Volume 75, Number 5 | June 22- 28, 2005

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

At City Hall memorial, cyclists left bouquets for three New Yorkers killed in the last six weeks while riding bikes.

Bicyclists mourn fallen riders, demand safe streets

By Jefferson Siegel

Last Thursday, a somber procession of bicyclists pedaled from Park Slope in Brooklyn to City Hall. The memorial ride of more than 100 cyclists was born of a combination of anger, frustration and activism.

So far this year, nine bike riders have been killed in collisions with motor vehicles. In the past six weeks alone, three riders were killed. In the shadow of these tragedies and the seeming disregard of city authorities to this ongoing problem, an unusual alliance of bicycle groups organized to make their voices, and their demands, heard.

The groups, Transportation Alternatives, Time’s Up!, FreeWheels, the New York City Bicycle Messenger Association and the Staten Island Bicycle Association, joined forces and voices to demand safer bike routes throughout the city.

At 8 a.m. the cyclists had converged on Warren St. and 5th Avenue in Park Slope, where, on June 9, attorney Elizabeth Padilla, 28, was killed when a truck driver opened his door without looking, forcing her to swerve into another truck. The riders proceeded across the Brooklyn Bridge, arriving Downtown just before 9 a.m. There, they parked their bicycles against the iron fences under the care of bike valets and quietly filed into City Hall plaza.

Bill Gehling from Australia held a helmet filled with flowers. “I’ve been involved in walking and activism [in Australia],” he said. “We had a son, 11 1/2, who was killed because of inadequate bicycling protection during roadwork.” His face bore the unmistakable sorrow of a parent who has lost a child. “He was killed by a truck,” Gehling said, looking down at the bouquet.

Each of the riders clutched a bouquet of flowers. Some had flowers in their helmets or fastened to handlebars. They gathered in the plaza and, one by one, approached a memorial to the victims. The memorial, a single bike and helmet, stood on the steps, supporting three large signs with the names of riders killed since April; Jerome Allen, 59, a banking administrator hit by an S.U.V. in Staten Island; Brandie Bailey, 21, a waitress at the Red Bamboo Vegeterian Soul Cafe in the West Village who lived in Brooklyn who was killed by a garbage truck at Avenue A and Houston St.; and Padilla. In all, there were three large piles with 204 bouquets, representing the number of cyclists killed since 1995.

Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, spoke of the three riders killed recently, as well as the riders gathered behind him, as “the kind of people that care about our city, care about our air quality and care about our national security and our dependence on foreign oil.” To cheers from the riders, he added, “We are here today to say that we want streets that do not punish efficient and healthy means of transportation.”

In T.A.’s recent Bicycling Report Card Web survey, safe streets, bike lanes and the overall cycling environment received grades of C and D. Charles Komanoff, author of “Killed By Automobile,” a survey of city street deaths from 1994-’97, recalled children, messengers and commuters killed in traffic while riding their bikes. “We mourn the shrunken spirit of our city that gives away its streets, our streets, to automobiles, and won’t make space for bikes,” he said to applause. He noted that hundreds of millions of Chinese, once famous for their cycling society, are being forced into a car culture in imitation of the rest of the industrialized world. Global warming, greenhouse gases and the loss of 1,700 U.S. soldiers and 100,000 Iraqis are all symptomatic of an oil culture, he added. “We mourn because an injury to one is an injury to all,” he said, concluding with, “Don’t mourn, organize!”

Noah Budnick, project director of T.A., was seriously injured in March when his bike hit a pothole as he rode near the Manhattan Bridge. After a month of hospitalization and months of physical therapy, Budnick made one of his first public appearances since the accident.

“The city must make the effort to systematically look at bike crashes around the city and come up with ways to make our streets safer,” Budnick said. “City Hall must treat cyclists as endangered, vulnerable road users and give them the respect and safety that they need on the streets.”

White called on Mayor Bloomberg to develop an “action plan” to make streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. The list of recommendations included stronger design standards for safe streets, changes to traffic rules to prevent “dooring” incidents and better motorist education initiatives.

Matthew Roth of Time’s Up!, the East Village-based pro-biking group, called on the city to embrace cyclists, pedestrians and its open spaces. “We need leadership and vision,” he said. “We need to embrace cycling and walking for the health of us, for the safety of us, for our families.”

Norman Siegel, civil rights attorney and candidate for public advocate, told the riders, “You are the quintessential New Yorkers. You are the people who stand up, who dare to dream. I say to you, keep riding, keep the faith.

“For too, too long, our city government has viewed bicycling as a nuisance to our city’s drivers, instead of seeing it as the vital, responsible form of transportation that it is,” Siegel said. He called for the installation of side guards on trucks to prevent the kinds of accidents that killed three bicyclists in the past six weeks. He also called for a new era of cooperation between bike advocacy groups and the Police Department, noting that the recent crackdown on the monthly Critical Mass rides was an unnecessary expenditure of tax dollars and not beneficial to anyone.

Last week, as reported in The Villager, Time’s Up! began its memorial stenciling project, spray-painting six stencils on the Lower East Side, including four near Avenue A and Houston St. At the scene of a death of a bicyclist or pedestrian, they mark the outline of a body on the street, the name of the cyclist and date of the accident and observe a moment of silence and leave flowers.

The next Critical Mass ride is on Fri., June 24, in which it is expected that, at some point, riders will stop and raise their bikes over their heads in tribute to their fallen brethren.

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