Latest biker death puts Delancey St. danger in spotlight


By Jefferson Siegel

Last Thursday afternoon Jeffrey Axelrod, 52, of Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, was bicycling south on Chrystie St. and turned right onto Delancey St. when he fell under the rear wheels of a cement truck and was killed.

After making the turn, Axelrod found himself wedged between the truck traveling west on Delancey St. and a parked car. He reportedly wobbled momentarily before falling under the right rear wheels of the truck.

Another cyclist who witnessed the accident, Jose Martinez, said the chain on Axelrod’s bike appeared to have fallen off the sprockets. Reports said Axelrod, who was wearing a helmet, ran a red light before the collision. Police said because Axelrod ran the light and the driver was unaware of the collision, no criminality was involved and the driver would not be charged. The driver remained at the scene.

Police from Emergency Services Unit Truck 1 arrived on the scene shortly after the collision. They slid a pneumatic mat under the rear wheel of the cement tractor-trailer to raise it off the cyclist, whose red, white and gray helmet was visible under the truck wheel.

Wearing a yellow jersey, racing pants and pedal cleats, Axelrod lay motionless as the truck driver, a man in his 30s wearing a red shirt and cargo jeans, stood nearby, looking shaken.

Grim-faced E.S.U. officers held a sheet over the truck’s rear wheel. One handlebar of the yellow Mavic / Eddy Merckx bike was visible under the vehicle’s wheel. An officer retrieved the bike’s front wheel, a Tuktuk bag and a bike light and placed them on the truck’s platform.

Axelrod, who lived on Hicks St. in Brooklyn, was active in his community and was a founding member of the Cobble Hill Community Supported Agriculture group.

News of the tragedy prompted Borough President Scott Stringer to tweet, “Reports of another cyclist struck dead on Delancey St. by cement truck. No more waiting: D.O.T. must fix this dangerous mess and save lives now.”

Last year Stringer released a survey “Respect the Lane, Clear the Path,” focusing on bike lane use and misuse. Over all, it urged development of a bicycle-friendly culture in the city. Among its conclusions, the survey called on the city’s Department of Transportation to develop more protected bike lanes.

The past few years have been dangerous times for cyclists on the Lower East Side, which, according to D.O.T., is home to nine of the 33 most dangerous intersections for cycling in the city.

Three years ago, Transportation Alternatives, the advocacy group for cycling, walking and public transit, encouraged people to sign an “Adopt A Bike Lane” petition. At the signing event, held on Delancey St. at the Bowery, the group called on Mayor Bloomberg to recognize the doubling of bike use on the Williamsburg Bridge in recent years, and asked that a bike lane be installed on Delancey St., the bridge’s feeder street.

A recent D.O.T. assessment of Delancey St. bike use noted that 4,000 cyclists cross the bridge daily, making it the most heavily traveled East River bridge for bicycles.

Since 2006 the number of bike lanes in the city has doubled to more than 400 miles. Yet while bike access to the Williamsburg Bridge was improved along nearby Grand and Clinton Sts., only a single, block-long buffered bike lane leads into the bridge along Delancey St., one of the widest and busiest streets in the city.

At one nearby intersection, the corner of Delancey and Essex Sts., D.O.T. reported 523 motor vehicle accidents have occurred in the past 12 years. Of those, 134 involved cyclists and pedestrians. Three cyclists died before last Thursday’s accident.

Last May, Patricia Cuevas died after being crushed by a private sanitation truck. Her death prompted state Senator Daniel Squadron and Councilmember Margaret Chin to call for safety improvements.

“We need additional pedestrian safety measures,” Squadron said at the time.

“This neighborhood is home to many senior centers and schools, and has experienced increased foot traffic in recent years,” Chin said, adding, “New York is a walking city, and pedestrians must be our first priority.”

Three years ago this month, just 50 yards from the latest tragedy, cyclist Rasha Shamoon, 31, was killed near the corner of Delancey St. and Bowery when she was struck by an S.U.V. A white “ghost bike” memorial to Shamoon, decorated with flower bouquets, is chained to a pole near the spot.

According to journalist Laura Italiano, local residents avoid traveling on Delancey St. when possible and find the area’s nearby bike lanes indispensable to their commute.

“My daughter, husband and I use the Grand St. bike lane every day of the week because the neighborhood is so underserved by subways,” said Italiano, who lives on the Lower East Side and cycles to work Downtown.

Bill DiPaola, founder of the environmental advocacy group Time’s Up!, was particularly distressed by news of last week’s accident.

“Increases in cyclists coming across the Williamsburg Bridge and the poor design of how the bike path lets bicyclists out into the middle of traffic is extremely dangerous,” he stated.

DiPaola said his group recently began working with an architect on designing an alternative to the current access and exit routes of the bridge. They suggest an empty lot on the south side of Delancey St. by the bridge could be converted into safer entry and exit ramps. DiPaola said Time’s Up! hopes to present the proposal to D.O.T. and Community Board 3 in the next few months.