(Photos and video: Mycah Hazel)

Cyclists filled Washington Square Park last night to protest an increasing number of bike deaths across the city. The protesters staged a die-in, laying on the ground for five minutes in silence while several riders held up signs with the names of bicyclists killed by drivers citywide this year. Hundreds of attendees filled an entire section of the park, from the arch to the fountain.        

“Some people say that there are too many people on bikes in New York,” said Ellen McDermott, co-deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, the nonprofit that organized the march as part of its work to encourage more environmentally-friendly travel on the streets. “We say there are too many cars.”

The number of bike deaths in 2019 has already reached 15, according to the NYPD’s traffic data archive— surpassing last year’s record low of 10. Most recently, on July 1, visual artist Devra Freelander was struck and killed by a cement truck in Williamsburg. Bicyclist organizations blame a lack of bike lanes and few bike safety regulations. Cyclists last night called specifically on Mayor de Blasio to implement protections for riders. 

“These louts in trucks and bikes and buses, who are killing all those people and who may kill the rest of us, they are emboldened by the city’s policies of bad design and unequal, lax enforcement,” said Hindy Schacter of Families for Safe Streets, a partner in the rally along with Transportation Alternatives, We Bike NYC, and The Brown Bike Girl. Schacter’s husband was killed in a crash with a cyclist in 2014. He was a pedestrian. “You may say, why am I up here then? Working to make cycling safe. It’s not the cyclists that’s at fault so much as it is the city.”

Mayor de Blasio has heard these calls before. The day of Freelander’s fatal incident, de Blasio agreed, in an interview with NY1 segment Inside City Hall, that the city was in a “state of emergency.” He also called on the NYPD to crack down on driving behavior that endangers cyclists.

The same day, the NYPD announced that through July 21, they would be conducting a “citywide bicycle safe passage plan.” Officers would closely monitor city streets for poor parking, speeding, cars in bike lanes or other hindrances to bicyclists. Auxiliary officers would perform educational outreach to inform drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians how to share the road and reduce incidents. The city also has bike safety proposals in the works, including in areas where some of this year’s 15 deaths occurred. The Department of Transportation has already declared Grand Street between Rodney Avenue and Metropolitan Avenue a Vision Zero Priority area, meaning that the area would be prioritized for bike safety implementations by the Department of Transportation, NYPD, Department of Citywide Administrative Services and other city departments. Started by Mayor De Blasio in 2014, Vision Zero is an action plan meant to increase liability for traffic deaths and injuries, and decrease traffic incidents through preventive measures. 25-year-old Aurilla Lawrence was struck by a truck driver near Broadway and Rodney Street in February. DOT also has bike safety plans proposed for Alphabet City, the Lower East Side, Two Bridges and other areas in every borough.

Nonetheless, some bicyclists already have a safety plan in mind– it’s just a matter of the city accepting it. At the die-in, there were loud cheers at the mention of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s proposed “master plan” bill. Introduced in May and heard by the City Council last month, the bill proposes a five-year plan for safe bike lanes, bus lanes, and pedestrian walkways to be released by October 1. The bill calls for the plan to include the installation of at least 250 miles of protected bike lanes and the amendment of parking policies and truck routes to prioritize the safety of bike riders. It also demands an updated version of the plan to be released every five years with new bike, pedestrian and vehicle safety measures. The 2024 master plan, according to the bill, should include a comprehensive bicycle network.

Cyclists also cheered for City Council Member Carlina Rivera’s bill, which would require construction companies to create safe detours around hazardous construction sites. Rivera was present at the protest, along with State Senator Brad Hoylman and Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Brad Lander.

Funding for these proposed bills has not been secured.