path was built by the State Department of Transportation as part of the Route 9A (West Side Highway) reconstruction project and is still owned by D.O.T. However, the Hudson River Park Trust, the state-city authority that operates and is building the 5-mile-long park from Chambers St. to W. 59th St., next to which the bike path runs parallel, is basically in charge of the bike path’s daily maintenance, according to Doug Currey, State D.O.T. regional director.

Chris Martin, the Trust’s spokesperson, said in a statement, “The staff and directors of the Hudson River Park Trust extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Eric Ng, who was fatally struck by a drunk driver on the Route 9A bike path this past Friday night near Clarkson St. in Greenwich Village. The bikeway…is an important part of the city’s transportation network and one of the nation’s busiest bikeways, according to Transportation Alternatives. The Trust is working closely with the relevant agencies to assist in any way possible in the investigation of this tragic accident.”

Indeed, Currey said D.O.T., the Trust, Transportation Alternatives — a nonprofit organization advocating for pedestrians and bicyclists — and the Parks Department will jointly review the bike path’s safety and see what can or should be done to improve it. Currey said they also plan to talk to “businesses” in the waterfront park, including Chelsea Piers, about what they can do to ensure the path’s safety.

Asked when they’ll announce any safety improvements they come up with, Currey said, “Very shortly — it’ll be a high priority.”

Yet, Currey said, the path is well marked now, noting, “There was a yellow bollard on the path, there were signals with bike symbols — you’d have to be completely callous” to go speeding down the bike path in a car.

As for why the yellow bollards are able to bend down, allowing vehicles to drive over them, Currey said his understanding was that that was done to allow snowplows to clear the bike path in the winter. On the other hand, a fixed pole, while stopping cars, could present a hazard to bikers and rollerbladers.

“There’s always a tradeoff,” he explained. “Look at the potential impact to thousands of riders [versus] the occasional drunkard who goes on the path,” he said.

“It’s still a developing field,” Currey said of bike paths, though adding, “New York City — it’s an area of as intense usage as there is. It’s been fortunate that for a number of years, it didn’t happen,” he said regarding bicyclist fatalities on the path.

What about ramps and bridges to separate cars and bikes? Currey said it won’t work and probably is impractical because the park is very narrow, which doesn’t allow adequate space for bridges.

“Maybe someone will come up with better ideas,” he said. “We’re open to any and all suggestions at this point.”

Asked where people should send their suggestions on how to make the bike path safer, he said to send them to him at New York State Department of Transportation, c/o Doug Currey, 47-40 21st St., Long Island City, NY 11101.

Barbara Ross, a volunteer with Time’s Up!, the East Village-based environmental organization that helps promote the monthly Critical Mass bike rides, said she knew Ng by face from Time’s Up! rides and Critical Mass.

“He named his bike,” she noted. “He really was passionate about biking.”

Ross said not long ago she was cycling on the Hudson River Park bike path and saw a cab driving along it. The driver, who luckily was going slowly, asked her for help to get off the path.

“Basically, we need more markings because people are confused,” Ross said. “And Chelsea Piers should have some responsibility, because the person [Cidron] got drunk there. And we need enforcement: A lot of cyclists are seeing more cars out there on the bike path.”

Chelsea Piers did not return a call for comment by press time.

In a related story, according to the Washington Square News, Willa Thompson, an N.Y.U. junior, was in stable condition at St. Vincent’s Hospital following a Nov. 28 bike accident. She had been biking home — like Ng returning from the Knitting Factory in Tribeca — when she was struck by a U.P.S. truck at 11:45 p.m., sending her flying over her bike’s handlebars. The accident left her with a shattered pelvis, five broken vertebrae, three broken ribs and a collapsed lung.

Yet, she said once she’s healed she plans to keep riding her bike.


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