Ghost bikes, painted white, dot the city’s roadways, marking spots where cyclists have died in vehicle collisions.

“A lot of accidents could have been avoided if cyclists have protected bike lanes that are actively monitored and maintained,” Rico Washington, a team leader at social justice organization Street Riders NYC, told BK Reader.

On Saturday, Street Riders organized a cleanup in Williamsburg. About 35 volunteers cleaned the bike lanes for five hours.

Bikers clean up around a ghost bike. Photo: @superbizzeeshoots/ @StreetRidersNYC

“You name it, we found it,” Washington said.

What they removed from the bike lanes possibly saved lives. Nails, glass and other sharp objects were trapped in frozen snow piles along a stretch of bike path on Grand Street near Hooper Street. They found trash bags that had fallen onto the paths from the sidewalk, as well as puddles of wet cement and gravel, apparently from trucks.

To avoid the debris, Washington said, “Bikes will have to find themselves back in the streets and back in the line of danger.”

Nails, broken glass and other debris are trapped in blocks of ice. Photo: @superbizzeeshoots/ @StreetRidersNYC

Where’s the city on this?

Street Riders NYC praised city officials for expanding the number of bicycle lanes, but asked why officials weren’t keeping those paths clear of debris.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in December that 2020 was a record year for protected bike lane expansion, with DOT constructing 28.6 lane miles of new protected bike lanes across all five boroughs. The expansion is part of his Green Wave Plan, which has a goal of installing over 80 miles of protected bike lanes by the end of 2021 when he leaves office.

According to a New York Daily News, September 2020 was the deadliest month for cyclists since de Blasio took office in 2014. Seven bikers died, including three in Brooklyn.

Street Riders places a lot of the blame on the Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Sanitation (DSNY) for not doing their job.

“It’s embarrassing, and it’s a disgrace,” Washington stated, adding the Sanitation Department’s street sweepers could have cleaned the bike lanes in a fraction of the time that it took the volunteers.

DSNY said several factors have resulted in reduced services. The challenges include Coronavirus– related illness among workers, budget cuts, and multiple snowstorms with weeks of frigid temperatures that prevented melting.

“We are thankful to all in the community who bring specific needs to our attention, and to all who have stepped forward to help where they see a need. Indeed, we are all partners in keeping the city healthy, safe and clean,” Belinda Mager, the department’s communications director, told BK Reader.

Several city departments share the responsibility of keeping bike lanes clear, Mager explained. People should call 311 to inform the city about locations that need attention and help by not shoveling snow into bike lanes.

Volunteers clean up cement and gravel, Photo: @superbizzeeshoots/ @StreetRidersNYC

City Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, whose district includes parts of Williamsburg and Bushwick, told BK Reader in a statement that bike lane safety was increasingly critical as more people utilized alternative modes of transportation.

“The problem of debris in bike lanes is a longstanding one, and we know exactly what needs to happen to fix it,” Reynoso, who chairs the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said. “Over the past few years, advocates and myself have pushed DSNY to acquire narrow street sweepers that can enter bike lanes and clear them of debris.”

He said during the recovery from the pandemic there was a unique opportunity to be creative in how we deal with transportation issues, saying the “easy step” should be a “no-brainer for the City to take.”

What about local businesses?

Businesses must shoulder some of the responsibility, Washington stated. Several small businesses who saw the cleanup effort commended the organization and said they would pressure city officials on the issue.

During the cleanup, Street Riders volunteers said they noticed a Gotham Ready Mix truck dropping wet cement, gravel and other debris as it drove along its Morgan Avenue route.

The organization called out the local Williamsburg concrete supply company in an Instagram post:

@gothamreadymix, most of the gravel along this stretch (and bike path blockage) is by your trucks. You responded to someone in the comments saying it is not your problem because the city created a bike lane on a truck route and you dismissed that rider and told her to talk to her mayor.”

Washington explained that the broader cyclist community pushed back in the comments section when Gotham said the company bears no responsibility.

And apparently Gotham got the message. In a later comment on the Instagram post, the company vowed, going forward, not to park their trucks on Morgan Avenue and to use its mechanical broom to sweep the bike path from Johnson Avenue to Grand Street.

“We will take up the fight with the city to figure out the truck routes/bike lanes debacle and hopefully come to a better resolution,” the company said.

*This story has been updated to include comment from the Department of Sanitation

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Nigel Roberts

Nigel Roberts is a New York-based, award-winning freelance journalist. During his career, Nigel has written for several newspapers and magazines. He has extensive experience covering politics and was a...

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