City apologizes to family of slain cyclist after removing Marine Park ‘ghost bike’

The ghost bike honoring Robert Sommer that was taken down by NYC Parks Department on July 9.
Myrna Roman

The Parks Department formally apologized to the family of a slain cyclist after unceremoniously removing a “ghost bike” memorial from Marine Park that honored the deceased biker.

“On behalf of NYC Parks, I sincerely apologize that the Robert Sommer’s ghost bike memorial was removed without contacting the family beforehand,” said Borough Parks Commissioner Martin Maher. “The removal was not intended as an affront to those mourning Robert’s passing. We respect his memory, and will ensure that other memorials in our parks are handled with care and sensitivity.”

Parks’ mea culpa follows harsh criticism from a relative of Sommer, who condemned the agency for was she described as an outlandish slight.

“Here we are today unable to understand what I can only describe as the equivalent of grave robbery,” said Myrna Roman, Sommer’s step-aunt. “This act is heartbreaking and outrageous at the same time.”

Park’s officials removed the haunting tribute to the 29-year-old cyclist — who a driver struck on May 12 at Avenue U and E. 33rd Street near Brooklyn’s biggest park — on July 9, according to a spokeswoman, who claimed the ghost bike violated park rules banning “unattended personal belongings.”

Following it’s removal, a representative for the Parks Department told the New York City Street Memorial Project, which installed the Marine Park memorial, along with dozens of other ghost bikes throughout the city, that the agency allowed “impromptu memorials” a one-month grace period before removing them, leading member Steve Scofield to complain that the bike, which was installed on June 25, had only been up for two weeks.

A Parks Department spokeswoman later confirmed that the rep had misspoke, and confirmed that a new policy instituted by agency head Mitchell Silver in April gives memorials a two-week grace period, before they’re removed.

For the short time it was allowed to remain in Marine Park, Sommer’s ghost bike provided a place for the slain cyclist’s family to gather and share their grief. Last week, Sommer’s sister, Janine, flew in with her family from Florida, while his brother, Thomas, drove down with his wife and two daughters from upstate. They met with Sommer’s father, Robert, and stepmother, Carmen, to decorate the memorial and remember their lost loved one, according to Roman.

“After we were done we said a prayer. We thanked God for the kindnesses, selflessness, and generosity of friends, strangers, [NYC Street Memorial Project], and the Park Department Rangers,” said Roman, who noted that local Parks Department rangers stationed at the green space had been supportive of Sommer’s ghost bike.

“They assured me that as long as there are no burning candles and we keep the area clean and safe the memorial could remain,” Roman said. “There exist miserable, malcontent misfits who only understand destruction. Thank goodness not all of us are like them.”

Locals were similarly outraged upon learning the Parks Department was responsible for the bike’s disappearance, with one resident railing on social media that the city spent resources to trash the memorial, while other basic services remain hard to come by.

“Who’s the brainchild behind this?” William Tainowitz wrote on the “You’re probably from Marine Park, Brooklyn if…” Facebook page. “Some people have to beg for snow and trash removal. We have to shovel water off the fields, yet they have the energy to cut a chain and take away the bike.”

This isn’t the first time the city has drawn heat for removing the white-painted memorials to slain cyclists. The Department of Sanitation backed off a controversial policy of trashing the bikes after advocates rallied in 2010, leading the agency to institute new rules exempting ghost bikes from being labeled as derelict, according to a Streetsblog report.

Sommer was one of 15 cyclists killed in the city this year, of whom 11 died in Brooklyn, including 28-year-old Devra Freelander and 57-year-old Ernest Askew, who died just days apart.

Reach reporter Chandler Kidd at ckidd@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–2525. Follow her at twitter.com/ChanAnnKidd.
The Parks Department removed a ghost bike honoring Robert Sommer in Marine Park.
Photo by Jen Kepler

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