Advocates mourn death of 15th cyclist this year
by Benjamin Fang
Jul 09, 2019 | 4223 views | 0 0 comments | 416 416 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In the first six months of 2019, 15 bicyclists have already been killed, far surpassing the 10 cyclists who died last year.

The latest death was 28-year-old Devra Freelander, who was fatally run over by a cement truck at the intersection of Boerum Street and Bushwick Avenue in East Williamsburg on July 1.

According to the NYPD, Freelander, a sculpture and video artist who lived in Bushwick, was traveling down Bushwick Avenue when she was struck. There have been no arrests, and the investigation is ongoing.

In a statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is seeing a “dangerous surge” in cyclist deaths.

“No loss of life on our streets is acceptable,” he said. “Last year was the safest year on record––and we have to keep pushing the envelope and increasing our efforts until we achieve Vision Zero.”

The mayor has directed the NYPD to launch a “major enforcement action” to crack down on dangerous driving. Last week, the NYPD released a memo detailing the citywide traffic initiative, which runs from July 1 to July 21.

The crackdown includes ticketing for all Vision Zero parking and moving violations, such as speeding, running red lights, texting while driving and failing to yield to pedestrians and bicyclists.

It also includes ticketing for double parking and vehicles that are parked in or obstructs bike lanes.

As part of the initiative, patrol supervisors will respond to the scene of any bicyclist or pedestrian crash to conduct an investigation on whether the Right of Way law has been violated. Auxiliary officers will also conduct education outreach to reduce injuries and fatalities.

“The NYPD will work with all of our city partners to implement a comprehensive plan to reduce and ultimately eliminate bicycle fatalities,” said Police Commissioner James O’Neill. “The NYPD vigorously supports Vision Zero, and enthusiastically promotes safety for everyone on our city’s streets.”

De Blasio also tasked the Department of Transportation (DOT) with developing a new cyclist safety plan. A DOT spokesperson said the plan will include new and expanded cycling infrastructure, new cycling-oriented policy changes and increased public awareness that focus on cyclist safety.

The plan is expected to be released later this month, the spokesperson said.
Last Wednesday morning, dozens of advocates, friends and supporters of Freelander gathered at the Brooklyn intersection where she was killed. They held a vigil at the corner, adorning flowers, candles and artwork in her memory.

Mourners wrote messages like “We Love You Devra” and “Your Light Lives Always” on poster boards. Attached to them was a photo of Freelander, whose work explored climate change and geology “from an ecofeminist and millennial lens,” according to her website.

Councilman Antonio Reynoso, whose district has already seen two cyclist deaths this year, said the mayor’s Vision Zero policy has not gone far enough to prevent these tragedies.

“When you look at that memo, it’s sad to note that all we’re asking our NYPD to do is the basic minimum,” he said. “Are we saying that it takes 15 people to die before we simply ask people to do their jobs?”

Philip Leff, the chair of Transportation Alternative’s North Brooklyn Volunteer Committee, said many residents, including nearby school parents, have experienced or seen dangerous driving on Bushwick Avenue.

He called for “real culture change” to prioritize safety.

“The leaders of the city who think that three weeks of ticketing are going to make up for five years of inaction, that they can go back to business as usual, that’s not going to happen,” Leff said. “We need to put lives before profits.”

As the speaking portion of the vigil came to a close, two cement trucks from United Cement Mix, the same company involved with Freelander’s death, pulled up to the light at Boerum Street.

Cycling advocates confronted the two drivers, who stepped out of their trucks to engage in back-and-forths. One trucker accused the mourners of not caring about Freelander and the safety issues in the area until after her death.

“We do the best that we can,” he said. “Everybody in the company is affected by this. We actually do care, we got families.”

The other driver reportedly said that Freelander had made a mistake, and that the truck drivers “can’t see everyone.”

Advocates later shouted at the drivers, who had returned to their trucks, to stop victim-blaming.

Leff said the shouting match showcased the frustration that cyclists and pedestrians feel.

“We need to acknowledge that these are our lives on the line on these streets,” he said. “The attention needs to be paid to real human lives first.”
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