As the impassioned protests over recent cyclist and pedestrian fatalities continued for the third straight week, around one thousand New Yorkers staged a “die-in” at Washington Square Park on Tuesday evening to demand safer city streets.

Stretching from the arch out past the fountain—what could’ve been Fifth Avenue South, one participant noted—the protesters laid silently on the pavement next to their bikes for several minutes. Fifteen people stood with signs bearing the name of each cyclist killed this year, four of whom have lost their lives in just the last few weeks.

“Mayor de Blasio, do your fucking job,” shouted one protester, as the group recited a plea for “safe passage for our friends and neighbors” and vowed in unison that they would not stop riding.

Big turnout for die-in at Washington Square Park, demanding bolder city action after 15 cyclist deaths this year #bikeNYC pic.twitter.com/lnLtxvAAxu

— Jake Offenhartz (@jangelooff) July 9, 2019

“A plea to Mayor de Blasio…do your fucking job” pic.twitter.com/GcJdHTHEuK

— Jake Offenhartz (@jangelooff) July 9, 2019

The initially solemn demonstration, organized by Transportation Alternatives, seemed ready to erupt at times, with tensions flaring between cyclists and police officers, who used their own bikes as physical barriers to prevent the crowd from disrupting traffic. At least one person was handcuffed, after placing his body on the hood of a taxi (a spokesperson for the NYPD could not immediately say whether the person was charged).

The confrontational protest came after last week’s vigil for Devra Freelander—a 28-year-old cyclist struck and killed by a cement truck driver on Bushwick Avenue—devolved into a shouting match between truck drivers and cyclists. This time around, advocates urged the group to stay focused on the mayor, and on the perceived refusal of his police force to protect cyclists and pedestrians.

Hindy Schachter, a member of Families for Safe Streets, said it was important to remember that reckless drivers were not the root cause of the problem, but had been “emboldened by the city’s policies of bad design and unequal, lax enforcement.”

Efforts to strengthen protections for cyclists and pedestrians—including existing bills in the City Council that would accelerate the installation of protected bike lanes and penalize motorists who repeatedly violate the law—have not yet found support in the Mayor’s Office. Even as de Blasio boasts that street fatalities have trended down in recent years, advocates note that traffic injuries have jumped nearly 20 percent since 2014, while pedestrian deaths are on pace to increase for the second straight year.

Conceding the situation was an “emergency,” the mayor announced a three-week enforcement initiative to protect cyclists earlier this month; nearly halfway through the operation, the NYPD says they’ve issued 2,160 summonses to vehicles parked in the bike lane.

I asked Officer Moran if he knew he was in a bike lane and he scoffed pic.twitter.com/YrIzApvP4H

— Jake Offenhartz (@jangelooff) July 9, 2019

Several participants in the die-in said there was little noticeable impact. Holly Ledbetter, a Bushwick resident and friend of Freelander, noted that the bike lanes near her apartment remained “blocked by cars and trucks one hundred percent of the time.” As she spoke, at least half a dozen police SUVs could be seen parked in new bike lanes adjacent to the park.

Local elected officials in attendance Tuesday also acknowledged that the city was not doing enough. “We have the tools to save lives, but we seemingly we can’t get the political will or the NYPD enforcement,” Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat, told freepicker. “The mayor is not doing enough and the NYPD is not doing enough.”

As the die-in wound down, dozens of NYPD officers formed a barricade at the northern edge of the park, glaring at cyclists and threatening to arrest those who rode in the street.

“When we try to do a peace ride, they treat us like a gang,” fumed Ivan Ramirez, a 36-year-old cyclist from Harlem. “We ain’t a gang. We’re a family.”

Standoff between police and cyclists now after the #bikenyc die-in at Washington Square Park. pic.twitter.com/i7hyA9VCDS

— Julianne Cuba (@Julcuba) July 9, 2019

After a few minutes of shouting, a group of cyclists managed to break through the human barricade, riding en masse toward Sixth Avenue as a police loudspeaker warned them against “obstructing vehicular traffic.” The group eventually made its way south on MacDougal Street, trailed by roughly 20 cops on motorized scooters.

As the cyclists chanted “our streets,” Officer Matthew Forsythe was heard remarking to a fellow officer, “I thought they couldn’t ride without bike lanes.”

A few minutes later, a commercial van driver, texting on his phone as he pulled out of a parking space on Downing Street, nearly crashed into the passing group of cyclists. Officer Forsyth motioned for him to roll down his window, chastised him for texting while driving (“it’s no good”) and then motioned for the driver to continue on.

Asked whether he planned on writing a ticket for the moving violation, the officer responded “can’t right now,” then continued following the cyclists.

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