A call to protest published in response to the recent spate of cyclist deaths in New York City.
To my fellow New Yorkers and cyclists,
I have been riding bikes for 18 years — the majority of my waking life. I have endured every close call one can imagine, from side-swiping cement trucks to recklessly turning taxis to police SUVs blowing past my face at 50mph. The fact that I have survived this long is only a matter of sheer luck.
Any seasoned cyclist in New York City can agree that riding anywhere in the city tends to be a constant game of Russian Roulette — regardless of whether one rides in a path separated from traffic or along a six-lane boulevard.
This year that game has given way to abject terror, as 15 of our fellow riders have now been killed on the same streets many of us use every day. Three in the span of a week.
Always too many.
Each time one of us is killed, the city’s response is to have the NYPD camp out in the area where that accident happened. They hand out a pile of tickets to cyclists — for running red lights, riding outside dedicated bike paths, not having a bell, the list goes on. All in ignorance of the conditions which often make the law impossible and even unsafe to obey.
Cyclists have been vilified week in and week out from all corners of the public sphere for our perceived danger to pedestrians. And I own my part in that — I have learned to respect the rules of the road much more carefully as I’ve gotten older.
But according to publicly available collision data from the NYPD, in the last few years pedestrians have been about 7,420% more likely to be injured by a car than by a bike.
And when a souped-up 3,000-pound American muscle car comes within inches of crushing me like a fly in the bike path I’m trying to ride in, I have no apologies for running red lights to get out of dodge.
While the pitchforks are pointed at us, cycling in New York is growing at twice the rate of any other city in the US. The number of annual cycling trips went up by a little over 100 million between 2007 and 2017. Children, newcomers, and lifelong natives are taking to the streets for the first time. What they are finding is a city which remains woefully unequipped to welcome them.
Neighborhoods across the five boroughs— especially communities of color — are left without the infrastructure or the policing of reckless driving needed to facilitate safe cycling. The result is even more unnecessary carnage.
Lately, for the first time in my nearly two decades of riding, I have been leaving my bike at home in fear of my safety.
After the deaths in the last week, many of us feel compelled to stand up and take action. I have had conversations in various forums brainstorming on what an effective response to this crisis should look like.
In those conversations, I found inspiration and broad support. And in my research for this letter I found that our mayor, Bill de Blasio, had already figured out what needed to be done.
So we shall. Through acts of civil obedience, cyclists have the power to disrupt traffic in every corner of the city while following the law to the letter.
Transportation Alternatives is leading a die-in at Washington Square Park this Tuesday, July 9th at 6:30pm. While I am not affiliated with TransAlt, I believe that their ongoing advocacy is crucial to any pro-cycling movement. I’ve been in touch and will collaborate with them in the future while also working independently.
I will take a long, roundabout ride from Canarsie to arrive the die-in at 6pm. Feel free to come along, or to observe a version of my guidelines for yourselves on your own rides to Washington Square Park.
This set of guidelines can also be applied for future days of protest. My hope is that this movement will grow and blossom through the rest of this summer.
It must continue until the de Blasio administration, the NYPD, the City Council, and New York as a whole are ready to have a real conversation about cracking the car-centric culture which has hampered our city’s progress for longer than I have been alive.
When we build in a smarter fashion and enact laws that are safe to follow at all times, the entire city benefits.
And no one else has to die.
Through protest we must demonstrate the urgent need for discussion and education. Through mutual understanding we move to bring the city together around a common goal of fairness for all.
Participants are encouraged to follow these guidelines as closely as is safe to:
- Do not run red lights at any point along your route. Come to a complete halt and count at least four seconds at every stop sign.
- On streets without bike paths, remain in the center of the right or single lane at all times. Ride two-by-two if possible, leaving enough space between yourself and parked cars to avoid getting doored. Do not ride in marked bus lanes.
- Remain in single file through any bike paths along your route. Again, stay out of dooring range.
- At any point where a bike path is obstructed, get off your bike and walk it around the obstruction, using whatever adjacent lane of traffic you can — interrupt car space, not pedestrian space.
- In those instances during which you are forced to walk around an obstruction in the bike lane, take photos of the offending vehicle and report it on the 311 and Reported NYC apps.
- Keep a slow to medium pace at all times, holding the middle of your lane in traffic and moving steadily along dedicated paths.
- Ensure that you are riding with a bell on your bike.
- Wear a helmet if you can. That’s mandatory for riders under 14.
- Make it fun. Play music for yourself (no headphones!), enjoy the scenery, make a friend or three.
- Ride with other protesters through your neighborhood or all the way into the city. Invite fellow cyclists on the road to observe days of action with you.
DO NOT SHOW AGGRESSION TOWARD VEHICLES. We are working to raise awareness. Expect drivers to be angry, to honk and yell and carry on. When possible, reach out to talk about the reasons why you are protesting. When it is not possible, stay safe by ignoring them and changing course if necessary.
MAKE WAY FOR EMERGENCY VEHICLES. Yield to ambulances, fire trucks, and police vehicles with sirens on at all times, no exceptions.
DO NOT RIDE RECKLESSLY. No riding the wrong way down any street, no unexpected turns, use your hand signals, do not mess with pedestrians.
THIS IS NOT AN ORGANIZED EVENT. We are observing guidelines and some of us will ride in the same direction, but any accumulating waves of cyclists are meant to form by chance, not on purpose.
Anyone who wishes to join in and make this a reality is encouraged to spread this letter far and wide. We can get the word out by Tuesday afternoon and gum up traffic all over the place. Lawfully!
At the moment I can see a need for educational pamphlets or a poster campaign of some kind (this set from The Netherlands was particularly inspiring, as was their entire road network) to go with our action in the future.
Also, I’d love to see ideas for what our symbol could be so that we know which of our fellow riders are participating.
Feel free to reach out @CitizenKuv on Reddit or Twitter if you want to start a wave of your own in areas of the city that could use the shake-up, or to help out in any way that you can think of. I’m just a random guy who wants to be able to ride my bike in peace, and every other voice in agreement (and disagreement) will be deeply appreciated.