Greenpoint Gazette

Cyclist Death on Nassau Avenue

BY Will Yakowicz

Cyclist Dies on Nassau
By: Will Yakowicz

A bicyclist was killed two blocks away from her Greenpoint home after a collision with a truck on December 13.
Solange Raulston, a 33-year-old DJ, also known to Greenpoint and Williamsburg partiers as “DJ Reverend Soul,” was traveling westbound on Nassau to get to work when she was sideswiped by a flatbed truck and died shortly after the collision. The driver was stayed at the scene and will not be charged with a crime.
Raulston is the sixth biker to die in Brooklyn this year, according to the most recent information from Ghost Bikes, an organization that records bicyclist deaths and installs white bikes as street memorials to the dead riders.
Biking is a risky way to commute, but the intersection of Nassau Avenue and McGuinness Boulevard is considered one of the most dangerous intersections in the borough. Transportation Alternatives recorded 41 pedestrian and bicyclists fatalities combined in the area between 1995 and 2000.
“McGuinness and Nassau is the most dangerous intersection in North Brooklyn. I cross that all the time and I know how easy it is to lose your life on these streets,” said Ryan Kuonen, a community organizer with Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, a biker, and a member of Ghost Bikes.

Ironically, Raulston’s death happened hours before the protest against the recent removal of the Bedford Avenue bike lane. The Bedford ordeal has called attention to the unsafe road conditions for bikers and the need for more bike lanes, but her death displayed the shear risk cyclists take when they peddle on roads with a lot of truck traffic.

Spokesman for bicycle advocacy group Transportation Alternatives Wiley Norvell explained the problem is not a lack of bike lanes, but trucks driving through an old industrial neighborhood, which is changing every year to a more residential one, a true recipe for street disaster.

“There are very few neighborhoods that wrestle with truck traffic like Williamsburg and Greenpoint do. Truck traffic is part of the culture. But the streets are filled with more and more pedestrians and bikers each year without any improvements to the intersection and things need to change,” Norvell said.

Norvell said truckers are not used to this area being so densely populated with people. It is an old-time truck route and the big, tall, heavy vehicles act like they own the road and this is the main reason for fatal bike accidents.

“We need a tilt of the balance of power towards pedestrians and bikers. We are talking about putting pedestrians in a position where they have a safe right-of-way,” Norvell said.

NAG, Transportation Alternatives, and Ghost Bikes call on the city to fix the dangerous narrow two-way street to save lives and accommodate the increase in bicyclists and foot traffic. The agencies said the city needs to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians so they do not get “stranded” in the middle of a green light, narrow the turning radius at the intersection so trucks have to go slower, and maybe reduce the speed limit.

Monty Dean, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation assured bicyclists and pedestrians alike that progress is on this year’s agenda.

“Safety is DOT’s top priority and we will continue to look at ways to enhance this location,” Dean said.

Also the Department of Design and Construction, a city construction company, will install two neckdowns in 2010. A neckdown is an extension of the sidewalk into the street to give pedestrians a safer space into the car-riddled road. It is a traffic calming technique, which narrows distances from curb to curb.

But will the streets ever be a place for truckers and bikers?

“As a trucker I feel like bikes are a huge liability. In the cab you can’t see Mini Coopers, never mind bikers, and what happens if I hit one? I have no choice, I need to ride my truck, I need to deliver goods or else I lose my job. But bikers, they choose to be in harms way. It’s a street, not a playground,” said Tom Dunkin, a truck driver who drives on the fated intersection every week.

Legally the streets belong to bikers just as much as they belong to truckers, no matter what. But what bike advocates say is the problem is the get-out-of-my-way mindset of the big rigs. There needs to be bicycle acceptance, like in Amsterdam.

“We need a change in the culture of the streets. The streets belong to cars trucks, bikes, and pedestrians. Trucks don’t realize they are going to work on streets where people live. When they are working they drive as fast as they want with this wild wild West attitude. There needs to be more personal accountability to driving recklessly and consequences for accidents,” said Ryan Kuonen.

Regardless of the expected infrastructure changes and the hopeful change in road “culture” it is a no man’s land out there.
“Every time a truck passes me by my heart skips a beat,” said Kuonen.

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