By Chandler Kidd
The Parks Department desecrated the memory of a slain cyclist by removing a “ghost bike” honoring him in Marine Park, according to an embittered relative of the dead biker.
“Here we are today unable to understand what I can only describe as the equivalent of grave robbery,” said Myrna Roman, step-aunt to 29-year-old Robert Sommer. “This act is heartbreaking and outrageous at the same time.”
Park’s officials removed the haunting tribute to the 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,” and said the agency allowed the bike a “two-month courtesy period” before removing it.
However, the bike was only installed on June 25 — just two weeks before the Parks Department confiscated it — according to Steve Scofield, a member of the New York City Street Memorial Project, which erected the Marine Park memorial, along with dozens of other ghost bikes located throughout the city.
Scofield shared a correspondence he had with a Parks Department representative, who claimed the agency typically allows a one-month grace period for “impromptu memorials,” and the bike advocate blasted Parks officials for failing to follow their own rules.
“They didn’t even adhere to their own one-month removal policy,” said Scofield. “I’m prepared to escalate this as much as I can.”
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.
A spokeswoman for Parks Department did not immediately respond regarding the conflicting accounts of when the ghost bike was installed, or to Roman’s harsh condemnation.
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