The family of cyclist Robert Sommer is blasting the Parks Department for its ghoulish decision to secretly remove the ghost bike tribute to the dead biker, calling the “outrageous” act nothing short of “grave robbery.”
The white-painted bike had been installed on June 25 for Sommer, who died on May 12 when he was hit in Marine Park by a 20-year-old male motorist who was not charged. The Parks Department removed the ghost bike on or about July 9 — the same day that 1,000 cyclists gathered in Washington Square Park for a “die-in” to protest the increase in road fatalities.
“Installation of memorials on parks property, including the perimeters of parks that we maintain, requires official authorization,” Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver wrote to Steve Scofield, who volunteers with the Ghost Bike Project. “When the public installs impromptu memorials on parkland, we allow a grace period of one month before removal.”
The department did not follow its own guidelines, waiting only 16 days before removing the tribute from the crash site at Avenue U near E. 33rd Street. Scofield said he was not aware of any “official” authorization process.
A relative of Sommer said the family was blindsided by the removal because survivors had been “assured” by park rangers that the ghost bike was being cared for.
“They assured me that as long as there are no burning candles and we keep the area clean and safe the memorial could remain,” Myrna Roman told Scofield in an email.
She said the family was stunned to hear that the bike had been removed.
“Here we are today unable to understand what I can only describe as the equivalent of grave robbery,” said Roman, an aunt. “This act is heartbreaking and outrageous at the same time. There exist miserable, malcontent, misfits who only understand destruction.
“Thank goodness not all of us are like them. Apparently, they have never known the kind of love, kindness and generosity that Rob showered everyone with. Rob, in heaven, has already forgiven them,” Roman added.
Scofield told Streetsblog he will fight the Parks Department’s move.
“I escalate this much as necessary to have this bike ghost bike restored,” he said.
The Parks Department has not returned a Streetsblog request for comment, but told The Brooklyn Paper that the agency “will reinstall the ghost bike very soon.”
It is unclear why Parks officials cracked down at this particular moment. The city is in the midst of a possibly unprecedented rise in cyclist deaths, with 15 bike riders being killed so far this year, up from 10 all of last year. Sommer was the eighth casualty.
It’s also unclear why some ghost bikes seem to be permitted to stay on Parks property without issue. There is a ghost bike for Madison Lyden on the edge of Central Park at West 67th Street, for example. That ghost bike was temporarily removed for the Thanksgiving Day parade, but has been restored.
Parks Department ‘Ghosts’ Memorial For Slain Marine Park Cyclist