Hard lessons of vehicle attack

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Hudson River Bikeway fortified with concrete barricades as authorities plan new safety measures


  • A cyclist passes newly installed concrete barriers on the Hudson River Park Bikeway in Lower Manhattan, near the site of the Oct. 31 vehicle attack that killed eight people. Photo: Michael Garofalo

More than a week after a man drove a truck nearly a mile down the Hudson River Bikeway at high speed, deliberately striking pedestrians and cyclists and leaving eight dead and another twelve injured in his wake, concrete barriers spaced along the riverfront bike path serve as an imposing reminder of what NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill called “the worst terror attack in New York City since September 11th, 2001.”

City and state transportation officials installed dozens of barriers along the Hudson River Greenway in the days after the Oct. 31 attack in hopes of preventing vehicles from entering the park’s pedestrian and bicycle paths in the future.

The Oct. 31 vehicle attack started near Pier 40, at Houston Street, where the driver steered his rented truck from West Street onto the bike path and sped south, targeting users of the crowded, narrow trail. The driver was shot and apprehended by police after he collided with a school bus near Stuyvesant High School. Police identified the suspect as Sayfullo Saipov, 29, an Uzbek immigrant who they said was inspired by the Islamic State.

The attack marked the second time this year that a driver left a Manhattan street to target bystanders. In May, an intoxicated driver made an abrupt u-turn onto a Times Square sidewalk and plowed through pedestrians for three blocks, killing one person and injuring 22 others. The vehicle in the Times Square attack came to a stop when it struck a metal bollard on a street corner, which likely prevented further injuries. Additional bollards were installed in Times Square after the incident.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said after the bike path attack that while it would be “very hard” to put bollards on every corner in the city, the city will install them in “key places” and learn from each incident. Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would dedicate federal money to fund the installation of such barriers.

Jenni Hesterman, a retired Air Force colonel and author of the textbook “Soft Target Hardening,” said that she recognizes that traffic safety measures can sometimes inconvenience bikers and pedestrians. “When you put up bollards and barricades it can really start to impact daily life for people, but there are examples of how to do it effectively,” she said.

“In a city like New York, there’s just a soft target on every corner,” Hesterman said, adding that authorities must focus on areas of particular vulnerability. “What towns and cities need to look at is where these promenades are where a vehicle could mount the curb and get to a high rate of speed,” she said.

Hesterman said that decision makers can find useful input about vulnerable locations from the people who use public spaces every day and know them best. “The users often see spaces through different eyes than the people who design them,” she said.

“The bad guys want us to get comfortable and complacent and not fight back,” she added. “We can’t feel helpless. There are things that we can do based on learning from past attacks.”

Officials said that the bulky concrete barricades placed along the West Side bike path last week were a temporary measure until permanent solutions, possibly including metal bollards, could be put in place.

Paul Steely White, executive director of the bicycle safety advocacy group Transportation Alternatives called the temporary barriers a “safety hazard,” claiming in a statement that the concrete walls dangerously channel two-way bike traffic into narrow spaces. White called on authorities to “immediately remove these concrete barriers, and instead install permanent, precisely placed bollards on high volume bike and pedestrian paths citywide”

A week after the attack, Ryan Thomas, 25, biked to the site of a makeshift memorial to the victims near Pier 40 to pay his respects. Thomas, a Staten Island resident who until recently worked on the West Side and used the path every day, said that he hadn’t noticed much of an impact from the concrete barriers on light midday bike traffic as he rode to the memorial. “It could create a bottleneck of bikers when it’s crowded, but I see the need for them,” he said. “It’s a precaution that we can see now should probably already have been in place.”

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