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De Blasio calls for ‘cyclist safety plan’ after spate of deaths

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Three cyclists have been killed on city streets in the last seven days

A memorial “ghost bike” sits where cyclist Robyn Hightman was recently killed in Manhattan.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a surge of cyclists deaths an “emergency” Monday after a Brooklyn woman became the 15th killed on the city’s streets this year.

“We absolutely have an emergency on our hands,” De Blasio said on NY1’s “Inside City Hall.” “We’ve been using the Vision Zero strategy now for over five years, it’s been working consistently, but what we’ve seen these last weeks and months is not acceptable. We’re going to do a full court press to stop it.”

The lastest cyclist killed on city streets is 28-year-old artist Devra Freelander who was struck and killed by a cement truck in Williamsburg Monday afternoon, a NYPD spokesperson said. Her death marked the city’s third cyclist fatality in just seven days, prompting the mayor to direct police to “launch a major enforcement action” to “crack down on dangerous driving behavior like parking in bike lanes,” De Blasio said in a Monday statement.

The mayor has also directed the Department of Transportation (DOT) to develop a “new cyclist safety plan to make biking in our city safer.” The details of such a plan, the agency said, will be released in some two weeks. Expanded bike infrastructure, cycling policy shifts, and ramped up public education on cyclist safety are distinct possibilities.

“We are seeing a dangerous surge in cyclist deaths on our streets, and we are taking action,” de Blasio said in his statement. “No loss of life on our streets is acceptable.”

On Tuesday, the NYPD announced a three-week enforcement blitz on drivers to curb cyclist injuries and deaths. It was implemented Monday afternoon, shortly after Freelander was fatality struck.

“The NYPD will work with all of our city partners to implement a comprehensive plan to reduce and ultimately eliminate bicycle fatalities,” said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill in a statement. “The NYPD vigorously supports Vision Zero, and enthusiastically promotes safety for everyone on our city’s streets.”

The heightened enforcement seeks to target violations including speeding, running lights, not yielding to bikers and pedestrians, obstructing bike lanes, and double parking from July 1–21.

This has been a particularly bloody year for Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero, a program started five years ago geared toward eliminating the city’s traffics deaths by 2024. Already the city’s death toll of 15 cyclists exceeds the 10 killed in all of 2018. Of those who have escaped death, some 1,588 have suffered injuries—that’s up 51 incidents from the same time last year, data shows. The bloodbath has pushed safe street advocates Transportation Alternatives to plan “a mass die-in to protest the killing of cyclists” at Washington Square Park on July 9 at 6:30 p.m.

This year’s victims include 20-year-old bike messenger Robyn Hightman who became the city’s 12th cyclist killed after she was run over by a truck driver in Chelsea—on a well traveled Manhattan biking corridor. Other victims, such as 57-year-old Ernest Askew who was struck by a driver in Brownsville, were mowed down in low-income neighborhoods that typically lack robust bike lane networks.

A comprehensive plan to ramp up protections for the city’s cyclists is needed to safeguard riders across all neighborhoods, advocates charge.

“New Yorkers have long called for a more aggressive and innovative approach,” said Marco Conner, the interim co-executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “Today we are in a crisis. It’s up to Mayor de Blasio and the City Council to act.”