On Tuesday night, an 80-year-old woman was killed and an 84-year-old man was badly injured by a driver making a left turn onto a residential street in Little Neck, Queens. As of this morning, no arrests were made. On Monday morning, an elderly cyclist was fatally struck by a driver while riding in the Eighth Avenue bike lane near Times Square. The driver fled the scene, and has not been located. Two days earlier, a 62-year-old woman died from injuries suffered when an SUV driver ran her over as she was riding her bike on Kings Highway in Brooklyn a week earlier. The investigation into that incident was concluded without any arrests, police said.
The victims—Xui Pu Xi, Joseph Chaim, and Susan Moses—represent just a fraction of the 22 people who've lost their lives on city streets in the last five weeks, as traffic fatalities have jumped by nearly 70 percent from this time in 2018. At least four New Yorkers have been killed riding their bikes in 2019, according to the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, compared to just one cyclist fatality this time last year. Bicycling injuries tracked by the NYPD are up as well, from 209 to 224.
But amid this uptick in threats to the city's non-driving population, some cyclists say the NYPD has been directing their enforcement efforts at them, not drivers.
While @NYC_SafeStreets @TransAlt doing the vigil for #BikeNYC cyclist killed on February 4th #NYPD is ticketing cyclists only because they do not wear a helmet on 8th Av. & 45th Street corner. Just witnessed how three cyclist passed and one was stopped having the right of way. pic.twitter.com/dnFL7QDILr
— Claudia Corcino (@corcino_claudia) February 6, 2019
In keeping with their tradition of cracking down on cyclists near the sites of fatal hit-and-runs, police officers have reportedly been camped out on the Eighth Avenue bike lane in Midtown. On Wednesday night, safe streets advocates holding a vigil for Chaim reported witnessing officers issue tickets to multiple cyclists for minor offenses—in some cases for violating laws that don't exist.
According to Citi Bike rider Kalle Westerling, a police officer issued him a $50 summons for not wearing a helmet while biking on Eighth Avenue near 45th Street. It's not illegal to ride without a helmet in New York City, unless you are under the age of 14 years old.
In response to Westerling's tweets, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said he would look into the ticket, saying it "sounds unusual." (Though certainly not unheard of).
If you’re willing, please tweet a photo of the ticket and tag me. This sounds unusual. Thanks!
— NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson (@NYCSpeakerCoJo) February 6, 2019
The NYPD did not respond to Gothamist's inquiries about the ticketing blitz. Safe streets advocates, meanwhile, are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to do more to protect New Yorkers from reckless drivers.
"In order to prevent fatalities and serious injuries, we need the mayor to take Vision Zero to the next level," TransAlt spokesperson Joe Cutrufo told Gothamist on Wednesday. "It's time to make life-saving street redesigns part of routine street maintenance. And he should accept Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez' challenge to build 100 lane miles of protected bike lanes every year."
Last year, the Mayor's Office boasted that 20 miles of protected bike lanes had been built across the city in 2018, though a closer inspection revealed that around five miles of the supposedly protected network were not separated from traffic. But cyclist deaths did drop significantly in 2018, down from 24 in 2017 to just ten last year, while pedestrian deaths ticked up slightly, from 104 to 107.
Asked about the recent increase in traffic deaths on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the mayor, Sam Stein, called the figures "deeply troubling," while touting Mayor Bill de Blasio's progress on Vision Zero.
"We’re deploying a wave of new speed cameras, increasing the number of street redesigns and adding to targeted enforcement," Stein said. "Last year was the safest on record—and we intend to continue that trend this year."
He did not respond to questions about whether the city would make a greater effort to prosecute dangerous drivers, or whether the mayor was concerned about the NYPD inventing laws to harass cyclists.
In a statement, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told Gothamist he was "extremely troubled by the alarming number of recent traffic fatalities."
"These are preventable tragedies," he added. "This is a reminder that we have so much more work to do when it comes to protecting cyclists and pedestrians in our city, and I will be there fighting alongside street safety advocates every step of the way."