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.
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.
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.