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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.
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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.
Updated 10:18 am, July 12, 2019
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Reasonable discourse

Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
In before all the whiners start to complain!
July 11, 12:20 pm
Ken from Brooklyn says:
this time the parks department is right it needs to be removed,
July 11, 1:35 pm
Barry from Kenya says:
Ken, you are destroying the English language.
July 11, 2 pm
Abe from Clinton Hill says:
Ken, you have a valued point.
July 11, 2:02 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
No you can not litter the streets with trash. Go set up a legitimate memorial and stop leaving junk all over the streets.
July 11, 2:08 pm
Hocus says:
Adopt a shelter pet.
July 11, 2:12 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Honestly, there are better ways to remember someone who died than using a ghost bike, and that's why we have cemeteries for that, though I doubt any of you bike zealots bothered to attend that said funeral.
July 11, 2:16 pm
The Elf From Brooklyn from Marine Park says:
Instead of a "ghost bike" that's going to decay over time, which I think is very tacky. Why not plant a tree w/a plaque, or maybe a bench in the park that has a plaque. Much better than an eyesore in the biggest park in Brooklyn. I do get it. A bicyclist gets killed while riding. Therefore a "Ghost Bike" seems appropriate to make a point about safety. This brings up the question, are you memorializing the person, or are you just trying to make a point about cycling safely in streets that were initially meant only for motor vehicles? If this was my memorial, I would be appalled by a crappy old bike. So, which is it, riding bikes, or the person who sadly left this world earlier than what was intended?
July 11, 2:50 pm
Barry from Kenya says:
Who knew Brooklyn was filled with so many whiners that live to complain! None of you d bags ever complained about a ghost bike before. This is your typical "oh a cyclist story, let me put on my complaining pearls!" clutch fest from the rotten people who happen to been born here.
July 11, 3:11 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
The only ones whining here are the d bags that think they have the right to litter the streets with trash and are shocked that said trash was removed. Keep projecting though.
July 11, 4:41 pm
Barry from Kenya says:
The only ones whining here are the d bags (ESPECIALLY YOU)that have no life outside of this blog, SAD! Keep projecting though, LOSER.
July 11, 4:59 pm
Nice from All of the Above says:
I think all the bikes should stay to save future lives. There is a ghost bike on a corner near where I live that has been there for years. It's been replaced over time and kept updated. I didn't know the bicyclist, though I have her name forever etched in mind because of the memorial and I believe that motorists are more cautious when they see it and know a young girl dyed. I was there the day she was killed, it was horrifying. I appreciate that bike and the group that maintains it.
July 11, 11:34 pm
Tyler from pps says:
Ghost bikes are memorials for the dead, yes. However, they are more importantly powerful images that DRIVERS SEE. There is nothing "bicycle zealot" about not wanting to see someone dead. A park bench with a little plaque is not visible to drivers.
July 12, 10:47 am
Tyler from pps says:
(By the way, if you're a driver and you just said to yourself, "I've never seen one of these when I'm driving," umm... you may want to rethink how good of a driver you are.)
July 12, 10:50 am
Susan from Fort Greene says:
Why can't the ghost bike be given to the family to have? The bikes get dirty and dingy after a year or so on the sidewalk.
July 12, 11:38 am
Tyler from pps says:
How about mannequins for pedestrians and empty cars for cars hit by other cars.
July 12, 12:28 pm
Mustache Pete from Windsor Terrace says:
Tal, Eff-u-u-effin-eff. FYI, I've given Hamas your address. Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says: "Honestly, there are better ways to remember someone who died than using a ghost bike, and that's why we have cemeteries for that, though I doubt any of you bike zealots bothered to attend that said funeral."
July 12, 12:48 pm
t from bath beach says:
Besides the city disrespecting the family with this move, so did Transportation Alternatives. This organization of rich entitled white people who want to turn the city into a bike path without regard for drivers and pedestrian opinion. They exploited this young fellows death to further their demands without permission or authorization from the family.
July 12, 1:07 pm
Henry Ford from Bay Ridge says:
They need to throw out those idiotic makeshift crosses and flowers I see on roadsides to memorialize motorist's deaths. Go set up a legitimate memorial and stop leaving junk all over the streets!
July 12, 3:03 pm
None from Bay Ridge says:
Feel sorry for the family, but there has to be better ways to memorialize, other than an abandoned bike they check on once or twice a year.
July 13, 9:20 am
The Elf from Marine Park says:
First and foremost. Can we get rid of the people who curse at each other, and feel embolden cause we don't know who they are(You know who you are, grow up). I wonder if they have the guts to say that "face to face" to each other. I think what's in order here is a compromise. How about this suggestion. Let the memorials stay for one year, at which point the bike is taken down, and given to the relatives. I realize that this not going to please everyone, but that's what a compromise is all about. Everyone gains a little and loses a little. You can't please everyone all the time, so stop trying!
July 13, 10:09 am

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