by VICTORIA EDWARDS
Hundreds of bicyclists gathered at Grand Army Plaza on Sept. 15 to rally and ride for those who had been injured and killed in traffic accidents.
“It’s a response to the inaction of Vision Zero,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, referring to the safe streets initiative instituted by Mayor Bill de Blasio shortly after he took office in 2014. “The mayor came out of the gate strong, but he didn’t invest in safe street redesign. The streets are dangerous, but the mayor has not marshaled funding to fix them,” he said.
White said that Transportation Alternatives had organized the rally along with several other groups to push for the funding, street redesign and enforcement he said was needed to protect bicyclists and pedestrians under Vision Zero, which targets the elimination of traffic deaths by 2024.
According to city data, 15 cyclists were killed through July this year while 14 were killed all of 2015, and 2,410 have been injured through July compared to 4,434 hurt in 2015.
Transportation Alternatives and other bicycle advocacy organizations were not alone in supporting the cause. City Council members Helen Rosenthal, Carlos Menchaca, James Van Bramer and Antonio Reynoso attended the event and voiced their support.
Attorney Jeff Heller, a bicyclist, has a picture perfect reason to push for greater enforcement of Vision Zero: He has an X-ray photograph of his broken leg taped to the front of his bicycle. A driver crashed into him in broad daylight two years ago while he was stopped at a red light. The driver, he said, got off scot-free.
“Because she apparently was not drunk and did not flee the scene, the police did not give her even a ticket. So there’s no mark on her record although she was inches from killing me,” he said.
Heller said he hopes that rides like the Thursday evening rally will convince lawmakers and police to pass and enforce laws to better protect bikers and pedestrians.
It was hard to ignore the hundreds of riders who rode south from 59th street and took over Fifth Avenue to ride down to Washington Square Park. The riders took over the lanes; some with lights threaded through their tires, one man pedaling along on a tall green unicycle. Police escorts on motorcycles trailed the group and bystanders snapped pictures and took videos.
Michele Mclaren rode through the mass in a rickshaw. She was hit over two years ago by a taxi while she walking through a crosswalk on her way to work. She still hasn’t fully recovered, she said. But the show of solidarity meant a lot to her, she said.
“I’m blown away, I’ve never been to anything like this as far as a bike ride before. It’s very touching to me to see so many people come together,” she said. “A lot of times you see things happen and it gets glossed over. Especially because it’s an epidemic here.”
The bikers met up at about 8 p.m. at Washington Square Park at the ride’s conclusion. White, of Transportation Alternatives, urged participants to keep by safety issues in mind as they go to the polls in November and during other elections.
“The mayor is shortchanging Vision Zero. Your action today makes it likely that we can get funding to address vision zero. This may be termed as first meeting of all powerful bike lobby,” he added, before the riders separated by borough to ride home.