Additional reporting by Clifford Michel, Kazi Awal and Savannah Jacobson
The deaths of three city cyclists in less than a week — and 15 so far this year — led Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday night to declare an “emergency.”
“We’re going to do a full-court press to stop it,” de Blasio said in a TV appearance, pledging a cyclist safety plan from the city Department of Transportation and an NYPD crackdown on motorists who invade bike lanes.
He spoke while friends, family and fellow cyclists mourned 28-year-old Devra Freelander, killed by a cement truck in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn; Ernest Askew, 54, fatally struck by a car in Brownsville, Brooklyn; and Robyn Hightman, 20, who was hit by a truck on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.
If the mayor’s promises sound familiar, that’s because City Hall previously launched similar efforts two years ago that some cyclists and advocates say are falling short.
“The progress has been piecemeal at best,” said Max Sholl of North Brooklyn Transportation Alternatives.
In July 2017, the city Department of Transportation announced a five-year “action plan” to improve bicycle safety, following years of steady decline in bicycle fatalities.
The department committed to “create or enhance” 75 miles of bike lanes across 10 “Priority Bicycle Districts” in Queens and Brooklyn — community board areas where cyclist serious injury and death rates are highest and bike-lane coverage is notably skimpy.
Of the 36 bicyclist fatalities since DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg’s announcement of the action plan, nine have taken place within the priority districts. Another three cyclists were fatally struck within 500 feet of the zones.
On Tuesday, a DOT spokesperson said the agency plans to add approximately 25 miles of bike lanes this year, on top of the 14.7 miles built so far. She did not, however, specify where the new bike lanes are going.
In the two years since the plan’s release, the agency has added some bike lanes in the priority zones — including in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Ridgewood, Queens.
Transportation official also made presentations before local community boards in East New York, Brooklyn, and sections of Queens, including Jackson Heights, Corona and East Elmhurst.
However, large sections of the 10 “Priority Bicycle Districts” — including some in Brooklyn, where most of the cyclist deaths occurred — appear to have seen little in the way of safety improvements.
‘I Won’t Ride on the Street’
The busy business district on Avenue J in Midwood is located inside one of the DOT bike priority zones, in Brooklyn Community District 14. For years, the official DOT bike map has marked the strip a “potential future bicycle route.”
For want of a bike lane, Rebecca Mendez said she’s taken to occasionally cycling on sidewalks, as she was doing Tuesday on Avenue J.
“A lot of times, I won’t ride on the street — it scares me,” said Mendez, 40, of Bensonhurst. “So I go on the sidewalk, and if I get a ticket, so be it.
“I would rather get a ticket than get hit by a car.”
NYPD officials said Tuesday that officers will be on the lookout through July 21 for drivers who put cyclists at risk. That includes motorists who drive or park in any of the city’s 1,250 miles of bike lanes.
“If you have other vehicles in the bike lanes, it just defeats the purpose,” said Jimmy Loi, 27, who was cycling along Emmons Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, located within another Priority Bicycle District.
Emmons Avenue is designated a bike route, but has no special lane markings.
Some cyclists say lanes are most needed outside of Manhattan.
“There is a certain amount of awareness about cycling in Manhattan that we haven’t seen here yet,” said Susan Levine, 70, of Brooklyn, locking her bike on Avenue J. “It’s a matter of trying to change others’ point of view.”
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