Statement of Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives:
The news that cyclist Matthew von Ohlen was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver while riding in a Williamsburg bike lane over the weekend was disturbing enough, before shocking reports emerged that police now believe the driver ran over von Ohlen intentionally.
But then the NYPD literally added insult to injury the day after the crash by going to Grand Street, where von Ohlen was killed -- not to deter the type of reckless driving that led to the 35-year-old's death, but instead to issue summonses to cyclists for violations like running red lights. Officers also distributed pamphlets on bicycle safety -- as if better behavior could have saved Matthew von Ohlen, who was, after all, riding legally in a bike lane when he was so cruelly mowed down.
This is a particularly egregious example of the NYPD's skewed priorities when it comes to traffic enforcement, and of the victim-blaming mentality that pervades the Department. Across the city, we see officers pulling over large numbers of cyclists for infractions that almost never lead to death or injury, while largely ignoring the violations that kill and maim the most New Yorkers, which are driver speeding and failure to yield. In this case, police should be using their time and resources to find the driver who killed Matthew von Ohlen, instead of lecturing cyclists on unrelated infractions.
Police Commissioner Bratton also needs to take immediate steps to improve the NYPD’s dismal record on investigating hit-and-run incidents. Only about 2.5% of all hit-and-run crashes in 2015 resulted in any kind of enforcement action.
We hope the driver who killed Matthew von Ohlen is apprehended soon, so that the grieving family can have their day in court. In the meantime, we renew our call on Commissioner Bratton to change NYPD policy and practices so they are aligned with Vision Zero and data-driven enforcement. In particular, the Department must get serious about protecting cyclists -- whose fatality numbers have more than doubled so far this year compared to the first half of 2015 -- instead of making a mockery of their tragedies with lectures and harassment.