Police have arrested the hit-and-run driver who allegedly killed a pedestrian in Hamilton Heights on Friday night. According to an NYPD release, 27-year-old Tyrik Cooper is charged with seven offenses in the death of 26-year-old Erica Imbasciani, including vehicular manslaughter, driving while impaired by drugs, leaving the scene of a serious crash, and driving without a license.
Imbasciani was killed on Amsterdam Avenue at West 141st Street, a stretch of road that the Department of Transportation has been attempting to make safer for two years.
According to NYC Crash Mapper, since February of 2013 there have been 549 crashes on Amsterdam Avenue from 110th Street to 162nd Street; three pedestrians and a motorist have been killed, 249 pedestrians and 84 cyclists have been injured.
In March of 2017, the DOT presented a plan to Community Board 9 to add safety improvements to that corridor, including a painted bicycle lane, a left turn lane, curb extensions, and safety islands. CB 9 has yet to approve the plan, though their role is strictly advisory.
"Incredibly, I would say the single largest reason for pushback has been loss of parking, in a plan that would entail the net loss of six spaces over a 45-block stretch of this avenue," Councilmember Mark Levine, who represents the area, told Gothamist.
"There's also, I think, a misunderstanding of what it would do to traffic to reduce from four to three travel lanes," Levine added. "I think people imagine that would create traffic jams, but in fact often traffic moves more smoothly in these residential streets with less speeding."
A DOT study found that more than 70 percent of drivers speed on this portion of Amsterdam during off-peak hours.
"One of the only times where I would really call for the administration to act even in the face of community board resistance, would be matters of life and death, and that's the stakes now on this roadway, so I do believe DOT needs to act," Levine said, noting that he would be sending a letter to the DOT today asking them to move forward with the safety improvements.
"Erica was killed on a stretch of Amsterdam Avenue where local residents and safe streets advocates have demanded a redesign that puts safety ahead of driver convenience," Erwin Figueroa, a senior organization at Transportation Alternatives said in a statement. "But Community Board 9 has stood squarely in the way of making this street safer since doing so was first proposed two years ago. While Council Member Mark Levine has long supported the redesign, Mayor de Blasio has still refused to act."
Streetsblog covered a town hall meeting this past October to discuss the DOT's proposals, at which CB 9's transportation committee chair, Carolyn Thompson, dismissed city data showing that the measures would make the road safer.
“All it’s going to do is slow traffic down,” Thompson said. “Every time you say you’re taking out a lane, you’re slowing traffic down. I don’t care what they’re saying, it slows traffic down.”
Thompson was quoted as CB 9's transportation committee chair in a 1995 New York Times story about a proposed bike lane in her district. "I don't see anyone in the community saying, 'We really want this," she told the paper.
Seth Stein, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, told Gothamist, "We are working with the community to implement enhanced safety features on this corridor. We will have more to say soon." CB 9 hasn't responded to our messages.
43 people have been killed on New York City streets since the beginning of 2019, a 20 percent increase over 2018.
A vigil for Imbasciani will be held on Monday night at 7 p.m. in front of Levine's office, which is also the spot where she was struck and killed.
"My daughter's beautiful amazing life was stopped short by a drugged up Hit and Run driver," Imbasciani's mother, Lisa Maccarelli Imbasciani, wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday morning that remembered her daughter as an artist with "a big loving heart and a passion for humanity and social justice."
"There is no doubt she would have made great contributions to humanity and the art world, if she would have had the chance."