Community hosts vigil for slain LIC cyclist
by Benjamin Fang
Mar 20, 2019 | 8025 views | 0 0 comments | 211 211 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Michael Vega was brought to tears at a vigil for his close friend, Robert Spencer, who was killed while riding his bike in Long Island City last Thursday morning.

According to the NYPD, Spencer, 53, was struck around 7:49 a.m. on Borden Avenue and 2nd Street, a growing neighborhood near the waterfront. He was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital Queens, where he was pronounced dead.

Authorities say Spencer was traveling westbound on Borden Avenue when he was struck by a 2014 Chevy Cruz traveling down 2nd Street. The 51-year-old driver remained at the scene.

The NYPD’s Highway Collision Investigation Squad is investigating the incident.

Two days later, Spencer’s family and friends attended a memorial hosted by bike and street safety advocates at the intersection where he died.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” said Vega, a retired Marine. “We don’t need to have another family anywhere in the city go through this grief.

“I have to live for the rest of my life, and his brothers and sisters have to live for the rest of their lives, knowing that Robert is no longer with us,” he added.

According to reports, Spencer may have been riding through a red light when he was struck. But his siblings said Spencer was an avid biker, and was always safety-conscious.

“There’s no way he would’ve ran into traffic, no way,” said Nicole Spencer, his sister. “He’s been riding motorcycles and bicycles for years.”

Gabriel Spencer, his younger brother, took the opportunity to demand safer streets for all users, including cyclists.

“Moving forward, this should be a lesson that people learn that lives matter,” he said. “Whether you’re on a bike or anything, people should respect the laws. Motorists need to respect cyclists.”

He acknowledged that it’s going to take a united community sticking together “for people to wake up.”

“Things can be changed,” he said. “Maybe not today, but someday. I hope in the future there’s no more lives lost.”

Spencer was the sixth person to be killed while biking in New York City this year, according to street safety advocates.

Organizers from Transportation Alternatives, Families for Safe Streets and Make Queens Safer installed a ghost bike at the intersection, along with a sign marking Spencer’s death.

In addition to flowers next to the ghost bike, Spencer’s colleagues at the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) wrote a note in memory of the slain Queens resident.

“A great guy who loved to ride his bicycle and motorcycle,” the note read. “Always helpful, always friendly, always smiley. Rest in peace.”

Peter Beadle, a cycling advocate and attorney, said he’s been to too many of these type of vigils. He said bikers are just trying to live their lives and get from Point A to B.

“These streets need to be made safer,”he said. “With these memorials, we want to raise awareness about a bicyclist’s right to the streets and a pedestrian’s right to safe passage.”

According to reports, a nearby condo board and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer called for protected bike lanes on Borden Avenue earlier in the year.

Advocates also used the vigil to call on the City Council to pass the “Vision Zero Street Design Standard” bill, which would push the Department of Transportation (DOT) to implement safety measures “as part of routine maintenance.”

Van Bramer and State Senator Michael Gianaris attended the vigil, but did not speak in respect to the grieving family.

Van Bramer later said the Hunters Point community has been “begging and pleading” for the DOT to enact comprehensive traffic-calming and safety measures for years.

“We can’t have more of this carnage on the streets,” he said.

While there are actions DOT could have done in the area, Van Bramer said he agrees with DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg’s assertions that the labor-intensive part of building a bike network is the political capital spent going through the community board process.

He said creating a bike lane network should involve taking a comprehensive, data-driven and safety-driven approach instead.

“It is absolutely true that the process is broken and doesn’t work,” Van Bramer said. “It slows down protected bike lanes from being installed, and it slows down safety enhancements from being enacted.”

A DOT spokesperson said the agency added safety enhancements at nearby 5th Street, from Borden Avenue to 46th Avenue, in 2017. Those included enhanced sidewalks, painted curb extensions and converting a portion of 5th Street into a one-way southbound road.

DOT also has a future area-wide Long Island City/Hunters Point capital street reconstruction project, including traffic-calming components on parts of Borden Avenue, in the works.

It will review ongoing construction projects in the area to ensure they are maintaining safe travel paths.

“With regards to this recent tragedy, DOT will look into potential safety enhancements at Borden Avenue and 2nd Street,” the spokesperson said, “as we do following any fatality.”

But for the family already struck by tragedy, action can’t come soon enough.

“This is not going to happen,” Vega said. “This needs to stop.”
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