1. NYC Bike Policy
2. State of NYC Cycling
3. Cyclists & Streets
A Bike and a Prayer
4. Street Design
6. Road Surfaces
9. Bicycles and Transit
10. Reducing Traffic
11. Bicycle Theft
12. On-Street Parking
13. Indoor Parking
On the Job Cycling
14. Bicycle Messengers
Fifth, Park & Madison
15. Freight Cycles
16. Gov't Cycling
Three Who Died
18. Air Pollution
20. Public Education
by Jeff Parker
Three Who Died
New York City bicyclists are anonymous in death, as in life. Between 15 and 20 cyclists are killed riding bicycles here each year, yet these deaths cause scarcely a ripple. For the most part, they go unreported by the media and unnoted by police and transportation officials.
To put a face on these victims and register the bicycling community's concern and outrage, Transportation Alternatives asked Jeff Parker, a reporter for U.P.I. and a cyclist, to investigate a trio of fatal accidents from a single week in early 1989. Parker's report was published in the May/June 1989 City Cyclist.
The radio report was terse and somber that January day. Police say one bicyclist was run over and killed by a truck, and another was struck and critically injured by a city bus in separate Manhattan accidents. Neither driver was charged with wrongdoing.
What made a sad story remarkable was the timing, for the accidents that killed Randall Postell and Jay Rosenblum in January 1989 came just 10 minutes apart. And only six days earlier, another veteran rider, Julia Collier, died under a truck's wheels on the Upper East Side.
It's a violent, rough-and-tumble city, but three bicycling deaths in a week? What's going on? Is it no longer safe to bicycle in New York? Has it ever been? And does anybody care?
New Yorkers should care because Randy, Jay and Julia were not just statistics at the city morgue. They were you and I. They were anyone who ever ventures onto New York's teeming, rutted streets. And each of them like each of us represented something unique and irreplaceable. What they held in common was their love of cycling and their dedication to making wheels work in New York City.
Julia Collier: January 19, 10:15 a.m.
Every morning for more than a decade Julia Collier had pedaled her way from her East 80th Street apartment down Second Avenue to her job at Christies East. She was an expert on collectible dolls and last year had arranged the $165,000 auction sale of the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz. But one sunny morning in January just 20 days shy of her 39th birthday and two blocks short of her East 67th Street office Julia's life was snuffed out under the wheels of a beer truck.
The one good thing is that she was killed instantly and didn't feel a thing. But it still came as a shock for us, said Julia's nephew, David Cook, who was in town with Julia's sister, Marty Cook, to pack her things. She was on her way to work she rode every day and a truck was taking a right, and the driver didn't see her. She fell underneath the wheels.
According to witnesses, Julia was riding in the right-most lane and the truck simply cut across her path into 69th Street, crushing her under its right-front wheel. The driver gave an all-too-common explanation for the accident: I didn't see her. She was in my blind spot.
We still haven't been able to see the accident report, Marty Cook said, her voice revealing the shame of having to beg police for answers. I explained to them that I was her only sister, that I was here from Chicago, that we just wanted to know what happened. They said, ÔThat's not good enough. We're too busy.'
Julia Collier was one of a large number of professional women and men who brave the city streets on a bicycle saddle. Ironically, she also was one who raised a voice in defense of cyclists' right to safe passage. Her plea was published in Our Town in response to tirades against kamikaze cyclists printed in The New York Times last fall.
Julia always rode and she really was very careful, her sister recalled. But whenever she came to Chicago she always said she was going to leave New York. Our cab drivers in New York almost knocked pedestrians off the street. It surprises me that anyone would have the nerve to ride a bicycle there.
Julia's book, The Official Identification and Price Guide to Dolls, was scheduled to be published in late April. Random House had to stop everything to reword the biography, said Marty Cook, who collaborated on the book. She never even got to see it.
Randall Postell: January 25, 5:20 p.m.
Randy Postell more closely approximated the image most non-cycling New Yorkers maintain of the typical city cyclist the hellbent Manhattan bicycle messenger.
Randy belied the stereotype. He was a proud parent and breadwinner who loved his five children and spent time with them every day. He was a black man who managed to survive in a country where homicide is the leading cause of death in young black men. He made it past his 31st birthday only to die in the line of duty during rush hour on Sixth Avenue.
Clad in his trademark sweatshirt and blue jeans, Randy was pedaling up Sixth Avenue when he was struck. Police said a driver with Presidential Trucking Co. of South Kearny, NJ, had stopped his rig on West 26th Street to ask for directions, then pulled into Sixth Avenue, rolling over Randy with his right-front wheel. According to police, Randy may have entered the intersection before the light turned green. The driver told detectives he had not seen the cyclist in time and was not charged.
Sometimes Randy said traffic was pretty busy, but he never really had any problems. He was very good on a bike, said Randy's eldest sister, Geraldine Postell, incredulous that a motorist could run a man down without being arrested or even ticketed.
Being a messenger was his primary job, Randy's sister said. He'd done that for about four years. He enjoyed it. He said it paid well and he got along with his boss.
Geraldine Postell said Randy used his earnings to help support his four daughters and one son, who live with their mother in Brooklyn's Fort Greene section. They were really close. They were together just about every day, she said.
Randy looked down on messengers who took their bikes to work on the subway. He loved to ride and he rode to work every day from his apartment on Malcolm X Boulevard, Geraldine said, describing her brother as fit and lean at 5 feet, 9 inches. And the bike that bike was his baby. Oh, he put a lot of work into it.
Jay Rosenblum, January 25, 5:30 p.m.
Just 10 minutes after Randy Postell was killed, New York lost another of its native sons when Jay Rosenblum, an abstract painter, was struck by an M14 bus above Tompkins Square Park, a half-block from his Lower East Side home. Rosenblum died two days later. He was 55 years old, a husband, a father of two daughters.
Police said Rosenblum pedaled his three-speed bicycle onto Avenue A at East 10th Street and into the path of an uptown city bus. As in Postell's case, an initial investigation by detectives cleared the bus driver of wrongdoing.
Rosenblum's wife, Muriel, said she and her husband were no strangers to bicycling in the city. He rode his bike in the city for 30 years, we both did, she said. We rode our kids on the back of our bikes. We rode everywhere.
Jay was born in the Bronx and graduated from Manhattan's High School of Music and Art and Bard College. He settled on the Lower East Side in 1961 to paint and raise two girls, Julia and Maria. While teaching at the School of Visual Arts and the Dalton School Jay discovered the freedom and efficiency of the bicycle, pedaling everywhere on his English 3-speed. It was so easy and quick by bike, his wife explained. He always rode to his galleries in the Village, in SoHo, on the Lower East Side.
Muriel Rosenblum said she suffered a frightening lesson in the dangers of city cycling. I was struck two years ago when a limo door opened. I was shaken up badly and stopped riding. My husband continued to ride, she said.
The Rosenblum home is jammed with artworks Jay created or collected. But tucked away in a back room is an equally poignant reminder of the artist, his life and his death a 1961 Raleigh 3-speed, its frame dented and sprung, the rear wheel twisted like a pretzel. He'd ridden it safely for 28 years.
© 1997-2013 Transportation Alternatives
127 West 26th Street, Suite 1002
New York, NY 10001