Nuisance no more
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
It mattered little that the sun shone bright this past Sun., Sept. 29th.
Those who were clamoring for a leisurely brunch outdoors, or even just a peaceful walk from and to Inwood Hill Park along Dyckman Street soon found themselves scrambling to get out of the way when dozens of motorcyclists swarmed the thoroughfare.
Observers reported that, beyond keeping to their lanes, the motorcyclists roared onto sidewalks and converged on the BP gas station on the corner of Dyckman Street and Seaman Avenue.
“I had about 40 customers sitting outside and [people] flooded the block from Broadway, Riverside, Payson and Seaman,” recounted Victor Santos, the manager of Mamajuana, located on the corner of Dyckman and Seaman Avenue. “There were motorcyclists revving their engines, coming down the block. They were reckless, very reckless.”
Many of his patrons, he said, clambered in fear to get inside the restaurant to avoid getting run over.
Santos said the eatery also took a financial hit.
“It was a beautiful day,” he said, shaking his head. “I couldn’t take advantage of my outside café.”
José Luis, the manager of the BP gas station, said the riders blocked the entire station for as long as 20 minutes – and none of the riders filled up during their stay.
“We couldn’t do anything,” said Luis.
The riders prevented other customers from entering the station, which was being attended by one employee. Luis added that the riders left when police approached the area. Footage of the meet-up was subsequently handed over to the police.
Authorities believe that this was the same group of motorcyclists who later traveled onto the West Side Highway and encountered Alexian Lien and his family. In a violent incident that was videotaped, Lien was driving his Range Rover on the highway when the sport utility vehicle was surrounded by motorcycles and his path was blocked by riders. In the car with Lien were his wife and 2-year-old daughter. He accelerated and hit one of the motorcyclists that remained in his path. Riders subsequently pursued the vehicle in a frenzied chase from the 125th Street exit to the George Washington Bridge, where they caught up to him after he exited on 178th Street. Riders surrounded the vehicle, and shattered the windows, dragging Lien from the driver’s seat. They beat and stomped on him before his family.
A few local residents, including Sergio Consuegra, intervened and the riders departed, leaving a bloodied Lien on the ground.
He was treated for facial lacerations and bruising at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and released.
An ongoing police investigation, to date, has resulted in four arrests.
The incident has attracted national attention, but for residents and business owners of Northern Manhattan, the alarming behavior of some motorcyclists is not news. The Dyckman corridor has long been a playground for cyclists who use the street as their own personal drag.
Luis said riders often converge at the gas station, but never in the numbers seen on Sunday.
“Summertime, we have the problem all the time,” he reported. “I’ve never seen that before.”
Eudes Espino, an employee at Tread Bike Shop, which is on the same south side of Dyckman as the gas station, was at work on Sunday when pedestrians scrambled into the shop to dodge motorcyclists who had overtaken the sidewalk.
Like everyone else who lives, works or frequents Dyckman, Espino and Santiago are familiar with the motorcyclists.
“Every Sunday there’s a bunch of them, but not en masse. That was overkill,” said Espino of Sunday’s episode.
Espino said the sidewalk outside the shop is also plagued with other types of traffic issues.
“We have cars coming up onto the sidewalk to do U-turns,” said Espino.
Espino is a motorcyclist himself, but sided with Lien.
“By all means, he had the right of way.”
Espino insisted that most motorcyclists respect the road and other drivers.
“Everyone that’s civil doesn’t ride in groups,” he said.
At a press conference this past Thurs., Oct. 3rd at Mamajuana, State Senator Adriano Espaillat said he’d encountered dangerous riders himself.
“I have personally been stopped by motorcycle crews,” he said. “They got in front of my car and I almost hit one of them.”
The Senator’s encounter was on Broadway, just a few blocks east from the restaurant.
“I’m concerned the neighborhood has become the Wild West for motorcycle drivers,” he said.
Sen. Espaillat, together with Assemblymember Gabriela Rosa, announced plans to introduce statewide legislation that would make it illegal for motorcyclists to ride in large numbers.
“I don’t think we need to feel scared because a motorcycle will try to hurt us,” said Assemblymember Rosa. “We need to respect life, families and our community.”
Still to be determined is how many riders are too many and how the legislation would be enforced.
Pursuing motorcyclists is not presently part of the Police Department’s protocol.
“The danger to the community would outweigh the benefit of catching someone,” said Inspector Barry Buzzetti of the 34th Precinct, under whose jurisdiction Dyckman Street falls.
The precinct has cracked down on motorcyclists this year.
At least a hundred vehicles have been confiscated, mostly during the summer and largely around the vicinity of Dyckman Street, said Inspector Buzzetti.
On Sunday, the day of the West Side Highway incident, the 34th Precinct confiscated 6 to 10 motorcycles from riders who didn’t have insurance, proper safety gear, or a license.
While seeking and pursuing large groups of riders is against NYPD protocol, Sen. Espaillat insisted that more aggressive legislation would deter large groups of riders from riding recklessly.
“I believe that if you establish legislation and ground rules that limit the number of motorcycles without a permit on a highway, the police will be able to then block the highway perhaps,” he said. “Or [they could] even prevent them from going into the highway, and do better traffic control to keep them from where they can hurt pedestrians,” he said.
The Senator declined to say how he would have reacted if he were in Lien’s situation, but did note, “All I can say is that if I were in his position, I would have been very scared as well.”