On the Eve of Citibike, Remembering the City's Ghost Bikers
By Sydney Brownstone Mon., Apr. 22 2013
It's a bright, cool Sunday afternoon, and jammed car lines are radiating from Queens Plaza. The N,
Q, and 7 trains rattle above intersections. But on the corner of Jackson Avenue and Queens
Boulevard, several dozen cyclists have stopped to place flowers in the spokes of a bicycle that's been
spray-painted white. The cyclists ignore the terse horn honks; the sign they install on top of the bike
is a dedication to cyclists whose deaths didn't make the news.
On May 8, the city will launch its first bike share program. But Sunday's ghost bike memorial
gathering was a snapshot of a city still struggling to embrace its riders and keep them safe. With her
back to the frustrated congestion, Street Memorial Project spokeswoman Leah Todd read the names
of cyclists killed in 2012 and 2013: Emma Blumstein, Shaquille "Swizzy" Cochrane, Terence Connor,
Tchaka Cooke, David "Troy" Ellis, Henry Garcia, Mireya Gomez, Roger Hernandez, Victor Lopez,
Jean Malizia, Alexander Martinez, Daniel "Danny" Martinez, Joseph Nelson, David Oliveras, Ramon
Russel, Ronald "R.J." Tillman, and four unnamed cyclists.
The Street Memorial Project has been blessing and installing ghost bikes in remembrance of cyclists
killed in traffic for eight years. And this year, Todd said, the number of cyclist deaths hasn't
significantly changed. Though down from last year's 22 fatalities, the New York City Department of
Transportation still reported 18 cyclists killed in 2012. Meanwhile, overall traffic fatalities increased
by nearly 12 percent, and hit-and-runs were up by 31 percent.But Sunday's memorial, weaving throughout all five boroughs and converging at Queens plaza, was
less about demonstrating stats and more about installing small comforts for the living--those who
too often feel justice for cyclists has not been served. A couple of blocks south of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue, Daniel "Danny" Martinez's family waited for the riders with
balloons and flowers. Almost exactly a year ago, the 27-year-old bike messenger and father was felled
under a truck.
"Today is just like it happened yesterday. We're still stuck," a family member of Martinez's, who
didn't want to be identified by name because of ongoing litigation, told theVoice. "This day is a
closure for me, for his child, for his siblings," the family member said.
"He was a man of business, he took care of his family, he took care of his kids, he had so much to live
for. He was loved, and he loved. This is not right, what happened," Martinez's relative continued.
The NYPD told reporters that Martinez had been holding onto the back of the truck that killed him--
something that Martinez family has difficulty believing. The police reported that they did not suspect
criminality in Martinez's death, an oft-delivered line that has received much scrutiny from families of
dead cyclists, activists, the media, and then City Council last year.
Last month, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced that the NYPD would be beefing up its
"Collision Investigation Squad"--after changing its name from Accident Investigation Squad--and
investigating crashes that didn't just involve cyclists "dead or likely to die." Those changes, however,
don't go far enough, says Josh Bisker, an environmental activist at the memorial ride who helped
launch a "living street will" campaign last month. On streetwillsnyc.com, cyclists submit video wills
asking the city to fully investigate their deaths, should they happen in traffic.
"The Street Wills Project is supposed to be a wake up call, of sorts," he said.
Still, Bisker is hopeful that the bike share could also spark more openness and empathy for cyclist
victims in the future.
"People are going to think, 'Oh, one of my tribe, a New Yorker, has died, has suffered some harm,'"
Bisker said. "As opposed to 'some guy on a bike.'"
Daniel Flanzig, a lawyer who has represented injured cyclists and their families for 16 years and
rode in the memorial on Sunday, expressed a similar sentiment.
"When you study the other cycling cities, like Amsterdam, it was a mess before it got better,"
Flanzig, who has developed both an iPhone app and a website to better collision reporting, said.
"But eventually, over time, it became a cycling culture and the cars learned how to deal with bikes.
"I think that's what's going to happen in New York," he added. "It won't be pretty for a while, but at
least it's going to be a start."