On Saturday afternoon, September 21, 2019, 14-year-old Mario Valenzuela was struck and killed by a sanitation truck in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens. This accident tragically brings the number of cyclist deaths in New York City to 21 so far in 2019, more than double the amount throughout the city in 2018, according to The New York Post.
At around 1:55PM, Valenzuela was riding eastbound on Borden Avenue alongside a Limited Interior Group sanitation truck when he was struck as the driver made a righthand turn onto 11th Street. Valenzuela was knocked unconscious by the impact and later pronounced dead at the scene. The bicycle he rode hauntingly remained lodged in the back wheel of the truck as police arrived. Officers continue to investigate the incident, although the driver was not immediately charged.
Witnesses claim that the driver was visibly shaken by the accident, reported to be seen crying as he waited to speak with authorities. The truck remained at the scene for further police investigation. The owner of the sanitation truck, Limited Interior Group, has not yet responded to reporters’ requests for comment on the situation. However, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that the company received six safety violations in 2018, including inadequate brakes for safe stopping, an improperly secured rear of container, and a driver operating a commercial motor vehicle without a commercial driver’s license.
According to his family, Valenzuela had left home to play soccer with friends at nearby Gantry Plaza State Park, but never returned. As the family mourns their loved one’s death, the community and cycling advocates have aligned to seek improved safety standards for cyclists, arguing to the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) that changes need to be implemented. State Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris responded to the incident stating “Too many cyclists have lost their lives in our city and not enough is being done to keep them safe…one thing is clear: we must do more.” Additionally, City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer asks, “When will the NYC DOT start treating this like the emergency it is?”
The number of cyclist fatalities in NYC has drastically increased in 2019 with 21 fatalities so far this year compared to 10 in 2018. Many of these deaths occurred as a result of factors like the lack of protected bike paths in the city. A protected bike path is one that provides a physical separation between passing traffic and cyclists, according to the Centre Regional Planning Agency. In an effort to combat these accidents, Mayor de Blasio announced “Green Wave: A Plan for Cycling in New York City” in July of 2019. This plan includes several major elements, such as:
- Citywide Protected Bike Lanes
- Improvement and Update of Current Design
- Expansion of NYPD Enforcement
- Promotion of Legislation and Implementation of Policy
- Targeting Trucks in Major Safety Initiative
- Expansion of Outreach/Helmet Safety
A thorough network of safe bike paths is necessary for the overall improvement of cyclist safety in our city. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Valenzuela family during this difficult time. We hope that improvements can be made to avoid future unnecessary tragedies.
Until progress is made with NYC’s bike lane network, it is important that cyclists feel safe on our streets. It is equally important that a victim in a cyclist accident is able to receive justice and be compensated fairly for their losses. Block O’Toole & Murphy has a proven track record of fighting on behalf of victims in cycling crashes, such as this cyclist who received a $2.5 million settlement after being hit by the door of an Access-A-Ride van. If you or someone you know has been seriously injured in a cycling accident in NYC, please contact the lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy for a free legal consultation by calling 212-736-5300 or filling out a contact form online.