NEW YORK: Hundreds of cyclists covered every inch of the main entrance to Washington Square Tuesday evening, lying under the iconic arch and around the park fountain in protest of the spike in biking deaths this year. Bikers from across the five boroughs gathered for a five-minute “mass die-in” to rally for the city to do more to address what they described as a street safety crisis. After more than four years of Vision Zero, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s cornerstone traffic safety program to eliminate traffic deaths appears to be faltering.
“Some people say that there are too many people on bikes in New York. We say there are too many cars,” said Ellen McDermott, the co-deputy director at Transportation Alternatives, one of the organizers of the event. “It is time to change how we build our streets. Every single New Yorker deserves safe passage, whether you are walking or on your bike.”
After the de Blasio administration brought traffic deaths to historic lows, 2019 is poised to be the first year in which more people die on the streets. There were 96 traffic deaths recorded through June, up from 83 at that point last year. And so far 15 cyclists have died this year, far surpassing the 10 who died in all of 2018.
Bikers cried, sharing grief over lost friends, and directed their anger at City Hall, at one point chanting “do your job” to the mayor.
“We’re here to say we’re fed up with the inaction from Mayor de Blasio. He announced a policing blitz; we don’t think this is a problem that can be policed away,” said Mike Pach, 28, a bike courier born in the Bronx. “There needs to be proper infrastructure; there needs to be proper driver education…we want a dialogue with City Hall and the Department of Transportation. “This is our peaceful, friendly approach.”
Aster Ryan, 25, of Wingate, said “this summer has felt especially dangerous.” In addition to the three cycling deaths that took place within a week, Ryan said she was hit while riding her bike a little more than a week ago on Dean Street, and also watched another rider get hit by an opening car door recently.
“It’s painful and it sucks,” Ryan said. “It’s terrifying and difficult that I have this feeling that I have to fight for space against massive vehicles.” De Blasio announced last week that he had directed the Department of Transportation to create a cycling safety plan and the police force to undergo a three-week ticketing blitz against dangerous driving behavior — though many feel those measures are not enough.
“This crisis situation with the bikes worries me, and we need to do something differently so we will be blitzing on those bike lanes in addition to all of the enforcement we we’ve done previously,” de Blasio said during an unrelated news conference Monday. “Vision Zero is about changing behavior. We want to make sure we do things that have a lasting effect.”