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Family, Friends of Killed Cyclist Call for Safer Bike Lane on Grand Street

By Gwynne Hogan | August 10, 2016 12:29pm
 Police are looking for help identifying a black Chevy Camaro sedan with tinted windows wanted for running over cyclist Matthew Von Ohlen on Saturday in East Williamsburg. 
Cyclist Killed in 90th Precinct
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WILLIAMSBURG — Family and friends of a cyclist who was run over and killed by a hit-and-run driver while on an unprotected bike lane on Grand Street are demanding safer, shielded bike lanes.

“My son’s death could have been prevented," Bernt Von Ohlen, father of Matthew Von Ohlen, 35, who died on July 2 in front of 690 Grand St, said. 

“I’m not an expert but there are ways to keep vehicles out of the designated bike lanes.”

Matthew Von Ohlen, a co-owner of 24-hour bike repair kiosks called Bikestock, was hit and killed on his way home from bartending just before 3 a.m. on Grand near the intersection of Manhattan Avenue.

Police said he was lawfully riding in the bike lane when a driver, who fled the scene in a black Chevy Camaro and still has not been found, swerved into the lane and struck him. Investigators are offering a $2,500 reward for tips that lead to an arrest. 

“If something like this can happen to [one of] the most responsible bike riders in Brooklyn, it can happen to anyone,” said Chloe Sabin, Von Ohlen's ex-girlfriend who is also asking the city's Department of Transportation to consider a shielded bike lane on Grand Street.

In the last four years, 429 people have been injured on the stretch of Grand Street between Varick Avenue, Vision Zero statistics showed. That figure includes 128 cyclists Four people were killed — Von Ohlen and three pedestrians.

Protected bike lanes generally reduce pedestrian, cyclist and motorist injuries by around 20 percent, according to the DOT.

Grand Street currently has an unprotected bike lane and cyclists who rely on it to cut east and west and get to the Williamsburg Bridge said they're constantly being cut off by aggressive drivers. 

“It’s better than nothing but it’s still not enough," said Samuel Santaella, 23, a volunteer with with Transportation Alternatives who regularly uses the Grand Street lane to commute from St. Albans, Queens into Manhattan.

"Buses weave through into the curb and back out, there’s double parking... There’s drivers who get into the bike lane to avoid other [cars].”

Following Tuesday's Community Board 1 meeting, Chair Dealice Fuller said the board would consider reaching out to the Department of Transportation about the possibility of a shielded bike lane, though they'd need a full board vote to do so. 

The DOT didn't immediately return a request for comment.

Friends of Von Ohlen vowed to continue to advocate for the protected lane.

“With what happened to Matt being fresh in people’s minds, I think it’s important to push for it,” said Amanda Stosz, a cyclist and friend of Von Ohlen who said she's avoided Grand Street for years after one too many brushes with pushy drivers.

“It’s a way for us also to do something for the community [and to] turn our grief into something positive for the community and for other cyclists."