On a chilly, late fall evening in Elmhurst, a group of bicyclists in neon−green vests walked their bikes to the corner of Queens Boulevard and 55th Road.
There they approached a white bicycle chained to a signpost festooned with shriveling flowers in front of a furniture store. As traffic whizzed by on the other side of the concrete meridian, they kneeled and pulled out cans of white Krylon.
These are members of Ghost Bikes, a loosely organized group of people who establish and maintain memorials to bicyclists killed by cars on the city’s streets. Their efforts help preserve the memory of people like Aasif Rahman, a 22−year−old Jamaica man who was killed Feb. 28 at this spot in Elmhurst while riding home from his job.
As the riders, who asked not to be identified, repainted the bicycle, Lizi Rahman stood and admired the tokens left at the site by her son’s friends.
Aasif Rahman was born in Bangladesh but moved with his family to Queens when he was an infant. He worked at the Trader Joe’s in Manhattan and as a substitute paraprofessional at an Elmhurst school while attending Queens College, where he was studying to become a music teacher.
“He was so vibrant, so full of life,” Lizi Rahman said, noting Aasif was skilled at beatboxing, the art of imitating hip−hop drums and bass with one’s voice. “He wrote poetry and recorded music. I didn’t find out until his friends told me at the funeral.”
In the months after her son’s death, Lizi Rahman came to know this corner well.
“In the beginning, I used to come here every Thursday at the time he got hit,” she said. “Now, I was driving here, and I became so numb. It’s really hard.”
Lizi Rahman said police told her that Aasif was riding around a double−parked box truck on the Queens Boulevard access road when he was clipped and run over by another box truck.
At the time, police said Rahman rode out from between two parked cars and was hit by the Freightliner.
“They gave me a report and I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “He was an expert biker since age 8. But when I saw the street, I knew there was something wrong.”
She wrote to U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D−Forest Hills) to ask for more restrictions on illegally parked vehicles, and also got in touch with Transportation Alternatives, a city nonprofit dedicated to advocating for pedestrians and cyclists.
“I will not rest until I get a bike lane on this road,” she said.
Transportation Alternatives kicked off the campaign in September with a monthly bike commuter pool ride down Queens Boulevard from the Queensboro Bridge to Elmhurst.
Transportation Alternatives spokesman Wiley Norvell said the group has long been considering pressing for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard.
“It really accelerated earlier this year with the death of Aasif Rahman and his mother’s involvement,” he said, noting the group has been focusing on building a network of bicyclists and elected officials. “I think the push for next year will be figuring out how best to attract both existing elected officials and the candidates.”
But an actual bike lane on what has been dubbed the “Boulevard of Death” may be a long way off. An official with the city Department of Transportation said the agency has no interest in pursuing the project, noting the street design is too complex and the last bicycle fatality on the street occurred in 1996.
“At this point we’re not talking about a specific proposal, it’s just the vision that bikes have a place on Queens Boulevard, one of the widest streets in New York City,” Norvell said.
Lizi Rahman said she is ready for the long haul.
“I know it won’t bring him back, but I’ll feel good,” she said. “And I know Aasif would want it, too.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.
©2009 Community News Group
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