Bike advocates packed Washington Square Park Tuesday night, laying their bicycles and bodies on the ground as part of a “die-in” demonstration calling for better infrastructure and more enforcement to protect cyclists after a string of recent fatal crashes.
Activists say 15 cyclists have been killed on the city’s streets so far this year, including three fatalities that took place in one week. The deaths prompted the NYPD and Mayor de Blasio to launch a three-week enforcement blitz this month, including an effort to ticket more vehicles that block bike lanes.
But advocates say the response is inadequate. They describe riding down painted bike lanes filled with parked cars that force them into traffic, and a police department they see as more interested in ticketing cyclists for infractions than going after drivers who break the rules.
“You don’t come. You don’t show up…but you make sure there are four lanes of traffic,” Robert Green, a cyclist who lives in Hudson Yards, shouted at a group of NYPD bike patrol officers who’d lined up along Washington Square North following Tuesday’s event. “We think you want to kill us. That’s what we think.”
During the demonstration, participants laid on the ground in the park with their bicycles for five minutes of silence, while a man played the Irish ballad “Danny Boy” on a trumpet. protesters held up signs bearing the names and ages of cyclists killed this year.
“We are united in grief. We are united in anger,” said Ellen McDermott, co-deputy director for the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, as she led the crowd in a call-and-response chant. “We will not stop riding. We will not allow the carnage to continue. We deserve safe passage.”
Following the event, at least one protester was led away by police with his hands in cuffs or zip-ties after he sprawled across the hood of a taxi on 5th Avenue and Washington Square North, holding a sign that said “#CarFreeNYC” and refusing to move.
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the protest, though de Blasio has previously stated that he’s tasked the Department of Transportation with developing a new safety plan for cyclists.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who’s proposed an ambitious plan to redesign city streets to make them more cyclist and pedestrian-friendly, called the protest “heartbreaking.”
“It is heartbreaking that New Yorkers feel so unsafe walking and biking in our city right now that pedestrians, cyclists, and transit advocates feel they must stage a die-in in order for something to change,” he said in a statement. “We need to break the car culture that is choking our streets and literally killing people.”