Earlier this month the New York City sites of 12 pedestrian or bicyclist fatalities by cars were memorialized with stencils of wings and roses. The initiative from the street action organization Right of Way with Families for Safe Streets employs art as an awareness instigator for street traffic deaths.
“Our goals are to assert the public right of way against an onslaught of drivers and automobiles and turn the streets into vibrant public space,” Keegan Stephan, a Right of Way organizer, told Hyperallergic. On August 3, people who lost loved ones to collisions, artists, and other participants biked 60 miles to sites in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, all in collaboration with the families of the victims.
They included Dante Curry, hit in 1997 by a speeding driver in the Bronx; Luis Bravo struck by a hit and run last year in Woodside, Queens; three-year-old Allison Liao killed while crossing a Flushing street with her grandmother (despite having the right of way, the driver was never charged); and artist Mathieu Lefevre who died in Bushwick in 2011 when hit on his bike by a truck, also with no repercussions to the driver. The stencil was designed by artist Robyn Renee Hasty, and painted in white and red, often alongside other weather-worn tributes to the sudden and often senseless deaths like fake flowers coiled to street lamps or the familiar painted “ghost bikes.”
The Vision Zero action plan under Bill de Blasio’s administration is aimed at combatting traffic fatalities in New York City, a place where, the plan’s site notes, “on average, vehicles seriously injure or kill a New Yorker every two hours.” The “zero” refers to de Blasio’s mission to have NYC traffic deaths totally eliminated by 2024. To do so, it will require not just better traffic regulations and better prosecution of drivers in pedestrian fatality accidents, but a grassroots effort as well, especially in bringing attention to the victims. The Right of Way stencils are similar to traffic calming murals, utilizing art on streets and intersections to encourage pedestrian and driver attention to potentially dangerous areas.
Stephan explained that Right of Way is already planning another ride, and to put open-source materials on its site so that the stencil can be replicated in other cities. Through continued city intervention and community support, hopefully injustice will not be forgotten, and these reminders of lost life can help in the demand for better safety regulations, traffic enforcement, and city infrastructure.