Brownsville

At Brownsville vigil for slain cyclist, a focus on inequity in bike lane networks

"Here in Brownsville, black bodies should not lie on black asphalt because of crashes."

July 2, 2019 Noah Goldberg
A cyclist raises his bike in the air after a moment of silence for Ernest Askew, who was struck and killed in Brownsville last week. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg

After 57-year-old Ernest Askew was struck and killed in Brownsville while riding his bike last week, safe street activists and local elected officials gathered Monday evening at the intersection of the crash to mourn his death — and to address the lack of equity in low-income communities of color when it comes to protected bike lanes and street safety.

Dozens of bike riders gathered at the corner of Sutter Avenue and Chester Street to watch as a memorial plaque was put up in Askew’s honor. Just hours before the vigil, another cyclist had been struck and killed by a cement truck just miles away, underscoring the spike in bike deaths so far in 2019.

“Our traditionally forgotten neighborhoods — like Brownsville, East New York — haven’t been cared for, and our cyclists have not necessarily been elevated,” said Courtney Williams, a bike advocacy consultant who works in East New York and Brownsville. “We don’t have world-class facilities on every street to keep every cyclist and every pedestrian safe, and we should.”

Politicians and safe streets activists watch as a plaque is erected in honor of Ernest Askew, who was struck and killed at the corner of Sutter Avenue and Chester Street in Brownsville Thursday. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg
Politicians and safe streets activists watch as a plaque is erected in honor of Ernest Askew, who was struck and killed at the corner of Sutter Avenue and Chester Street in Brownsville Thursday. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg

Brownsville has no protected bike lanes, according to a Department of Transportation map of the city’s bike network. Most of the bike network in the neighborhood consists of shared roads, meaning that cyclists and drivers use the same space.

DOT has proposed expanding bike lanes in Brooklyn, with or without community board support. One Brooklyn councilmember has suggested that community boards’ roles in installing bike lanes should be reduced.

“Here in Brownsville, black bodies should not lie on black asphalt because of crashes,” said Borough President Eric Adams, who spoke at the vigil. “We need to look at the redesign of streets; we need to look at how do we have safe bike corridors. That conversation cannot only be in Park Slope, it cannot only be in Cobble Hill, it cannot only be in Manhattan,” he said.

Adams biked through Brownsville earlier in the year to promote earth week in the city.

As elected officials blasted the de Blasio administration for not doing enough to make Vision Zero a reality, the mayor announced an NYPD enforcement initiative in response to the surge in cyclist deaths citywide.

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A young cyclist waits at the intersection Monday where Ernest Askew was struck and killed by a car last week. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg
A young cyclist waits at the intersection Monday where Ernest Askew was struck and killed by a car last week. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg

“I have directed the NYPD to immediately launch a major enforcement action that will encompass every precinct and crack down on dangerous driving behavior like parking in bike lanes,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “At the same time, I have charged the Department of Transportation with developing a new cyclist safety plan to make biking in our city safer.”

Earlier on Monday, another biker, identified by police as artist Devra Freedlander, was struck by a cement truck and killed in Bushwick. Video obtained by the Daily Mail showed that Freelander was attempting to cross the street when the truck smashed into her. It was not immediately clear if the driver had a green light, but no arrests were made by police and no criminality was suspected, cops said Monday.

Freedlander was the third cyclist killed in New York City in the span of a week.

“It’s about distracted driving, not paying attention,” said Melvin Askew Jr., Askew’s older brother. “The pedestrian is always right, last I heard. If that changed, tell me, so I’ll know.”

“He was well known in the neighborhood, from kid days,” said a friend of Askew who gave his name as Mr. Jones.

A woman who lived down the street heard the crash from her home and came outside to see Askew fighting for his life. She added that the city needs to put in more speed bumps in Brownsville to avoid these crashes.

“It sounded like a big bomb. It was loud. It was ridiculously loud,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Biking is scary these days. It’s gotten worse. I thought it would get better, but it’s gotten worse,” she said of biking in the city. “He didn’t have a chance.”

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