Another Century Condo Resident To Board: Drop Your ‘Frivolous, Dangerous’ Lawsuit

25 Central Park West, whose board is trying to stop a lifesaving traffic safety improvement. Photo: Vivian Lipson
25 Central Park West, whose board is trying to stop a lifesaving traffic safety improvement. Photo: Vivian Lipson

It turns out that Kenneth Squire isn’t the only resident of the Century Condominium who objects to the condo board’s lawsuit to stop the Central Park West protected bike lane.

Safe streets hero Joan Dean, whose grandson Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed by a driver in Park Slope in 2013, also lives at the building — and wrote a letter to fellow residents demanding that they stop supporting the suit with their silence.

The letter also seeks to counter the building’s baseless legal argument against the protected bike lane by speaking the truth about how protected bike lanes improve road safety for all users. It’s a righteous clarion call for sanity inside a building that, judging from its own legal papers and a fact-free Q&A slipped under residents’ doors, has simply lost its mind. (Roberta Brandes Gratz, another resident of the building, contacted Streetsblog to confirm that she, too, opposes the lawsuit.)

Here is the text of Dean’s letter, which was obtained by Streetsblog’s Dave Colon.

Dear Neighbors,

For 14 years, I have called 25 CPW home and treasure our location, mere footsteps from Central Park. While this building and our neighborhood houses some of my most treasured memories, it also holds my most tragic. In 2013, my 12-year-old grandson, Sammy, was hit and killed by a reckless driver.

Sammy Cohen Eckstein. Photo: Families for Safe Streets
Sammy Cohen Eckstein. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

There is not a day that passes when I don’t think about him and what could have been done to save his precious life. He, like far too many New Yorkers, have been victims of our unsafe streets. Every two hours, someone is killed or injured in a traffic crash in New York City.

As you may know, some residents in this building, without input from all unit owners and residents, have been leading a lawsuit to stop a life-saving protected bike lane along Central Park West that will benefit tens of thousands of New Yorkers.

I ask for your support as neighbors and friends in urging the board to drop this lawsuit. As a community, we are better than this, and have a real opportunity to save lives.

While the Board decided unanimously to take legal action on an emergency basis without broader consultation, I implore you to take a look at the actual emergency in New York City. Traffic violence brought on by cars and trucks is a public health epidemic. Just this year, at least 56 pedestrians and 18 cyclists have been killed. I remind you that these are fathers, sisters, wives, husbands, sons and daughters, grandchildren, teachers, doctors — our fellow New Yorkers. As Dana Lerner, our CPW neighbor whose 9-year-old son was killed by a taxi driver, remarked last week: “Don’t think it can’t happen to your family. I never thought it would happen to mine.” The proposed safety measures on CPW save lives and reduce injuries throughout New York City, and they are more important than parking.

This lawsuit is frivolous, ill-informed and dangerous. Most importantly, it threatens to put lives at risk. As such, it brings shame to 25 CPW, the Century, the place we all call home. Watching our building on the news for using the type of financial resources many in our society don’t have, to stop a known life-saving measure, was like learning about Sammy being killed all over again.

I feel compelled to share with you my shock, dismay and personal pain that our very own building would play a leading role in delaying and trying to stop this critical life-saving street design. I also want to make something very clear: a protected bike lane was proposed and ultimately approved for CPW by our own Community Board 7 because these designs are proven to save lives.

You have likely seen the white memorial bike for Madison Lyden, a 22-year-old tourist from Australia, killed on CPW in 2018 because there wasn’t a protected bike lane. Can you imagine what her parents are going through? Instead of picking her up from the airport, they had to bury their daughter, a recent college grad with a full future ahead of her.

Unfortunately, I can empathize. On Oct. 8, 2013, my 12-year-old grandson Sammy was killed in front of his home by a reckless driver. He was smart, charming, articulate and a high achiever. He was poised to enter his teenage years and grow into an adult. He had so much promise. Instead, I watched in agony as his parents shoveled dirt onto his grave and sat stone-faced in synagogue a few weeks later when he was absent from his own Bar Mitzvah. They continue to struggle daily to find a path forward. No words can describe how much we all miss Sammy.

The Department of Transportation’s street design plan on CPW is not just for bicyclists. Bicycle lanes are a critical life-saving component because they make it safer for everyone. This includes me as an older pedestrian, kids, parents with strollers, those with disabilities, and all of us in the Century. By narrowing the driving lane, cars go slower, and we have a shorter distance to cross on foot while exposed to potential impact by multi-ton cars or trucks. Importantly, the proposed changes will make our intersections safer, with the addition of leading pedestrian intervals and exclusive pedestrian crossings, all evidence-based solutions for reducing injuries and fatalities.

As a factual matter, I want to highlight a few things about the condo board’s Q&A that I find extremely upsetting, just so you are aware of some misleading assertions in the letter:

  •  It alludes to DOT beginning the approved street design work with only 48 hours notice as a way to thwart community opposition. This is untrue, as the design was approved at the July 3, 2019 Community Board 7 meeting after months of community engagement, following the death of Madison Lyden in August 2018.
  • It also says that there will be nowhere for people to safely exit cars, cabs, and buses, which is a gross exaggeration at best. This type of redesign has been implemented around the city. Curbside accessibility is often improved.
  • It claims — without evidence — that the upcoming congestion pricing charge will lead to a surge in illegal u-turns on the corridor, and that the redesign as proposed will somehow exacerbate the situation. Congestion pricing radically reduced crashes in London when it was implemented, and protected bike lanes are proven to do the same. There is no reason to take the Board’s speculation on this at face value. It is, to say the least, grasping at straws, and is without factual basis.
  • It also implies that cyclists cause a lot of deaths. All New Yorkers deserve safe streets and the ability to navigate our city without fear of injury and death. Every person killed on New York’s streets is one too many, regardless of the type of vehicle by which they’re struck. However, deaths from reckless cyclists account for less than one percent of total pedestrian deaths in the Vision Zero era. Since January of 2014, five pedestrians have been killed by cyclists in New York City, while more than 700 pedestrians have been killed by drivers of cars and trucks. Moreover, studies show that building appropriate infrastructure promotes safer cycling behavior.
  • Lastly, the suit by our Board claims the street redesign will cause “irreparable harm” to the Board. This is a slap in the face of me and my family, and, I am sure, for the family of Madison Lyden. Our suffering is what is irreparable. What is permanent for me and my family is the loss and absence of Sammy, not the loss of a parking space.

For those of you concerned about safety implications raised in the Q&A, I implore you to learn more about the plan, the traffic calming measures it will bring for us all and how it fits into the need for safer streets throughout New York City — for all road users. Will parking spaces for personal cars be lost? Yes. But free parking in our city’s public space is not a right. Safe passage for us all — young and old, pedestrians and cyclists, drivers and passengers — is.

If you would like more information, have additional questions and/or would like to support me and others in encouraging our Board to stop this frivolous lawsuit, please feel free to reach out to me.


Joan Dean