Matt von Ohlen’s Friends and Family Call for Grand Street Protected Lane

The bike lane on Grand Street, where Matthew von Ohlen was killed last month, fails to keep cyclists safe from motor vehicles. Photo: Google Maps
The painted bike lane on Grand Street, where Matthew von Ohlen was killed last month, provides no physical protection from motor vehicles. Via Google Maps

The family and friends of Matthew von Ohlen pleaded with Brooklyn Community Board 1 to support a protected bike lane on Williamsburg’s Grand Street, where the 35-year-old was killed while biking by a hit-and-run driver on July 3.

Matthew’s father Bernt von Ohlen and other friends and supporters were joined by Council Member Antonio Reynoso, but the board did not take a position last night.

Matthew Von Ohlen. Photo via Gothamist
Matthew von Ohlen.

“I’m not a bike advocate. In fact, I’m afraid of riding a bike on the streets of New York,” said Christine McVay, who had known von Ohlen since he was a child. “Putting effective protected lanes on streets like Grand Street will making riding safer,” she said, holding back tears.

Von Ohlen was riding east on Grand Street between Manhattan Avenue and Graham Avenue at around 2:20 a.m. when the driver of a Chevy Camaro struck his back tire, then struck him again as he fell off his bike and dragged him 20 or 30 feet. Police believe the driver ran over von Ohlen intentionally. They located the vehicle on July 6 but have not apprehended a suspect.

At the outset of the meeting, Council Member Antonio Reynoso led the room in a moment of silence. He made his own call for safer bike infrastructure on Grand Street. “Matt’s death was a tragedy and it was a preventable one,” he said. “We’re gonna sit down and have a serious conversation about what we can do with infrastructure along Grand Street to really move forward and [take] the next step of bike lane protection and infrastructure.”

The bike lane on Grand Street/Borinquen Place runs between the Brooklyn Queens Expressway near the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge in East Williamsburg. It’s a key connector for people biking across North Brooklyn and is slated to expand eastward along Metropolitan Avenue later this year. In 2015, 29 cyclists were injured along the route between the BQE and Metropolitan Avenue, according to Vision Zero View.

In town from Minneapolis to take care of his son’s estate, Bernt von Ohlen implored the board to call for action. “I think that the best solutions are local solutions. You are a local group, and by keeping your eyes and ears on what goes on in the city by demanding that problems of this kind be addressed, you can make this community a better community for everybody,” he said.

“Matt was a very experienced city cyclist,” his friend Amanda Stosz told the board. “He did everything right to keep himself safe while cycling.”

Stosz said that more people will be biking on the neighborhood’s streets in 2019, when the L train ceases operation west of Bedford Avenue for 18-months. “We need safer infrastructure on Grand Street now and before the L Train closes,” she said.

While some members of the board applauded the request for a protected lane on Grand Street and chair Dealice Fuller offered von Ohlen her condolences, the board gave no indication that it will observe the request.

  • c2check

    Thanks to Council member Reynoso for his support.

    Grand is quite a mess—when I ride it in the AM, it’s often clogged with double parked vehicles, strewn with construction materials or gravel, and driven by inattentive drivers on their phones or running red lights.

    In addition to improvements on Grand, I’d like to see all-ages and abilities bike infrastructure. Make some bike boulevards on parallel routes: Scholes-S 3rd and Messerole-S 4th; and Roebling (where the signals could be timed for bike traffic—now they don’t seem to be well-synced)

    Frost-N 10th and Richardson-N 11th could also be a good couplet of bike boulevard streets.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Huge kudos to the friends and to his father for pushing, and to CM Reynoso for putting a toe in the water here, but I would be shocked if CB approved the removal of parking on at least one side to make real cycletracks possible.

    This case and the appearance that it was a purposeful murder are a senseless tragedy, and likely could have been prevented with real segregated cycling infrastructure. The big picture outside of this case is that Grand Street is a truck route and has traffic volumes far in excess of what shitty Class II bike lanes are appropriate for, even if they weren’t blocked by double parked cars frequently. Vision Zero has to be about more than high visibility crosswalks.

  • I would like to take this opportunity to loudly boo my Community Board 1, which was not elected, does not represent me, and doesn’t give a fuck about making our streets safer. We’d be better off if they stayed silent, a minute isn’t enough.

    That bike lane still hasn’t happened.

    The members of CB 1 care more about parking for their personal vehicles than they do about the lives of their neighbors.

  • c2check

    I wrote CB1 transpo co-chair Simon Weiser about this a few months back.
    It was not a productive exchange of emails.

  • Ah to be a fly on that wall

  • Care to share any of them publicly? I’d love to read what Vito Lopez’s old buddy has to say about street safety.

  • Guest

    Maybe he just doesn’t care about bikes. Like everyone else

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    You’d have to be pretty bitter to not care about human lives.

  • walknseason

    Not if they’re not your “own people”

  • c2check
  • c2check
  • c2check
  • Very polite notes and very dismissive “I know better than DOT because I’m on a CB” response from Weiser. I wish I could say I was surprised.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    The spaces before the punctuation are perfect.

  • AMH

    It’s not about bikes. It’s about lives.

  • Joe R.

    Hopefully the end result of community boards continuing to worship parking at the expense of everything else will be the Mayor continues to have the guts to override these boards. Eventually we need to propose legislation which formalizes getting community boards out of transportation decisions altogether. Community boards should have say mainly on things like whether or not a corner store gets a liquor license. In other words, things that only affect the local neighborhood. Public thoroughfares by definition are used by everyone. The public good needs to override local concerns, especially this frivolous idea that people are entitled to store their private vehicles on public streets.

  • c2check

    Reading this again for the first time in months, we should bring up the idea of bike boulevards with some nice traffic calming—He did say he thinks putting bike infra on side streets is appropriate, after all!


This Week: Call for a Safer Grand Street Bike Lane

Last month, a hit-and-run driver struck and killed Matthew von Ohlen while he was riding in the Grand Street bike lane in Williamsburg. Tomorrow night at a special meeting of Brooklyn Community Board 1, von Ohlen’s friends and family will ask DOT to explore upgrading Grand Street to a protected lane. Check the Streetsblog calendar for a full list […]

Reynoso Tells DOT: Grand Street Needs a Safer Bike Lane ASAP

Council Member Antonio Reynoso today urged DOT to upgrade the bike lanes on the Grand Street in North Brooklyn. The existing painted lanes did not protect Matthew von Ohlen, who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in July. In a letter sent this afternoon to DOT Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Keith Bray, Reynoso calls for “the immediate installation of safety mitigations […]