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Aggressive Driving

Washington Square Park Die-In: Team Coverage

A thousand cyclists lay down with their bikes in Washington Square Park in order to protest the traffic violence that has killed 15 cyclists so far this year.

A thousand cyclists and safe-streets activists came tonight to the "die-in" at Washington Square Park, filling the ground from the triumphal archway to the fountain with their bodies in order to send a message to Mayor de Blasio and to drivers citywide: "Stop killing us!"

As a trumpet player played the notes of “Danny Boy,” the park otherwise remained silent while each attendee lay down, except for 15 protesters who held signs with the names of each of the cyclists killed on city streets by drivers this year. The crowd also recited the cyclists' names.

A woman holds up a sign for Ernest Askew, a cyclist killed recently on the streets of Brooklyn.
Courtney Williams holds up a sign for Ernest Askew, a cyclist killed recently on the streets of Brooklyn.
A woman holds up a sign for Ernest Askew, a cyclist killed recently on the streets of Brooklyn.

The protesters were joined by many — but certainly not enough — elected officials, including Council Members Carlina Rivera, Brad Lander, and Jimmy Van Bramer and State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Harvey Epstein. Transportation Alternatives Interim Co-Executive Director Ellen McDermott and Senior Organizer Erwin Figueroa addressed the crowd.

“Every New Yorker deserves safe passage. It is a right!” said McDermott.

A protester holds a sign venting at Mayor de Blasio for his lack of attention to Vision Zero.
A protester holds a sign venting at Mayor de Blasio for his lack of attention to Vision Zero, which has led to carnage in the streets. State Senator Brad Hoylman is in the center foreground.
A protester holds a sign venting at Mayor de Blasio for his lack of attention to Vision Zero.

The mood was somber, as many participants recounted their own tales of near-crashes.

“I can’t say how many times I’ve been hit by drivers, had people yell at me to get out of the road," said Tayshawn Edmonds, a resident of East New York, Brooklyn, where the lack of protected bike lanes and safe streets have contributed to many injuries and deaths. "Riding a bike isn’t just fun, it’s a way to get around from door to door that’s fast and cheaper than paying $2.75 per trip. But it’s hard for people to do when they’re afraid kid getting run over,” Edmonds added.

After the protest action, police officers — on bicycles  — had something of a stand-off with cyclists. In a show of force, the officers blocked the bike lane next to the arch, letting only vehicle traffic but not cyclists go by.

NYPD officers on bicycles formed a phalanx around the protesters.
NYPD officers on bicycles formed a phalanx around the protesters, blocking a bike lane.
NYPD officers on bicycles formed a phalanx around the protesters at the July 9, 2019, "Die-in" at Washington Square Park in Manhattan. File photo: Dave Colon.

“You are unlawfully in the roadway and obstructing vehicular traffic,” a recording blared from a police squad car. “You are ordered to leave the roadway and utilize the available sidewalk."

Except for one problem: The paint in the Department of Transportation's protected bike lane on Washington Square North was still wet, so there was no space for bikers to go except the roadway. But cops chose to block bike traffic over car traffic. (One solution could have simply been to close Washington Square Park North for an hour so that 1,000 peaceful protesters could have their say and move on, but that would have required a sacrifice by drivers, which the Department of Transportation does not like to seek, Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told Streetsblog last week.)

And, of course, it wouldn't be a show of strength by cops if some NYPD officers didn't leave their squad cars in the worst possible place — such as in the bike lane on lower Fifth Avenue, earning this sarcastic "thumbs up" from a passing cyclist put into danger by car 5523.

A cyclist on Fifth Avenue
Cops don't care — and the roads are poorly designed, says a former mayoral aide.

Our reporter was not the only journalist to catch the officer red-handed:

A protester at the "die-in" asks not to be the 16th cyclist killed by drivers this year. Photo: Dave Colon
Williams asks not to be the 16th cyclist killed by drivers this year. Photo: Dave Colon
A protester at the "die-in" asks not to be the 16th cyclist killed by drivers this year. Photo: Dave Colon

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