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Family Assaulted in Park Slope. NYPD: “Be careful.”

September 30, 2013

A reader, who I’ll only identify as Heather, sends in this account of a disturbing interaction she and her husband had while riding with their children in Park Slope:

My husband was biking in front of us (I had our two toddlers on my bike) on 2nd street and a Prius rode up behind him and sideswiped him. My husband was not totally innocent—he was outside of the bike lane—but the car made no effort to avoid him. The driver yelled at him and drove on. We kept going but I guess the Prius driver stopped to look at his car and was very upset to see a scratch from my husband’s pedal. As we turned onto 5th ave, we noticed the Prius was gaining on us and he chased my husband, driving in the bike lane, and yelling that he was going to run him down. My husband hopped up on the sidewalk and the Prius driver pulled over, got out of the car, and chased him. I was scared and called the police. When they showed up the driver was still there as were a number of witnesses who were waiting with us.

First, a point of clarification, which I explained to Heather in a follow-up email: it is legal to exit a bike lane “when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, pushcarts, animals, surface hazards) that make it unsafe to continue within such bicycle path or lane.”  The shoddy pavement on 2nd Street is probably enough to warrant staying out of the bike lane all the way from Prospect Park West to 4th Avenue.  And, besides, even if riding outside of a bike lane were strictly illegal, I’m not aware of any ethical law that entitles drivers to hit people on bikes.

Nevertheless, one would think that this particular act of vehicular violence–an attempted assault on a father in front of his wife and their two children–would be taken seriously by officers of the local precinct.  But if one thought that one would not be living in New York City, but in some utopia where human lives are worth more than the cost of repainting a car’s scratched side panel.

The police talked to both of us and then one policeman said he would be upset [by the scratch on the car] too and it is a felony to leave the scene of a crime. The witnesses were telling the police what happened too, but apparently the scratch justified trying to run down my husband in a car. The policeman told us that we are lucky that no one was hurt and to be careful.

Imagine a madman running through the sidewalks of Park Slope, bumping into families, screaming that they scuffed his shoes, and then chasing after them with a gun.  Now imagine the police blaming the people who were chased by the gun-wielding madman and warning them to be careful next time. Why? Because the officer, knowing what it’s like to own expensive shoes, sympathizes with the guy whose loafers were scratched. Many people often feel that gun analogies are imperfect when it comes to discussing vehicular violence; gun violence is almost always intentional, but few drivers set out to mow innocent people down with their cars.  But make no mistake: the second the driver explicitly said that he was going to run down another person and attempted to make good on that threat was the moment his car ceased to be a vehicle and became a weapon. So what was the fallout from this incident?
The policeman told us that the driver could file a report because my husband scratched his car (didn’t matter that driver hit him) and we left the scene of the crime.  Police recommended that no one file a report and we go on with our day. They did not take our information or the names or numbers of the witnesses who came up to talk to them on our behalf.
Lesson learned. If you’re riding your bike, get sideswiped by a driver and then fail to stop and stand still while a psychopath chases you with a three-ton tank, you might be charged with leaving the scene of a crime.  And that driver, with a temper so fragile that a mere scratch on his car can cause him to nearly murder a father on a bike, is still out there, ready to do it again. When it happens, it won’t be an accident.
  1. Albert permalink
    September 30, 2013 5:12 pm

    “Police…did not take our information or the names or numbers of the witnesses…”.

    I sure do hope that Heather & family took the names & numbers of the witnesses as well as the names & badge numbers of these ridiculous police! If only to haul them all in to a precinct community council meeting!

  2. September 30, 2013 5:18 pm

    This story has left me feeling really seriously disturbed, not least because I often cycle with my family up that particular street in Park Slope on a Sunday.

    What’s really irksome about it is the personal interaction between the victim and police officer. It’s such a humiliation to treat the victim of a traffic crime like this, as if he were on the same plane as the perpetrator. It must have left the victims feeling so helpless. I think it’s that aspect of it, rather than necessarily the physical danger, that most bothers me.

    It would be so easy to despair, wouldn’t it?

    • September 30, 2013 5:33 pm

      These incidents are discouraging, but I don’t despair. For starters, demographics are on our side. There are simply more and more people cycling every day, many of them with kids, and it will get impossible for the NYPD to ignore their health and safety one day. (When that day comes is up for debate, but I remain optimistic.)

      Additionally, there are more ways than ever to call them out and demand change, from online outlets to Community Council meetings.

      So, yes, discouraging, but not cause for complete despair. This stuff is messy right now, but sometimes the only way over something is to go right through it.

  3. September 30, 2013 7:27 pm

    Carry pepper spray and apply liberally in these situations. Attempted vehicular homicide and assault warrants it.

  4. October 1, 2013 12:59 am

    Until the cops can identify with people on bikes and walking as much as they can drivers we’ll have this kind of bias.

  5. Gabriel permalink
    October 1, 2013 1:45 am

    Seeing as how the motorist drove off (and I’m assuming at a much faster rate seeing as how they were in a car), shouldn’t the motorist be charged with leaving the scene and not the cyclist?

  6. Devon permalink
    October 1, 2013 8:17 am

    To title this article as as a ‘family assaulted’ seems extreme and close to sensationalism. The driver over-reacted for sure, but can hardly be likened to a gun-weilding mad-man, and the wildly biased assumption of what the cop thinks about his shoes is bordering the ludicrous. Who knows if the driver happened to be looking in front of him when the cyclist moved out of his lane. The lanes have been created specifically for bikes and should be adhered to. As both a driver and a cyclist, I can say that it can be highly unnerving when cyclists weave in and out of their specified domain (many who ignored traffic lights and rules altogether). The driver sounds like an idiot, but this article is a bit much.

    • TwiceDead permalink
      October 1, 2013 9:33 am

      So…if the driver wasn’t watching the road in front of him, it’s the cyclist’s fault? How does that even begin to make sense?

    • Stype permalink
      October 1, 2013 9:50 am

      So you’re saying that if someone says, “I’m going to run you over” and then tries to do it, that’s not an attempted assault? And if a cop says that he’d be upset about a scratch on his car too then that sounds like he’s identifying with the perpetrator and not the victim, right?

      You don’t sound like someone who has ever ridden a bike in New York City.

    • Stype permalink
      October 1, 2013 9:53 am

      If you read the post you’d see that it’s not illegal to ride outside of a bike lane. They do not have to be “adhered to” if there’s a hazard in the lane, including the threat of an open car door.

      If the driver had just passed the woman with her two kids and the dad was in front of them down the street, then the driver should have been aware that there might be more cyclists on the street.

    • Doc Wu permalink
      October 1, 2013 10:02 am

      How is it not assault? You might debate whether the initial impact was intentional, but yelling “I’m going to run you over” and driving at the cyclist enough to make him jump the curb is pretty clear.

      This is yet another example of NYPD’s pattern of not taking crimes against cyclists seriously.

    • Stype permalink
      October 1, 2013 11:16 am

      There’s such a thing as verbal assault, too. And screaming that you’re going to run someone over with your car probably qualifies.

    • October 1, 2013 5:15 pm

      There’s no legal basis for saying the lanes “should be adhered to”. The law specifically says there’s no requirement for cyclists to use the lanes on a street that’s less than 30ft wide, as 2nd street in Park Slope is. More to the point, as someone who regularly rides that street on a Sunday, I can tell you there are multiple reasons to leave those cycle lanes. Among them are that they’re painted in the door zone for parked cars, where cyclists are extremely vulnerable. There’s also regular double-parking in the lanes. Cars also often obstruct the lanes by pulling out partly into them. On top of all that, New York City’s Transportation Department recommends that cyclists keep 3ft from cars and, where there isn’t space for a car to pass with 3ft to spare, the cyclist rides in the middle of the lane to stop the car passing unsafely. There are plenty of circumstances on that street where that would be the correct thing to do.

      I’ve had people deliberately drive cars either very close behind me or deliberately in my direction. I’ve also had plenty of drivers yell threats at me. This was not in response to any wrongdoing on my part but simple intolerance. I am very careful to follow the road rules. I don’t think you’d play down this incident if you’d ever been on the receiving end of such behavior.

      I suspect, however, that you haven’t been on the receiving end of this behavior partly because your “cyclist and driver” schtick is pretty heavily weighted in favor of the “driver” bit. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m basing my comments on riding around 5,000 miles a year in New York City. Roughly how many do you do on a bike?

    • October 1, 2013 10:19 pm

      I only ‘liked’ because I appreciate you sharing this awful, awful story.

      Not only is it horrible what happened — Threat of running someone down IS assault — but it is horrible that the police were so victim blaming and unresponsive. Threat of physical violence is a crime, and the police should have acted accordingly.

      Also, this is infuriating because as other people have said it’s not a crime to bike out of the bike lane.

      But even if it was — someone else breaking the law is no justification for also breaking the law. If someone parks right smack dab in the middle of the road, and I rear end it, I can’t then file a police report and sue them for the damages done to my vehicle!!

      What was that officer thinking!! ARGH!

  7. October 1, 2013 10:44 am

    Wikipedia’s entry: an assault is an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact.

    An assault is carried out by a threat of bodily harm coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm…

    … The term is often confused with battery, which involves physical contact.

  8. BkBiker permalink
    October 1, 2013 11:08 am

    This easily fits the definition of menacing, a NYS felony:

  9. October 1, 2013 3:08 pm

    Reblogged this on A Road Travelled Twice and commented:
    A Prius may be an environmentally helpful care, but that’s no guarantee the driver is.

  10. sam permalink
    October 1, 2013 11:19 pm

    And the Police crime stats look good and they didn’t have to write a report. Points for the police, no points for the cyclists.

  11. Another Family Biking Heather permalink
    October 10, 2013 7:01 pm

    I had a much less traumatic, but still terrifying experience today. And if it weren’t a prius, I’d swear it was the same person. I transport my kid between his pre-K close to the Brooklyn Museum and an after school Spanish language program in Park Slope on Mondays and Thursdays. He rides on my a child seat on my bike. Most of the way is all greenways (though the Eastern Parkway greenway / bike path is usually filled with pedestrians). Still, it’s a very easy and safe ride. Then we turn onto 9th St. to go from Prospect Park West to 6 Avenue. And there’s a bike lane. The problem is that this bike lane is usually full of double-parkers and delivery vans. Usually fine on a 3 pm weekday. The roads are relatively clear. Unlike the story above, when i go out of the bike lane, I take the road – and ride right in the center – to go around double-parked cars and vans. I do this precisely because I do not want anyone to attempt to squeeze past me on the left. And I believe this is the right approach, as well as legal.

    Today, a car came up behind me and started honking. I gestured for him to wait with my hand / fist. And I was around the van and back in teh bike lane in maybe 10 seconds. He pulled up next to me and started screaming at me. Saying that he wasn’t the one who had honked and telling me I’d better be careful … something could happen to me behaving like I was, especially with a kid (basically, “someone” was going to hurt me). I said – Still peddling / he’s stil driving – “fine. You didn’t honk.” He then pulled up in front of me. Got out of his car and tried to make me stop. He was angry, and screaming. I was able to get around him and kept going. We went down to 5th, because I wanted some distance and was feeling pretty shaken up by it. We walked up to 6th Ave and there he was, parked in front of the YMCA, waiting for me. He’d been watching us. He started screaming and yelling again, and I said: “you’re scaring my son!” — This just riled him up even more. He was saying horrible things like – I was a terrible mother. Someone should take my kid. I was going to “get it”, etc. I finally said – you stop harrassing us and following us, or I’ll call the police. He got a real laugh out of that one (as this story so perfectly illustrates. What a joke is right. I’m sure the police would have sided with him and probably ticketed me). But at least he stopped following us. We were finally out of his ear shot. But my kid was crying. It took awhile to convince him that the strange angry man couldn’t take him from me.

    • October 10, 2013 8:51 pm

      Very sorry to hear that. Thank you for sharing it with me.

    • Mark permalink
      October 11, 2013 3:09 pm

      You did the right thing taking the lane. That is the safest for everyone.

      What a jerk. This bully goes into hysterics for having to wait 10 sec but has all afternoon to drive around and menace you? What a horrible man.

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