2005-06-29 Houston St. Bikers’ Boulevard of Death – Villager

Houston St. is becoming bikers’ boulevard of death


By Lincoln Anderson

In the latest fatal accident on what is becoming a “boulevard of death” for bicyclists, a 25-year-old rider was struck and killed by a truck on E. Houston and Elizabeth Sts. on the morning of Wed., June 22.

Police responded to the scene at 10:24 a.m. Andrew Ross Morgan, of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

According to police, the truck and bicyclist were both traveling westbound on Houston St. when the truck turned right onto Elizabeth St., and the biker became trapped under the truck.

A police spokesperson said the truck driver, 42, did not leave the scene. He was issued a summons for an expired inspection sticker. No arrests were made.

Morgan’s is the second death of a bicyclist on E. Houston St. in just over a month. On May 8, Brandie Bailey, 21, also of Williamsburg, was killed at E. Houston St. and Avenue A when she was hit by a private garbage truck while riding a fixed-gea track bike.

Andrew Ross Morgan, 25, was the upbeat manager of the Blue Ribbon Bakery Market on Bedford St.

The two deaths bear similarities. Both bikers were in their 20s, and had recently moved to the city, Morgan f

rom Austin and Bailey from Vancouver. They both worked in Greenwich Village restaurants, Morgan at the Blue Ribbon Bakery on Downing St. and more recently at the Blue Ribbon Bakery Market on Bedford St. and Bailey at the Red Bamboo Vegetarian Soul Cafe on W. Fourth St. Both were bicycle commuters who died on Houston St. Bailey was going home from work when she was hit by a garbage truck, Morgan riding to work when he was killed under a furniture box truck.

Witness Peter Martin, 54, of Billy’s Antiques, formerly Lot 76, on E. Houston St. said he was rolling up the gate of the store when out of the corner of his eye he saw Morgan riding by near the curb. A truck was next to Morgan, though Martin isn’t sure if it was the truck in the accident. He kept rolling up the gate, when he said he heard Morgan’s piercing scream.

Martin said Morgan had been pinned in a crouching, fetal position under the drive shaft just behind the truck’s cab.

“The whole truck was on his back,” Martin said. “He was like shaking, breathing heavy.”

The large truck had been turning onto narrow Elizabeth St., and when the driver realized what happened he was hysterical, Martin said.

Morgan’s blue road bike lay on the ground, undamaged, except the handlebars and front wheel were twisted out of alignment, Martin said.

According to Martin, Morgan was trapped under the truck for what seemed like a half hour. At first, workers from a nearby construction site tried using a forklift to free Morgan, but a police officer said the truck’s two gas tanks were on either side of Morgan and it was too dangerous. Paramedics crawled under the truck to check his vital signs, as up to 20 emergency workers and police using hydraulic jacks and pieces of wood were able to raise the truck and get Morgan out. However, it was too late. He was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Last Thursday morning, after he had brought some of the store’s wares out onto the sidewalk — bright orange vinyl retro bar stools, stuffed porcupines and foxes, mostly used as movie props — Martin started a memorial for Morgan. He pasted up some sunflowers and a short Daily News article about the incident on the store’s chain-link fence.

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel
Bicyclists left flowers at a “ghost bike” memorial — a racing bike painted white — at Elizabeth and E. Houston Sts. last Friday, where Andrew Ross Morgan was killed in an accident with a truck two days before.

Jane Swavley, an artist in her 40s who lives on the Bowery, was passing by with her son and said the accident — which she’d seen the day before while coming from the subway — gave her déjà vu.

“In 1980, I saw the exact same scenario at Spring and Thompson,” Swavley said. “I had a brand new bicycle and I had been riding a lot — and I have not been riding since. I won’t let my children ride bikes in the city. If I lived on the West Side, I’d use the bikeway — but I’m too afraid to even bike over to there.”

A while later, Michael Kim, 32, an assistant producer with ABC News, stopped by the corner on his gleaming new green track bike on his way home to Worth St.

“It’s the quote from the cop, ‘It looked like an accident. He didn’t see him,’ ” said Kim, referring to the News article. “A lot of people are upset about that. Articles like that just sort of privilege the driver. What’s extremely upsetting is that the drivers get away with it — in this city, the most pedestrian-friendly of cities.”

Kim noted he never passes trucks — or even cars — on the right side, since this is the driver’s blind side.

At the west end of Houston St., on Bedford St., Bruce and Eric Bromberg, the brother team who co-own Blue Ribbon Bakery, were commiserating with their staff. Young waiters and busboys were dropping by to give and receive hugs of support.

Bruce Bromberg said the Blue Ribbon chain — there are two locations in the Village, two in Soho and two in Brooklyn — prides itself on its staff and that Morgan’s dynamic personality was the perfect fit. Morgan was recalled as “super-enthusiastic” and “super-athletic” and ambitious to someday run his own business.

Bruce Bromberg noted Morgan had recently started jogging the 7 miles to and from Williamsburg to the new Blue Ribbon Bakery Market — which the Brombergs had put him in charge of — on the days he didn’t bike it. Morgan had spent six weeks trekking solo in the Himalayas and once biked from Seattle to Los Angeles on a whim. He was also an accomplished photographer and jazz guitarist.

“A lot of cameras, guitars and bikes,” Bruce Bromberg recalled fondly of Morgan. “He was a new guy, with us only two years. But he enlivened our spirit, the way we do things here. He will truly be missed by the neighborhood.”

On Friday night, members of Time’s Up!, the pro-cycling group, spray painted a stencil outline of a body and the words “Killed by Automobile” at the site where Morgan was hit. Earlier, a group called Visual Resistance had locked a white “ghost bike” to a parking sign at the spot, with a memorial sign for Morgan, doing the same thing for Bailey at Avenue A.

The site of last Wednesday’s accident is a block from Time’s Up!’s headquarters. Bill Di Paolo, Time’s Up!’s founder and director, said he arrived at the scene just after Morgan had been removed to the hospital.

“It was a big white truck,” he said of the lethal vehicle. “Not an 18-wheeler, but just before that.”

Di Paolo noted there’s a subway ventilation project in the middle of Houston St. on that block, narrowing the number of lanes on each side from three to two, squeezing traffic. The surface on the south side of the street is rough and uneven, with its top layers having been stripped off for the project and covered with large concrete slabs in spots, making biking more hazardous, though the north side’s paving is intact.

Time’s Up! had just started its stencil campaign the week before, painting four stencils at the Houston St./Avenue A intersection, one of Manhattan’s deadliest.

“This is very ironic, because we have launched a campaign that focuses on the dangers of cycling and the dangers of Houston St.,” Di Paolo said. “And here’s another death on Houston St. The community is outraged at the increase in cyclists’ deaths. This is the third cyclist killed [in the city] in just over a month. The bicyclist community is demanding more infrastructure from the city to create safer streets and punishment of drivers who injure pedestrians and cyclists.”

Two years ago, the Department of City Planning presented Community Board 3 some preliminary findings for an E. Houston safety study for pedestrian improvements and also a bike lane. But David Crane, chairperson of the C.B. 3 Transportation Committee, said they haven’t heard anything back from Planning.

“A bike lane makes it clear to motorists to expect to see bicyclists, though it doesn’t give total safety,” Crane noted. “Houston St. is a street that could really use bicycle lanes — and for pedestrians it’s too wide.

“It’s a regional thoroughfare that cuts through the Lower East Side. Cars are rushing to and from the F.D.R. to other regional thoroughfares,” Crane said. “It’s really wide and the intersections are not square. You have ‘T’ intersections. You have skewed intersections. It’s where two street grids meet. It’s always safer when intersections have more regular geometry.”

City Planning did not respond by press time regarding the status of the E. Houston St. safety study and whether plans call for adding a bike lane.

Brad Baker, 25, owner of the 1-year-old Trackstar on E. First St., said Morgan, who rode an expensive eight-speed 1982 Tommassini, was a customer at the bike shop, which specializes in track bikes and repairs of vintage bikes. Baker said police found Trackstar receipts in Morgan’s wallet and called Baker to the scene — both to identify the bike and because they couldn’t find ID on Morgan with information for friends or family. Baker was also friends with Bailey.

“My good friend Brandie was killed at Houston St. and Avenue A and the guy [who hit her] drives 20 blocks before police stop him,” Baker said. “Criminal charges should be pressed, definitely. I can’t think of anything else where you can kill someone and face no repercussions.”

Meanwhile, Baker said, he’s heard of police ticketing bicyclists for riding outside the Second Ave. bike lane, even though the bike lane itself is often blocked by double-parked restaurant delivery vans.

A verbose, tattooed messenger from Harlem who gave his name only as Morgan hanging out at Trackstar on a day off, said the problem is bicyclists get no respect. If only there were real bike lanes, in the middle — not on the sides — of the street, protected by barriers, he said.

“Everybody has the right to the street but the bicycles,” he vented. “Then we get killed — [and they say] it’s an accident…. I’m going to put a gun on my handlebars,” he said, “and start fighting back.”

On Wed., June 29, friends of Morgan planned to hold a ride from Brooklyn to Blue Ribbon Bakery on Downing St., where there will be a memorial.