After 3 cyclist deaths, New York City mayor vows crackdown

The shocking spate of three cyclist deaths in a little more than a week has drawn anguished cries from cyclists and transportation advocates and has undercut Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature transportation policy to make the streets safer.

After 3 cyclist deaths, New York City mayor vows crackdown

And four days after that — less than 4 miles from the last crash — still another cyclist died after being struck by a cement truck.

The shocking spate of three cyclist deaths in a little more than a week has drawn anguished cries from cyclists and transportation advocates and has undercut Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature transportation policy to make the streets safer.

“New Yorkers on bikes are being killed at an alarming rate,” said Marco Conner, interim co-executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group.

Across the city, 14 cyclists have been killed in crashes this year, four more than all of last year, according to city officials. New York’s streets have seen an increase in bicycling while also becoming more perilous, in part because of surging truck traffic fueled by the booming e-commerce industry.

The mayor acknowledged Monday that the city was facing an “emergency.”

It was de Blasio, then the public advocate, who as a candidate for mayor vowed to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and serious injuries. And within weeks of taking office in 2014, he unleashed ticket blitzes on scofflaw drivers and successfully pushed to lower the speed limit to 25 mph in most of the city.

Since then, the mayor’s aggressive policy — known as Vision Zero — has become his transportation priority and been copied by cities across the country. Year after year, de Blasio has heralded its success, as the number of people killed annually in traffic fatalities fell from 299 in 2013 to 203 last year, the lowest level in more than a century.

The soaring numbers of people on bikes have drawn criticism, particularly from some older people, that cyclists can also be menaces, going the wrong way on streets, failing to yield to pedestrians and flying through red lights and stop signs.

But after the recent cycling deaths, even de Blasio, a Democrat who is running for president, said the city had to do more.

“We absolutely have an emergency on our hands,” de Blasio said in a televised interview with NY1, the cable news station, adding that, “What we’ve seen in these last weeks and months is not acceptable. We’re going to do a full-court press to stop it.”

While insisting that Vision Zero was working, the mayor said police officers would be immediately deployed across the city to crack down on drivers to ensure they abided by speed limits, yielded to cyclists and pedestrians, and respected bike lanes.

“We’re going to use the power of NYPD enforcement on motorists to try to immediately jolt this situation,” he said.

Six of the cyclists killed this year were hit by trucks, underscoring the growing conflict on the city’s increasingly congested streets, as more people have taken to cycling and more trucks are making deliveries as a result of a thriving economy and the continued growth of Amazon and other online merchants.

Despite the city’s expansion of bike lanes in recent years, 11 of the cyclists were riding on streets without bike lanes when they were killed, according to city officials. Two others were riding in bike lanes, but were hit at intersections. Another cyclist was on a street with a bike lane, but was not riding in it.

There are 1,240 miles of bike lanes in New York City, including 480 miles that use barriers to separate riders from traffic. But in a city with about 6,000 miles of streets, that leaves many places without any protection for cyclists.

Many cyclists and transportation advocates say the city has not built enough bike lanes, especially protected lanes, to keep up with the cycling boom. About 460,000 bike rides take place in the city every day, up from about 180,000 bike rides in 2006, according to the city.

Cycling has increasingly emerged as an alternative to the troubled subways and buses, especially in boroughs outside Manhattan where access to public transit can be limited. Ten of the cycling fatalities this year were in Brooklyn.

But cyclists say that having bike lanes is useless if police do not keep vehicles from blocking them, forcing them to go into the streets. In some cases, it is police vehicles that block bike lanes.

“Until we have the proper infrastructure, we’re going to continue to have deaths,” said Clayton Harper, 43, who has ridden bikes for two decades in the city. “It’s Vision Zero, in theory.”

Harper and dozens of other cyclists held a vigil Monday night at the intersection in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where one of their own, Ernest Askew, was killed last week by a car.

They raised their bikes in the air for 10 seconds in his honor and placed a memorial — a plaque reading “Cyclist killed here. Rest in peace” — on the side of the street. Askew’s family and friends tied flowers to the street sign.

In the past decade, the number of cycling deaths annually has fluctuated, from a low of 10 last year to a high of 24 in 2017, according to city officials. The average has been about 17 a year.

But the recent deaths have led to growing concerns among transportation advocates that Vision Zero has stalled and that city officials have lost their focus in seeing it through.

“It is clear that Vision Zero is in a state of emergency and Mayor de Blasio is in denial about his signature program faltering under his neglect,” Conner, of Transportation Alternatives, said.

Citywide, 100 people have been killed in traffic crashes this year — or 11 more than in the same period last year — including 51 pedestrians, eight motorcyclists and 27 motor vehicle occupants.

Transportation advocates say the number of cycling deaths this year is actually one higher than the official count; their count includes a cyclist who is believed to have later died from his injuries.

Conner’s group has called for legislation to make streets safer, including overhauling truck and freight regulations, expanding enforcement efforts to keep vehicles out of bike lanes, and targeting reckless drivers.

“I understand there are so many people who are upset right now, and they have every right to be,” de Blasio said.

City transportation officials said Tuesday that they were developing a plan, which would include pursuing laws to increase cyclist protections and reaching out to the trucking industry to promote safer driving around bikes.

Dulcie Canton, 42, a cyclist and advocate, said it took years to recover from her injuries after she was hit by a car in 2014. She heard about Askew’s death last week while on a memorial ride for the bike messenger who was killed days before in Manhattan.

“I’m tired of meeting people at vigils,” she said. “We really need our Mayor de Blasio back to step up and bring some sanity to our streets.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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