Michael Vega had no patience for politicians at Saturday’s rally in memory of his brother Robert Spencer, 53, who was fatally struck by a car on an uncompleted bike lane just a block from his Long Island City home on March 14.
During the March 16 vigil, a crowd of about 50 transit reform advocates and family members set up a ghost bicycle and a placard on the northeast corner of Borden Avenue and Second Street, many of them still grappling with the emotions of having recently lost a loved one.
Vega blamed a city government that seems to wait on community boards to vote in favor – or against – bike lanes before moving forward with what data has shown to be a life-saving redesign.
“We do things in this country for the benefit of our citizens,” said Vega, a retired Marine Corps veteran. “These politicians, they answer to us; we don’t answer to them… I have to live for the rest of my life, my brothers and sisters have to live for the rest of their lives, knowing Robert is no longer with us.”
Nicole Spencer, the victim’s sister, was certain that while the investigation is ongoing, her brother, an experienced bicyclist and motorcyclist, would have not put himself in such danger.
“I know for a fact my brother is an avid biker; there’s no way he would have rode into traffic, no way. He’s been riding bikes for years,” Spencer said, claiming that the police report statement from the driver blaming the victim would be settled once the full investigation was is complete.
“There’s no way on God’s green earth he could have made any kind of mistakes,” she added.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said he and others had been advocating for years to have safety improvements made in Hunters Point South to make the streets safer and indicated a number of places such as Vernon Boulevard and Center Boulevard.
There is currently a two-way protected bike lane running north and south along Second Street, though the bike lane is shared with cars at the intersection where Spencer, who traveling westbound, was killed.
“If there’s a politician here, I don’t want to hear them say anything, just to observe,” Vega addressed the crowd.
Van Bramer said he supports calls from the family to cut through the bureaucracy of the community board process in the implementation of bike lanes.
“What we’re going to need to do as a city is have a political will to say that we should not be going block-by-block, community board vote by community board vote and instead taking it citywide and having a comprehensive, data-driven, safety-driven approach to the bike lane network,” Van Bramer said. “We’re going to be free of this culture where cars are the priority.”
The NYPD said Spencer, while traveling westbound, was struck by a southbound Chevy Cruze with a 51-year-old woman behind the wheel who remained at the scene.
“DOT recently added safety enhancements at nearby Fifth Street from Borden Avenue to 46th Avenue. Treatments included enhanced crosswalks, painted curb extensions, and converting a portion of Fifth Street to a one-way southbound,” a city Department of Transportation (DOT) spokeswoman said. “With regards to this recent tragedy, DOT will look into potential safety enhancements at Borden Ave and Second Street, as we do following any fatality.”
The DOT added that there will be area-wide traffic calming measures along Borden Avenue and will re-examine existing construction projects to ensure the paths are safe.