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Memorial Vigil Will Seek Justice for Slain Cyclist Ernest Askew

The ghost bike of Robert Spencer is a reminder of the need for safety in Long Island City. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

There was a massive show of support and outrage after Monday's death of cyclist Robyn Hightman. Not so much for Ernest Askew, the 54-year-old cyclist who was killed on Thursday in Brownsville by a teenage driver who wasn't arrested.

That disparity changes on Monday night, when activists are planning a 6 p.m. memorial vigil for Askew at the scene of his death: Sutter Avenue at Chester Street in Brooklyn. Demonstrators are expected to vent their outrage at Mayor de Blasio, whose street safety redesigns and Vision Zero initiatives are too slow to reach neighborhoods that need them the most.

“Brownsville lacks a full network of bike connection and the basic bike amenities that popular and more affluent neighborhoods have received — including the street where Ernest was killed,” said Courtney Williams, CEO of the Brown Bike Girl, a bike consultancy that is coordinating the vigil with Transportation Alternatives, Families for Safe Streets and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

Williams said proper enforcement of speed limit rules, plus better street design "could have saved Ernest's life.”

Meanwhile, the muted initial response to Askew's death suggests that many activists are only focused on certain areas of the city.

"We do a great job of turning out for vigils in Manhattan and 'close-in' bike-friendly neighborhoods," one activist wrote on a cycling list-serve, "but not such a great job in other places."

These are the 11 cyclists death up until May 31. There have been three more since.
These are the 11 cyclists death up until May 31. There have been three more since.
These are the 11 cyclists death up until May 31. There have been three more since.

Fourteen cyclists have been killed by drivers in the first six months of 2019 — up from 10 in all of 2018. Mayor de Blasio was asked about the carnage at a Friday press conference and said this:

My heart goes out, first of all, to the families. This is the unacceptable situation. For five years and more, we have been implementing Vision Zero, and the idea was to end this once and for all. I took on a very aggressive vision. I didn't say we're going to try and make things a little better – I said Vision Zero. And for five years in a row we have driven down fatalities. This situation here to me is unacceptable. We have to figure out how to address it. We're going to throw everything we’ve got at it. I still believe the building blocks are the same – more bike lanes, more street redesigns, more NYPD enforcement. ... It is a painful reality and has to end, but there's no question in my mind that Vision Zero has gotten stronger every year. It's going to get a lot stronger before we're done.

After that answer — the same one he generally gives whenever he is asked about this year's double-digit rise in road fatalities — Streetsblog asked City Hall whether the mayor would actually do something immediate this time to tackle the emergency, such as demanding that the departments of Health and Transportation, plus the NYPD, put an action plan on his desk in 10 days.

City Hall declined to comment.

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