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From Tragedy to Advocacy: Mary Beth Kelly

Mary Beth Kelly's story is as inspirational as they come.

In June 2006, she and her husband Dr. Carl Henry Nacht were bicycling home from dinner on the Hudson River Greenway in Chelsea when an NYPD tow truck turned sharply into the bike lane at 38th Street and 12th Avenue. Despite signs telling drivers to yield to pedestrians and cyclists, the tow truck did not slow down as it headed toward a riverfront tow pound. The truck struck Carl, injuring him severely. He died four days later.

Bicycling was an integral part of Carl and Mary Beth's lives. Their first date was done on bikes and they often took their bikes on vacation. A physician at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, Carl regularly used his bike to commute to the work and to make in-home visits to sick patients.

Rather than forsaking cycling after Carl's death, Mary Beth and her children Zoe and Asher got right back on their bicycles. Perhaps most important, Mary Beth has emerged as an outspoken and eloquent advocate for New York City cyclists. She now serves on the advisory council for Transportation Alternatives, where she is working to create and pass comprehensive complete streets legislation in honor of her husband.


[intro music]

Mary Beth Kelly: [00:04] I’m Mary Beth Kelly and I came to be more of an activist since the death of my husband, Dr. Carl Henry Nacht. He was killed when the two of us were riding our bicycles on a greenway in New York City in the Hudson River Park in June of 2006.


[music]

Mary Beth Kelly: [00:30] New York is just such a wonderful city and we thought it could be always so much more wonderful. And when he died in such a sad, sad unnecessary way, I wanted to channel and transform my… my anger, my pain, my loss into something forward looking, and in keeping with the things that we loved. I’m constantly intimidated at crosswalks where it seems like in this city we no longer assume that pedestrians or bicyclists have the right-of-way. And there’s a process of intimidation or playing chicken to see who’s going to get their foot out there or their wheel out there first. On a day to day basis my husband and I both rode our bikes to our work. All year long I would go between his office and the hospital. If he did home visits, he did it on his bike. It was just a wonderful way to start and finish our days. It meant that we weren’t polluting. We weren’t even crowding the buses or the subways with our bodies, we were out, you know, on our own. It took me a few months to get back on my bike. I don’t associate being on my bike so much with what happened to my husband as cars and trucks and what happened to my husband. A tow truck towing a car, you know, that’s about this city being kind of owned and operated by the automobile, and that’s why I’m fighting back. I’m saying this city has more to offer than car choked streets, than six lanes of an avenue dedicated to either parked or moving cars and trucks. I am going to be working on something related to safe routes to schools, which is… comes under the Department of Transportation, and in conjunction with them and Transportation Alternatives hold grassroots gatherings, let people see some of the wonderful ideas from places around the world or other cities even in this country, and envision what an even more wonderful city this could be. There are people that have been working for years to get the cars out of Central Park and they’re chipping away at it. Cars shouldn’t be in the Park. There’s no reason to have them here. This is a sanctuary. Look at this. This is what it could be like everyday. To me it makes all the difference in the world. You can’t just run, ride, run with your dog, rollerblade freely, you have to worry about what’s coming up behind you, you know, how fast are they going, are they going to obey the laws, are they going to give you the right-of-way, and most of the answers are no to those questions unfortunately.


Paul Steely White: [03:29] I’m a big fan of Mary Beth Kelly and she has been a huge shot in the arm for us advocates. And one of the ways we get things done is that we have angels who work with us to change New York City transportation policies so that we have complete streets, so that whenever the city is designing or rebuilding a street, they automatically include safe bike infrastructure. She’s making that happen.


Zoe Kelly Nacht: [03:51] I found my mum to be driven and energetic and inspirational. Her decision to continue riding her bike to work, has definitely been supportive of my deciding to ride my bike to work regularly. And I’m glad that she has a place to go like Transportation Alternatives where she can put her energy into some sort of political action.


Mary Beth Kelly: [04:16] You know in Sweden they have a target for the year 2020, zero fatalities due to automobiles hitting pedestrians and cyclists. We could do the same thing. We’re New York. We can lead.

[applause]

[music]

http://transcriptdivas.ca/transcription-canada/

Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • ecm

    Thanks, Mary Beth Kelly, for your advocacy, and your long-time and continued commitments to safer streets.

  • http://npgreenway.blogspot.com/2008/02/out-of-tragedy-comes-hope-for-tomorrow.html#links npGREENWAY

    [Out of Tragedy comes Hope for Tomorrow
    {An inspirational story from Streetfilms in New York City}

    Mary Beth Kelly’s story is as inspirational as they come.

    In June 2006, she and her husband Dr. Carl Henry Nacht, a physician who regularly used his bike to visit...]

    http://npgreenway.blogspot.com/2008/02/out-of-tragedy-comes-hope-for-tomorrow.html#links

  • http://www.walkandbikeforlife.org Gil Penalosa

    Wow, Mary Beth, THANKS!!!
    We need many champions like Mary Beth; change will happen when we stop just complaining and accompany it with DOING: calling the councillors, writing letters to the papers, participating.
    Under difficult circumstances, Mary Beth is showing us how. One step at a time. Start today.
    We cannot continue seeing wonderful human beigns like Dr. Carl Henry Nacht killed by cars and people seem to accept it as a fact of city life. It is not; this can change. Yes we can... create Healthier and Happier communities.

  • Michele Ammon

    Mary Beth Kelly is a remarkable human being. Her strength and persistence are endless. When I think of her, a smile immediately appears on my face...a true inspiration to me.

  • amk8406

    A remarkably beautiful person- Mary Beth deserves much recognition for her activism and attitude... for her achievements in changing policy/awareness specific to NYC, to a role model spurring change for those both in grief, or seemingly afar from the topic. Very, very few make waves in spite of such tragedy as she has demonstrated....

  • Noemi Masliah

    With his devotion to his patients and his exhuberance for all that NYC had to offer, Henry exemplified this city at its best. It is tragic that the city he so loved caused, as a result of its misplaced priorities, his unnecessary death. His wife, not surprisingly, is also a hero. Thanks, Mary Beth.

  • R. Berzins

    Mary Beth is an amazingly strong woman. Though she suffered a tremendous personal loss due to a bicycling accident, rather than avoid bcycling (as could be expected) she not only continues to ride but is an outspken advocate for this most important form of transportation. Amazing...

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  • Richie Sierra

    Mary Beth,

    Thank you for your courage, strength and dedication. You are a true champion and for not giving up.

    I live in The Bronx, I have been cycling for many year and often ride to work in fear. I thought that being HIV+ was the most scary thing in my life but when I ride to work I am more afraid of getting hit by a vehicle who disregards the cyclist then my life threatening illness. I ride for health and safety.

    You are a hero! :-))

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  • Christopher

    I was in NYC July 06 and spent a Sunday afternoon riding around the city (including Central Park). One of the sites I passed was the site of Dr Nacht's death - although at the time there was just a 'ghost' cycle marking it.

    Thankyou for making the film. It's an honour to find out who died at that spot, and Mary-Beth is an inspiration to us all. Cycle on in peace.

    Christopher,
    Tamaki Auckland
    Aotearoa New Zealand

  • Pingback: http://www.streetfilms.org/archives/cyclist-of-the-month-mary-beth-kelly/()

  • http://devaconcepts.com lorraine

    marybeth you are a truely inspirational being,You make us all want to get on our bikes & like you say, this is nyc !!we can lead.With you in front of this cause we can & we will.Blessed are we 2 have as our ''SPOKE'person oxoxoxox

  • plurabelle

    A film. Emotional, uplifting, sad and beautiful like some films. The bicycle and its dead heroes squeezed for our tears. With music. Not quite my cup of tea. And really, not furthering the case of the bicycle either. As film. Because the bicycle is not just another tear-jerking romantic subject. Mine at least is not...

  • Francine Menaker

    I went to high school and college with Carl Henry Nacht. The last time I saw him was when I ran into him on West End Avenue one day, many years ago. That's when I learned he was a doctor. I learned about his death when I read about it in AM New York on my way to work one morning. I was shocked and saddened. I was glad to learn, however, that hew had such a beautiful family and lived what seems to be a wonderful life. Such a sad waste.

    Rest in Peace Carl.

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