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.

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