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East Harlem Mourns Cyclists On Ghost Bike Ride

HOST 1: There are more bikes than ever on New York City’s streets. That also means more cyclists and cars struggle to share the road. 20 bicyclists died on the streets last year.

HOST 2:  The city Department of Transportation announced plans to redesign several multi-lane streets, where there are a high number of collisions. In East Harlem, the struggle for safe streets raises issues of race and class. Cassandra Basler reprts.

[Fade up: traffic]

The intersection of Park Avenue and 108th st in East Harlem has some unusual features. On the east side… there’s a public housing development and a playground. On the other side, the Metro North train rumbles over a stone viaduct. It divides Park Avenue and blocks the view of traffic coming the other way.

Here… a taxi struck and killed Jerrison Garcia as he rode his bike at 5am last August. Last Sunday…his cousins met with arms full of flowers at a white bicycle chained to a parking sign. Ellen Belcher greets them.

Ellen: And you guys should like decorate the bike. Do you think that would be a good idea?

That’s a ghost bike. Belcher volunteers for the street safety advocacy group that takes old bike frames, spray paints them white and places them in memory of bicyclists killed in traffic. Today is the 10th annual memorial ride. So the Garcias weave white tulips, roses and carnations through the spokes of the bike.

Jen: Yeah… [paper rustling] ELLen: you guys brought all these flowers (0:16)

There’s a ceremony planned. A group of 25 memorial riders are making their way from across the city to pay their respects. The trouble is… they don’t know which ghost bike to visit. Because Garcia was the third bicyclist killed here since 2012.

[Ambi: Bike group arrives] MAN: Is this the bike or is that the bike? ELLEN: Right here Man: Because there’s another bike right here Ellen: Yeah. MAN: So there are three bikes HARVEY: Wow. Just a block of each other. (0:07)

It’s a haunting reminder of the danger these cyclists face on the streets. Belcher says a few words about the collision, and invites Garcia’s mother to speak.

[FADE UP: Mother crying]

MOTHER: [speaking Spanish] Asesinato! Asesinato!

Murder… she says. Part of her frustration is that there’s so few consequences for drivers who kill bike riders. The driver who hit Garcia got out on bail and may at most get 30 days in jail. But another issue is how unsafe the intersection feels. Ollie Oliver knows that East Harlem collision site well.

OLIVER: If you’re crossing Park Avenue you have two travel lanes, two parking lanes and the width of a viaduct to get across in a single light cycle. (0:10)

Oliver is with the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. He says getting safer streets is a matter of increasing law enforcement, educating bicyclists and drivers on the rules of the road, and building bike paths. He says streets with bike lanes work. There are 40 percent fewer fatal collisions on roads that have them. But almost all bike lanes run through northern Brooklyn and below 96th street in Manhattan. That leaves neighborhoods like East Harlem vulnerable.

OLIVER: There’s very little on the East Side. In fact there’s no real southbound route. (0:10)

In that vulnerability… folks like Steven Harvey step in. Harvey says the Ghost Bikes remind drivers and cyclists to be careful…even when the cops aren’t watching. That’s why he takes care of the memorials.

HARVEY: I like watch them. Straighten them out. Anywhere I go if I see one knocked on the side, I’m picking it up and stand them straight up and all of that. But I made promise to people and families that I will maintain the ones in my neighborhood.

[Fade up bar ambi]

Harvey rides with a group called East Harlem Cycle Squad. At the end of a day cycling to all the Ghost Bike memorials…He’s decompressing with fellow riders at a bar down in the financial district. He says lack of bike lanes and law enforcement show city neglects issues in his community.

HARVEY: Me being a person of color and living in Harlem new york. You know I get harassed by the cops all the time and then the cops are really no help.

Harvey says his flashy bike is another way he keeps the young cyclists in the East Harlem Cycle Squad safe on their rides…So that they don’t end up on the list of the 200 lost cylists.

HARVEY: No one in my club has lights. Maybe one or two or a few people to stand out enough to where I can control traffic with my bike. People in cars. Motor vehicles. Even pedestrians can be aware and know I’m coming. (0:14)

For now… Harvey says that’s the best he can do. The DOT has yet to announce plans for a southbound bike lane on Manhattan’s East Side.

Cassandra Basler. Columbia Radio News.


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