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News Source: theguardian.com
Hundreds Of Cyclists Hold 'die-in' In New York City To Protest Deaths | US News
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Hundreds Of Cyclists Hold 'die-in' In New York City To Protest Deaths

New York City cyclists have staged a “die-in” protest after three cyclists were killed in a span of a week, bringing the total number of cyclist deaths in the city this year to 15.

As a memorial for those killed, hundreds from the local cyclist community gathered in downtown Manhattan’s Washington Square Park to participate in the demonstration on Tuesday night. Participants of all ages laid in the park, many with their bikes lying next to them, for five minutes in silence. Some held signs that read “New York to cyclists: drop dead” and “reckless driving kills”.

The protest encapsulates the growing frustration riders have toward their city government for failing to act on promises to make the streets safer for cyclists. While 15 fatalities may seem low relative to the city’s population of more than 8 million people, advocates see it as an alarming increase to the 10 cyclist deaths – a historic low – the city had in 2018.

“People are literally dying on the streets because they’re not being adequately protected,” said Joseph Cutrufo, communications director of Transportation Alternatives, a city pedestrian and cyclists advocacy group that organized the protest. “Fifteen people have been killed just by getting where they need to go … [Biking] shouldn’t be seen as a dangerous behavior.”

The increase in cyclist deaths follows a pattern of fluctuation in the number of cyclist deaths New York has seen over the last five years as the city struggles with making its street safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

While other US cities can be less bike-friendly than New York, the city has a long ways to go to catch up to peer cities. New York has the highest number of bicycle commuters in the United States, with over 48,000 people commuting to work on a bike in 2016, and the highest five-year average for cyclist fatalities, according to the League of American Bicyclists 2018 benchmarking report.

Cities like Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, which had over 20,000 cyclist commuters each, had far lower five-year averages.

Biking in New York is “horrifying”, said Jaime Taylor, 35, a cyclist from Brooklyn. “This is a dense urban center, and there are hundreds of thousands of cars in it. That’s inappropriate, it’s dangerous.”

Taylor attended the protest in honor of her friend, Robyn Hightman, a 20-year-old bike messenger who was struck and killed after being clipped by a delivery truck in Manhattan 24 June.

“Robyn is a very experienced cyclist. Robyn knew how to manage their bike very well, Robyn worked as a courier,” said Christina Gavin, 36, a cyclist from the Bronx who was also a friend of Hightman’s, noting that another bike messenger was killed in Brooklyn in March.

“When you see this happening to experienced cyclists, who are strong cyclists, it’s very, very scary because it could be anybody,” Gavin said. “It’s just chance.”

Last year, Bill de Blasio, the city’s mayor and one of the Democratic candidates for president, touted the record low number of deaths as an achievement of his billion-dollar Vision Zero initiative – his plan to eliminate all traffic-related deaths on New York City roads by 2024. The mayor’s office cited the creation of new protected bike lanes, expansion of bike sharing programs and redesign of dangerous intersections as changes that have made the roads

But bike advocates in the city are arguing that the recent influx of deaths proves de Blasio shouldn’t be as complacent with the pace of Vision Zero.

Prioritizing public transportation, bicycles and pedestrian is “beneficial to the city, to the quality of life”, said Tanner Thompson, 25, a software engineer who lives in Connecticut and bikes down from Grand Central train station to his office in downtown Manhattan. “The city could be quieter, the city could be cleaner, the city could be more child-friendly.”

Advocates point to a lack of enforcement for driving infractions, like running through a red light or parking in a bike lane (a common enough annoyance for New York cyclists that there’s an Instagram page dedicated to it), and the slow construction of better infrastructure that make the streets more dangerous for cyclists.

Under Vision Zero, constructing new bike lanes has been the primary infrastructure change to make the streets safer for bicycles. The city built 250 miles of “dedicated cycling space”, but fell about four miles short of the nearly 25 miles of protected bike lanes – which separate cyclists from vehicles through a physical barrier on the roads – it planned to build last year. About 480 miles of the city’s 8,000 miles of streets are protected bike lanes, which have been shown to optimize road safety for both cyclists and drivers.

The construction of new bike lanes hasn’t come without controversy. In November, thumb tacks were placed along a popular bike lane in Queens, a city borough. The area’s community board had voted against the bike lane, with groups against the bike lane saying that it would cost the neighborhood 150 parking spots. The city council overruled the board’s vote, leaving some in the community sour.