Hundreds of bicyclists staged a “die-in” in New York’s Washington Square Park July 9, expressing outrage over the spate of killings of cyclists on the city’s streets. Three deaths came in a one-week period, finally prompting demands for public action: Robyn Hightman, a 20-year-old bicycle messenger and track racer, was killed by a truck driver in Manhattan. Ernest Askew, 57, riding an e-bike in Brooklyn, was hit and killed by a teen driver. And Devra Freelander, 28, an artist, was killed by a cement truck driver, also in Brooklyn. (Bicycling, July 10) Hundreds of people gathered at 6th Avenue and West 23rd Street after the slaying of Hightman there on June 24. Hightman was the 12th cyclist killed on New York City streets in 2019; 10 were killed in all of 2018. (Gothamist, June 25)
Hightman was found by police laying on the street, unconscious and unresponsive, with head trauma. The driver initially fled, but later returned to the scene. Media reports did not indicate that he was arrested. As The Villager reports, Hightman had been an advocate for bicylists, who had recently posted on social media:
As a homeless youth deeply entrenched in the trappings of poverty and parental abuse and neglect, my first bicycle offered a way to seek respite from the horrors of my surroundings and human experience, if only for a few glorious minutes. My bicycle established a sense of independence, strengthened my ability to be self sufficient, and provided me with the confidence necessary to advocate for myself, my rights, and my needs in public space… Eventually, my bicycle allowed me to provide for myself when I began working a full time job at the age of fourteen. My bicycle provided me with the socioeconomic mobility necessary to escape. My bicycle saved my life.
City Council member Brad Lander has introduced a bill to impound vehicles that rack up five or more moving violations in any 12-month period. (Streetsblog, July 10) But Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has made traffic safety a supposed priority with his Vision Zero campaign, sparked further outrage just a few days later by defending a police officer who “forcefully stopped” a cyclist in the East Village—running over his CitiBike in the process.
The incident took place on Ave. A near Tompkins Square Park July 5—just three days after the mayor announced a new campaign to protect cyclists in response to the recent killings. A widely-shared video of the confrontation shows an unidentified officer—his SUV jack-knifed across the bike lane, the mangled CitiBike stuck under its wheels—accusing the cyclist of riding recklessly. “I’m going to use whatever means necessary to stop you, and that’s for your safety,” the officer tells him, drawing gasps and guffaws from the gathered crowd. (Gothamist, July 8)
The headline announcing the new safety campaign in the Daily News July 2 was all too telling: “NYPD announces plan to temporarily improve bike safety after slew of cyclist deaths.” Temporarily. Right, let’s wait for the news cycle to move on, then we can go back to killing bicyclists like normal.
Indeed, the NYPD has been escalating harassment of bicyclists of late. As Gothamist reported April 22:
For six years, bike messenger Shardy Nieves, 38, has organized the 4/20 Race and Bake relay bike race without any major issues with the NYPD. “At the finish line we have cookies, pizza, cupcakes, local bakeries sometimes sponsor it, it’s just a way to bring the community together,” Nieves told Gothamist.
But on Saturday afternoon, when Nieves arrived at the starting point for this year’s race, Tompkins Square Park, he said he was greeted by name by an NYPD Lieutenant. “The officer had a manila envelope, and inside that envelope was screenshots of my social media and screenshots of the event,” Nieves says. A few minutes later, Nieves was in handcuffs.
Nieves was told he was being arrested for an outstanding warrant stemming from an open container ticket he got in 2015.
And the automotive carnage that we have been documenting for years likewise escalates…
James Buzzell, 76, was fatally struck by a box truck backing into a parking spot near Union Square in May. (Daily News, May 21) Earlier that month, police charged the driver of a Smart car who plowed into two people in Battery Park City, severing one victims’ foot. (Daily News, May 11) Also that month, a car rammed into a man crossing Northern Blvd., critically injuring him. The city is supposedly planning a makeover of the Queens thoroughfare because of an alarming uptick in pedestrian fatalities there. (Daily News May 11)
Arlene Kalfus, 81, was struck and killed by a shuttle bus near Battery Park in April. No arrest was reported at the time. (The Villager, April 11)
Another metro area bicycling advocate, David Schlichting, 66, of Great Neck, who helped found the Five Boro Bike Tour more than four decades ago, was killed in March when he was struck by a minivan while riding his bike in Lake Success, Long Island. (Newsday, March 19)
Similar news is reported from across the country. In Washington DC, bicyclist and safe-streets advocate Dave Salovesh, 54, was killed by a speeding driver on Florida Ave. NE—another thoroughfare with a notoriously deadly reputation. Just days after Salovesh’s death in April, Bronx resident Abdul Seck, 31, was fatally struck by a vehicle while visiting DC’s Anacostia neighborhood. (SmartCities)
In June, an off-duty police officer lost control of his vehicle while allegedly driving drunk and plowed into a restaurant in Chicago’s South Side, killing a woman who was dining inside. (ABC News, June 12)
In Los Angeles, where 21 bicyclists were killed last year, city officials aim to raise awareness of the issue by placing signs memorializing bike riders “who died in crashes.” (LA Curbed, April 8) Note that we take issue with this terminology.
In a truly perverse case, a trap set along a Colorado Springs bike trail severely injured a 69-year-old rider in March. Nard Claar suffered a broken right clavicle, three broken ribs, a concussion, and “road rash” when his bike got caught in a parachute cord intentionally strung across the trail. (Bicycling, April 17)
And in Guatemala back in March, more than 30 people were killed when a truck plowed into a crowd gathered at the site of a road collision that had left one dead. There was no report of an arrest. The “accident” (sic) took place in the municipality of Nahula, Sololá department. (Sky News, March 28)
As Vice reported April 24:
Researchers have now found an explanation for why many drivers act out toward cyclists: They are actually dehumanizing people who ride bikes, according to an April study by Australian researchers in the journal Transportation Research. And this dehumanization—the belief that a group of people are less than human—correlates to drivers’ self-reported aggressive behavior.
Since 2010, cyclist fatalities have increased by 25 percent in the US. A total of 777 bicyclists were killed in crashes with drivers in 2017, and 45,000 were injured from crashes in 2015. Data compiled by the League of American Bicyclists also suggests that, in some states, bicyclists are overrepresented in the number of traffic fatalities.
Added the municipal affairs website Strong Towns:
If anything else—a disease, terrorists, gun-wielding crazies—killed as many Americans as cars do, we’d regard it as a national emergency. Especially if the death rate had grown by 50 percent in less than a decade. But as new data from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (via Streetsblog) show, that’s exactly what’s happened with the pedestrian death toll in the U.S. In the nine years from 2009 to 2018, pedestrian deaths increased 51 percent from 4,109 to 6,227.
We have pointed out before that by any objective standard, cars are worse than terrorism. The escalating carnage may also be linked to the current depressed oil prices—reversing the downward trend in road fatalities during the oil shock a decade ago. But this issue brings together concerns of foreign wars for control of oil, the domestic police state, global climate destabilization, and the particular manifestation of Ugly Americanism evidenced under Donald Trump. It is long, long past due that we start viewing trafic “accidents” (sic) as a political issue, and a form of systemic oppression of those who (whether consciously or not) dissent from the hegemonic and ecocidal car culture.