Originally Published in Popular Resistance
Advocating For Bikers And Pedestrians
Above: Keegan Stephan demonstrates how bicycle generators work at OWS
In the interview below, Keegan Stephan talks about the work he is doing with Right of Way in order to advocate for safer streets for bikers and pedestrians, which he believes will encourage more sustainable transportation alternatives and more vibrant public spaces.
Right of Way is a safer street advocacy organization. It started in the mid-nineties as a response to traffic violence. We use direct action to highlight issues of injustice in public space. Our mission is to protect the right of way as a human right. The right of way we say is the right to move about in public space without being assaulted or intimidated or worse. On the streets of New York City, that right is often infringed upon by drivers of automobiles, so we focus on highlighting that issue with direct action, such as memorial projects and street signage.
We’re currently working on a project called Twenty is Plenty. It’s part of an international movement to lower speed limits in cities on residential streets to twenty miles per hour. New York City has been having a hard time doing that, so we printed our own signs and have been installing them, particularly in neighborhood slow zones, which are areas where the community has requested slow zones from the city, and the city has either rejected those requests or approved them but not installed them for years. We are working with those communities to get them these signs and install them ourselves.
Last November, we installed a bike lane on Sixth Avenue. On Sixth Avenue, there’s a bike lane that ends at 42nd Street. From 42nd Street to Central Park, there is no bike lane. This caused a collision that took off a pedestrian’s leg, so we installed a bike lane from 42nd Street to Central Park.
We are perpetually working on memorializing pedestrians and cyclists who are killed by automobiles. We have a stencil that looks like the body outline that police would leave at a scene of a crime, and we spray paint it onto where these pedestrians or cyclists were killed by vehicles. The idea is that when people walk past the scene of the crime, they see the body outline, and they are alerted to the fact that a crime was committed there. They often want to learn more about what’s going on. With traffic violence, that’s not the case. The NYPD does not leave a body outline. They do not tend to do as thorough of an investigation as with a homicide. We are pointing out that it is a crime, and it should be investigated, and that people should be shocked by the amount of people killed by drivers in New York City.
The Right of Way Movement is just part of a whole movement around making biking in the city safer, so more people can commute to work and have a sustainable alternative form of transportation. We’d like to make the streets safer in general, which requires a lot of new street designs that various groups advocate for in various ways, such as direct action or advocacy work. A lot of these groups also advocate for better enforcement of motor vehicles because they get to disobey the rules of the road and not be policed for it. Parking in bike lanes is an epidemic in the city, and the NYPD are not cracking down on it.
I think public space is invaluable and a key to our democracy. We need to be allowed to gather in public space to address our grievances against the government. It’s also just a quality of life issue. In New York City, we don’t have much public space. The streets are the vast majority of our public space, and we need to be able to gather there and do the things that humans do, especially what citizens in a democracy do—gather, shop, talk, address grievances if we are going to. A really huge impediment to that is that traffic violence is so bad in New York City. People should feel safe crossing the street, standing in the street or gathering on sidewalks to converse. Nationwide, America is infatuated with automobiles, and people tend to blame pedestrians and bicyclists when they are hit by automobiles.
Ultimately, I’d like to see a change in culture where people view our streets as public space and are better at sharing them, where we have more personal responsibility in turning the streets into vibrant public space where we can gather. Efficient, safe transportation is a part of that. We’re not going to get that with automobiles going faster. We’re going to get that with less traffic, better subway systems, better interconnected bike lanes, so people can bicycle safely, which is the ultimate sustainable form of transportation. Making these changes will absolutely create a bigger bike culture. It will be safer when there are cyclists on the streets. Everything we’re advocating for—better infrastructure, better enforcement—will inevitably lead to more cycling in the city because the primary reason that people don’t bike, which is fear, will dissolve.
You can learn more about Right of Way at http://www.rightofway.org/.