People on Bikes Take Over Fifth Ave to Demand Safe Streets From de Blasio

Photo: Michael Nigro. (You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter: @nigrotime.)

New Yorkers on bikes took over Fifth Avenue yesterday evening to demand stronger action from Mayor de Blasio to implement life-saving street redesigns essential to achieving his goal of zero traffic deaths by 2024. Organizers estimate that more than a thousand people participated.

As they rode from Grand Army Plaza at 59th Street to Washington Square Park, demonstrators from across the five boroughs chanted “Safe streets now!” and “We are traffic!” The full procession stretched for blocks, clocking in at over four minutes from the vanguard to the tail.

Before the ride, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White called on the mayor to “fund and fast-track” safety improvements for walking and biking at the hundreds of dangerous streets and intersections identified by DOT in its Vision Zero action plans.

The reduction of traffic deaths in NYC has stalled this year, and more people on bikes were killed in traffic in the first eight months of 2016 than all of 2015. “We are here to say that Vision Zero, to be real, must be funded,” White said. “[People] are dying because of bad design that the mayor’s not fixing.”

Demonstrators also demanded that the city expand its growing network of protected bike lanes “to all neighborhoods”; that NYPD cease blaming victims in the press and ticketing cyclists after fatal crashes; and that police enforce the 25 mph speed limit, protect the right of way of pedestrians and cyclists, and make crash investigations open to the public.

White chastised the NYPD’s approach to crash investigations and called on incoming police commissioner James O’Neill to do better. “Instead of doing their job, the NYPD is blaming the victim, and that has to stop,” he said.

Paul White addresses the crowd at Grand Army Plaza. Photo: David Meyer

Mayor de Blasio made an unprecedented commitment to safe streets when he took office in 2014, rolling out Vision Zero as a multi-agency effort to end traffic deaths. Since then, his administration has pushed through legislation and redesigned some sections of the city’s most dangerous streets, like Queens Boulevard, but those efforts have not been enough to prevent the increase in cyclist deaths this year.

One glaring void in the mayor’s policies is a larger budgetary commitment to street redesigns. Without more resources, DOT can’t overhaul the city’s dangerous streets within the Vision Zero timetable. Transportation Alternatives and the City Council have called for greater financial investment in life-saving street redesigns. But for two years in a row, the mayor has refused to follow their recommendations.

At times, de Blasio’s DOT has even scaled back or cancelled redesigns at the behest of community boards.

Amy Cohen of Families for Safe Streets recounted the story of Ella Bandes, who was struck and killed at the Myrtle-Wyckoff intersection on the Brooklyn-Queens border. Soon after, a turning bus driver struck and killed Edgar Torres at the same intersection. Despite the advocacy of Ella’s parents, Ken Bandes and Judy Kottick, one local community board has declined to support DOT’s safety plan for the location.

“Despite Judy and Ken’s relentless efforts, the DOT has refused to stand up to those who put parking over others’ lives,” Cohen said. “All these years and many lives later, we are still waiting for the intersection to be redesigned.”

Speaking to Streetsblog before the ride, City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer said the city was “moving in the wrong direction” on bicyclist safety. “We have to say, as a community, as a city, enough is enough,” Van Bramer said. “The city can and should do more [to] step up efforts to build more protected bike lanes, to increase enforcement on speeding, and get to the point where we’re genuinely all saying, together, ‘Not one more — not one more death, not one more cyclist.'”

Also riding were council members Helen Rosenthal, Antonio Reynoso, and Carlos Menchaca, as well as Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who told the crowd he was riding for Lauren Davis, the 34-year-old cyclist who was killed while biking on Classon Avenue in April.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Photo: Aaron Naparstek

“This is not political, this is personal,” Adams told the crowd. “I ride every day, I know our streets can be better. New York should be catching up to the rest of the globe. We should be leading the globe by making streets safer.”

Other elected officials — Public Advocate Letitia James and council members Brad Lander, Vanessa Gibson, Danny Dromm, and Ritchie Torres — were not in attendance but gave statements in support of the effort.

Of the 17 cyclist fatalities across the city this year, only two occurred in Manhattan and none on streets with protected bike lanes. Demonstrators said they came because their neighborhoods have yet to receive protected bike lanes. “We have a lot of people get clipped,” said 41-year-old Ronald Foster, who lives on 165th Street near Yankee Stadium. During the summer, Foster bikes all the way to Coney Island to get to work.

Foster said he expects Citi Bike to come to the Bronx in the coming years, but that the borough’s infrastructure isn’t ready for it. “[The mayor’s] doing good around the outskirts. The greenways and the paths [are] beautiful. I love what they did,” he said, but the inner parts of the borough are still lacking even as more and more young people are riding in the Bronx. “They need safer ways to ride their bikes, they just don’t want to get hit by a car.”

Peter Schenkman, whose father Michael Schenkman was killed cycling in eastern Queens last month while attempting to access the Joe Michaels Mile bike path, said the mayor had failed to follow through on his promises. “Mayor de Blasio’s grandstand event called Vision Zero is just that: a press release with little financial support but a good marketing campaign and a lowering of the speed limit without increased enforcement,” he told the crowd. “We need real action, Mr. Mayor. Real funding.”