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City May Be Responsible for Bike vs. Pedestrian Crash on Brooklyn Bridge

A JURY SHOULD decide whether New York City is liable for a bicyclist-pedestrian collision on the Brooklyn Bridge walkway that bikers and walkers share, a judge has decided.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Reginald Boddie on May 4 denied the city's motion for summary dismissal of the personal injury suit brought by attorney Donald Olenick, who contends in Olenick v. City of New York, 23466/11, that the city's negligence caused his July 2010 collision.

Olenick said he suffered a fractured wrist and arm and deep lacerations to his face, knee and fingers when he was thrown from his bike after a pedestrian stepped from the walking lane into the bike lane on the bridge's walkway. He was about two-thirds of the way from the Manhattan side of the bridge to the Brooklyn side when the morning collision occurred.

Olenick argued that the frequency of accidents between pedestrians and bicyclists on the bridge-his papers cited five serious accidents from 2008 and 2010, in addition to his own-effectively provided the city with actual or constructive notice of the same dangers that led to his injuries.

The city countered that when it created the "Markings Plan" on the Brooklyn Bridge's walkway in 2008, it was both addressing the dangers Olenick complained about and performing the "archetypical discretionary, governmental functions" that establishes municipals' immunity from liability.

Among other things, the plan provided for stick-figure images of a pedestrian to mark the lane for walkers on the bridge and images of bikers to mark the bicyclists' lane. The walking and the bicycling lanes are separated by a white line.

Boddie said that while the city acknowledged that pedestrianbicyclist accidents occurred "frequently" on the bridge, the city's adoption of the "Markings Plan" did not represent an adequate city response that would allow it to invoke immunity.

No study of safety on the walkway preceded adoption of the enhanced markings on the lane, the justice noted.

"Plaintiff argues that because the city did not conduct a study prior to creating the plan, the city cannot invoke the qualified immunity defense," Boddie wrote in his decision. "The court agrees."

Boddie said a jury should decide whether the city's adoption of the 2008 enhanced marking plan in the absence of a wider study on pedestrian-bicyclist safety on the bridge contributed to Olenick's injuries. If jurors find the city negligent, they must also find that the negligence constituted the proximate cause of the collision if the city is to be held liable for Olenick's injuries under municipal liability precedents, Boddie wrote.

"The circumstances here present questions of fact, which must be submitted to a jury. Accordingly, defendant's motion for summary judgment and to dismiss the complaint is denied in entirety," he concluded.

"This will be good news to all the bicyclists who have had similar problems with the inadequate markings between the bicycle lanes and the pedestrian lanes on the bridge," His lawyer said in an interview Monday. "Both sides, really. There really should be barriers to separate the two."

A spokesman for the city's Department of Law, which represented the city, said the ruling was under review and declined further comment.

An estimated 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 bicyclists cross the Brooklyn Bridge daily, according to the New York City Department of Transportation.