She was planning for a nice lunch with her daughter. Lilly. But on the afternoon of June 9, Mary Grace Belfi, 67, stepped into the First Avenue bike lane at 86th street, in order to get to her parked car, and was struck down by a bicyclist, who fled the scene.
The accident, and the ongoing hunt for the cyclist, inflamed a neighborhood that has long been wary of bikes and bike lanes. Citibike’s expansion has met more resistance on the Upper East Side than any other part of New York, and neighbors in the area frequently swap stories about near-misses with cyclists.
Paul Steely White, the executive director of cycling advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives, offered no defense of the runaway cyclist, calling it “a brutal act,” adding, “that this coward must be brought to justice.”
Katie Belfi, 30, another of Mary Grace’s daughters, describes her mother’s current condition as “serious and uncertain” as she’s still getting neurological tests due to the brain injury. Mary Grace suffered extensive bleeding on the brain, and a broken nose and collarbone.
Katie Belfi said she cannot understand “protected” bike lanes that seem to make cyclists safer, but not pedestrians and “not a design that forces people that are parked to cross another lane of (bicycle) traffic without a crosswalk.”
Michele Birnbaum lives on E. 86th Street. While calling the accident “a horrible thing,” she added that she’s not surprised and is angry that the city streets were “turned upside down for such a small percentage [cyclists] with such disregard for the feelings of pedestrians and the elderly population.”
This past Saturday morning, where the accident took place, crowds of pedestrians and cyclists went about their day, with many ignoring most basic traffic rules. A twenty-something man was slowly walking into the bike lane, against the light, with his head down in his phone and ears filled with noise. A cyclist riding up first avenue with the light, zipped past screaming, “get your head outta your fu**in’ phone.”
Michael Blowney, 55 and his partner Nancy Haas, 57, avid bicyclists, do not feel safer with the protected bike lane. Haas calls it “scary” riding through the bike lane, worried when and if a pedestrian will venture into her path or navigating around a wrong-way cyclist. Blowney calls the entire traffic plan “rushed and not well thought out” and thinks most of the changes have made it more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.
Following the report of the crash and fleeing cyclist, Upper East Side Councilmember Ben Kallos issued a statement which read, in part, “This devastating collision is a call to action to fight harder to ensure all can be safe in our streets. I hope the suspect who fled the scene will soon be apprehended.”
On Monday, June 15, Kallos, along with auxiliary police officers, handed out bike safety materials at the site of the accident and followed that up with an announced Safe Cycling Initiative. He believes there should be increased enforcement and education for every threat to pedestrian safety on the streets and says that he will be working with city agencies and nonprofits to put those plans into action.
White adds that Transportation Alternatives “demands that all cyclists follow the rules of the road.”
Katie Belfi said that the rules of the road aren’t the issue, as much as enforcement. “Why aren’t the cops ticketing bicyclists for speeding, red light running and riding the wrong way?” she asks. “This can’t continue without some sort of strict ticketing enforcement.”