Under the bright sunny sky on one of the first warm days of spring, a caravan of bicyclists rode up 160th Avenue in Howard Beach on Sunday, stopped at the corner of 84th Street and leaned their bikes up against the fence surrounding the Con Edison substation that occupies what would otherwise be coveted corner property.
They gathered around a white bicycle chained to a stop sign and placed flowers in the rungs of the wheels and the chains. This bicycle was not left there by anyone in particular, but was placed by a group in memory of Gary Zammett Jr., the Brooklyn man who was killed riding his bicycle at the intersection last summer.
Zammett’s portrait was placed on the bicycle as the crowd of more than a dozen cyclists retrieved their bikes and raised them in memory of the man who died after being hit by a car last Aug. 23 en-route back to his Canarsie home. He had come to Howard Beach to get a slice of cheesecake for his wife, Celeste.
The visit on Sunday was part of a memorial ride that took place across the city sponsored by ghostbikes.org, a group that promotes bicyclist safety and places the white cycles, called ghost bikes, at locations all over the world where a person was killed on his or her bike. Zammett’s is one of the more than 100 memorials in New York City alone, at least 20 of which are in Queens. Sunday’s Queens ride also visited the location where Pedro Lopez was killed at Maurice and Borden avenues in Maspeth last Nov. 26. Three rides were held across the city. Besides Queens, memorials were held in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Zammett’s family, including his wife, son and cousins, were present at the service.
“I am very moved by this,” Celeste Zammett said to Jackie Junttonen of ghostbikes.com, who helped organize the ride.
Junttonen said her group’s cause is to help protect the safety of bikers and pedestrians on city streets and prevent accidents, like the one that killed Zammett, from happening again.
Sheniqua Jones, Zammett’s cousin, spoke to the attendees about her cousin and thanked them for their support.
“We are so glad my cousin is being remembered this way,” she said.
Several residents, including a few children on bicycles, surveyed the scene Sunday to see what was going on.
“Is that who was killed here?” asked Andrea Gilroy of Staten Island, who had been in the neighborhood Sunday visiting friends. She had heard about the accident last summer, but didn’t know all the information.
Gilroy, who said she comes to Howard Beach regularly, said her friends in the neighborhood often complain about the dangerous situation on 84th Street.
“It’s not too busy a street, so drivers often feel they can run stop signs I guess,” she said.
Jones said she would continue to fight to get a traffic light put up at the intersection. Though all the intersections along 84th Street — the only other two-way north-south route on the new side of Howard Beach other than Cross Bay Boulevard — have four-way stop signs, only 157th and 158th avenues have traffic lights. Both are near St. Helen School.
“This is a family community,” Jones said. “It’s for the safety of the children, but also the adults. We don’t want anyone else to lose a loved one here.”
The city Department of Transportation is also mulling plans to construct a dedicated greenway, perhaps with a bike lane, through the neighborhood to connect the Jamaica Bay Greenway leg on the Belt Parkway to the one at the Joseph Addabbo Bridge into Broad Channel. One of the suggestions made at a recent town hall workshop was to construct it through Spring Creek Park, keeping most bikers off neighborhood streets.
Several residents at the meeting pointed to Zammett’s fatal accident as a reason to keep bike routes off neighborhood streets.