‘Ask the Mayor’ Questioner: I Was Hit By a Driver — And de Blasio Failed Me

Caiti Borruso wrote the following op-ed after she was hit by a driver on May 2, the first day that the city opened up some streets for socially responsible recreation. On Friday, before publication of the op-ed, Borruso was lucky enough to be picked to ask a question on WNYC’s “Ask the Mayor” segment. Here is her exchange with Mayor de Blasio:

Borruso: I was hit by a car in a hit-and-run while biking on the first day of your new “open streets” initiative. I waited for half an hour for the police to come to file a report and they did not, so the EMTs advised me to go to the precinct. I live in Ocean Hill, which is a predominately black and working class neighborhood and I’m calling to say that you need to open up streets for the people. I do not think that limiting space in parks is the answer and I do not think that you understand or trust your citizens to police themselves on open streets. Mr. Mayor, I don’t live in a neighborhood near a park. I feel very failed by you, Mr. Mayor, I’m sorry — I’m not sorry, because I’m horribly afraid to leave my house and I think you need to do better and I want to ask you how you are going to do better to protect all of your citizens?

Mayor: Caiti, look, thank you. Thank you for the question. I only want people to tell me what they feel and New Yorkers usually do tell me exactly what they feel and I’m perfectly used to it. So, I want to make sure we’re constantly offering people more and more options. But I also have a bottom line about what I think is safe and it’s my responsibility to keep people safe. And I, with all due respect, I do not know your history or your sense of this city. You know, I’ve spent my life serving this city. I understand and trust the people of this city deeply, I also understand the challenges in this city and I don’t agree with the approaches that we’re taking in some other places being applicable here. I just don’t.

I’ve been over with this with our Police Commissioner, our Transportation Commissioner, and lots of other people in our team who work closely with communities and we just don’t believe that the approaches that don’t involve enforcement are ultimately what’s going to create a safe environment for people. But the good news is that we’re finding more and more ways to open up streets with enforcement, not just around parks, but far further, with the plan we agreed to with the City Council, which will ultimately be 100 miles of streets in the course of this crisis. And we’re finding more and more community partners who are going to be part of creating the structure to make sure the people are safe while also having the advantages of the open streets.I stand by this, we were not able to do it at first because we were hemorrhaging people all over the place that were getting sick.

We were losing public servants incessantly toward the end of March and beginning of April. We couldn’t put together the right enforcement mechanism. … And when we got to a situation where we had more enforcement personnel, we could set up structure that actually work, we could find local partners to work with, that’s when started to open up more and more streets, and again get to 100 miles. I’m sorry we disagree, but I think safety in this city, in this context, especially, bluntly, with too many people speeding lately, requires some real, visible enforcement.

After that exchange, Borruso told Streetsblog, “I think his answer was patronizing and total bullshit, ‘New Yorkers telling me about their feelings’ is bullshit. ‘With all due respect,’ I’ve lived here for eight years goddammit. De Blasio’s cops are creating unsafe environments. They didn’t even fucking come to get me from the scene of the accident. He’s a piece of goddamn shit.”

With that set-up, here is her op-ed:

caiti Borruso_headshot_2
Caiti Borruso

On the first day of Mayor de Blasio’s new open streets plan, I made it one block on the Eastern Parkway protected bike lane before I was hit by a car driver at the intersection of Buffalo Avenue.

We both had the green. I was in the middle of the intersection, and the driver was making a right onto Buffalo (without a turn signal). She looked to her right to make sure no one was coming, I screamed, she looked up and made eye contact with me over the blue stretch of her mask (these things all seem to happen at once), and then I was flat on my back in the middle of the intersection and she was gone.

There were people standing around me and the sky was bright and the wide swath of her red hood was gone, but I could still see it, the way it shone. I had passed a cyclist on the bike path just before getting to the intersection, and now he was standing beside me with a bandana covering his face. People were yelling to one another. I feel absurdly grateful that I decided to braid my hair, one lumpy braid on either side of my face, because it makes the helmet sit more squarely on my head than if my hair is in a bun.

My bike basket was intact, and the apple I packed, and the loom I packed for Maria.

“I’m fine,” I told the people around me through the mask, as we swept my belongings out of the intersection. “I’m fine.”

On the phone with 911, I told them I did not need an ambulance, just an officer so that I could file a report — I let out a wail, “Please save the ambulances for the sick people!” I pleaded. They transferred me to EMS anyway and told me an ambulance was coming, and not to drink or eat anything.

The other cyclist texted me the license plate number of the car that hit me [Streetsblog ran the plate; no camera-issued violations]. Neither of the EMTs touched me, but they waited with me for over half an hour. The requested officer did not come.

“They’re very busy today,” one told me. “Lots of cardiac arrests, and an officer has to stay with the body.”

That made me wail again.

Finally, one said, “We have to go. We are going to call the precinct and you can head over there yourself because they’re never going to come.”

They left, and shakily I packed my bike basket with my scattered belongings and the belongings of people I love, and the other cyclist who had witnessed it followed behind me.

It took a few minutes to find somewhere to lock my bike at the Utica Avenue station house because the sidewalk was so cluttered with illegally parked cop cars and their personal vehicles. The pole directly in front of the 77th Precinct headquarters, which was bending at an unnatural angle toward me, seemed to have been hit by a reckless officer backing onto the sidewalk, and on one side of it was a tree and on the other, a massive empty NYPD van.

Inside the station house, I was immediately chastised: “Why did you leave the scene?”

I cried and the person at the desk said, “Stop crying. You’re fine, but you shouldn’t have done that.”

I had never set foot inside a New York City station house before, and it was as weirdly glorifying of cops as I expected it to be. They called me a pedestrian, maybe because I walked in without my bike, my helmet atop my head, which I took off, and bike basket in hand, scraped fanny pack around my waist. Oddly, it made me feel better than if they were calling me a motorist.

I filed a report. The witness did, too, and left before me. I was twitchy on the bike ride home; it was the only way.

I sat on my front step and told my neighbors, who were in their yard, what had happened, and one said, “You can tell she’s nervous from how she keeps playing with her socks.” I showed them the scrape on the back of my thigh and they gasped. I called my father, who asked things I can’t remember now. I told my roommate what had happened and I took off my clothes and climbed into the bath with a book.

For years, since first bringing a bike to New York City in 2014, I have feared this. The pain lodged in my lower ribs seems innocuous, might be hunger pains, and the blossoming of a headache behind my left eye. The Tylenol is beginning to work on me.

The day before this, Mayor de Blasio announced that he had expedited the open streets campaign that he had previously cancelled due to lack of his own personal interest and his beliefs that all pedestrians must be supervised by the police. His open streets this time amounted to 2.69 miles of actual streets, and the rest, 4.45 miles, within parks that should already be car-free. The street closures were aimed at streets near parks, to expand them and relieve their density, which included two stretches near Prospect Park. Mayor de Blasio adores Prospect Park and enjoys contributing to the demise of our climate by being ferried there every day during this pandemic to walk sans mask. He also opened a stretch of road within Carl Schurz Park, where he technically lives and where I hope he will finally conduct his daily walks.

So that was my “open streets” day, New York; I ended it without having biked any of them, but with three bruises coming in hot on my right thigh. I live nowhere near the parks de Blasio has opened streets — in Ocean Hill, where the Eastern Parkway bike path is the closest protected path for miles. There is a bike lane on Thomas S. Boyland Street that ends abruptly at Broadway, which is one of the most dangerous roadways in the city.

I was excited to maybe meander through the open streets; I was excited at the prospect of people taking to the streets, to see children wondrous at the meager expanses of concrete now open to them. I was excited most of all to feel safe for even part of the ride. There have been so many failings of Bill de Blasio over the years of his tenure as mayor, too many to name, but the failing of his open streets program, and the failing of every single thing he has chosen to do during this pandemic — including visiting his beloved Park Slope gym one last time on the day he announced a lockdown, which deserves a mention every time I think of it — should haunt him and follow him.

What else?

  • Encouraging his DOT to defend keeping streets available for cars at the city council (a position he finally flip-flopped on) should haunt him.
  • The anti-Semitic tweet he sent last week should haunt him.
  • His excitement for Amazon back in 2018 should haunt him.
  • His proclivity for tweeting about the climate while being ferried around in large SUVs should haunt him. (His proclivity for tweeting at all should; he is very bad at it, overall.)
  • His proclivity for ferries should haunt him.
  • Not cancelling rent should haunt him.
  • Encouraging one last round at your favorite bar during the pandemic should haunt him.

Last month from my bike on the hill in Prospect Park, I watched a mother stop and stare, then point, to a small red fluff in the brush along the path — a cardinal.

“Come here,” she hollered to her daughter who had gone ahead. “Come look.”

The Empire State was red, the blood on de Blasio’s hands, on the country’s hands. The blood of last year’s traffic violence gave way to this year’s pandemic; the way that de Blasio has continued to stubbornly refuse advice from his health department, his experts, his general populace, has led to a crisis of unfathomable proportions.

On the first open streets day, I wept and said, “Please do not bring me an ambulance! Save it for the people who are dying.”

I heard about cadavers. I regret leaving my house, because the ambulance could have gone to someone sicker, better, more in need, and yet it came to me as I wept, as guilt settled over me

I wept for voting for him at all and I wept for the whole city.