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Parks Department confiscates memorial to slain cyclist • Brooklyn Paper

Parks Department confiscates memorial to slain cyclist

Bike advocates installed a ghost bike near the corner of Eighth Avenue and President Street in Park Slope, the site of the death of biker Jonathan Millstein.
Don Wiss

A “ghost bike” memorial to a slain cyclist that mysteriously vanished from Marine Park on July 9 was confiscated by the NYC Parks Department, a spokeswoman confirmed.

As a courtesy, Parks officials allowed the white-painted bike honoring 29-year-old Robert Sommer — who was struck crossing Avenue U near E. 33rd Street on May 12 — to remain at the site of the collision for several weeks, but a spokeswoman claimed the monument fell afoul of park rules banning “unattended personal belongings,” and defended the agency’s decision to take it down.

“We respect Robert Sommer’s memory and know that his loss has impacted his family, friends, and the Marine Park community. After an approximate two-month courtesy period, we removed the bike yesterday,” said Anessa Hodgson, a spokeswoman for the Parks Department.

The Parks Department’s ruling to ax the ghost bike devastated Sommer’s family, and the New York City Street Memorial Project — which installed the Marine Park Ghost Bike, along with dozens of others throughout the city — is attempting to work with the agency to restore it, according to one member.

“We are in touch with Robert Sommer’s family, who are very upset that the Parks Department removed his ghost bike,” said Ellen Belcher. “We are working this issue and hopefully… we will reinstall the ghost bike very soon.”

This isn’t the first time the city has drawn heat for carting off the haunting memorials to slain cyclists, and the Department of Sanitation backed off its controversial policy of trashing the bikes after advocates mobilized to protect the tributes in 2010, according to a Streetsblog report.

And with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s focus on street safety as part of his Vision Zero plan, coupled with a nine-year cease fire between city agencies and the ghost bikes, the Parks Department decision to confiscate the memorial struck one advocate as disappointing.

“We’ve got lots of memorials and ghost bikes are well established, so it would be a shame if it was taken down,” said Eric McClure, executive director of StreetsPac, which raises funds for transit-minded political candidates.

Sommer was one of 15 cyclists killed throughout the city this year, 11 of whom 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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