City Exorcises Ghost Bike Installations
Public memorials to fallen bikers to be taken out with the trash
Monday, September 13th, 2010
Shamar’s family and friends found comfort and support in a local organization dedicated to preserving the memory of fallen cyclists. The arts collective Visual Resistance installed the first NYC Ghost Bike—a donated bike that has been painted white and adorned with flowers and mementos for the deceased—in June 2005. The group helped install a Ghost Bike and plaque in remembrance of Shamar, as well as 18 other whitewashed shrines throughout the five boroughs. Presently there are 67 Ghost Bikes installed in New York City, serving as memorials for more than 108 cycling fatalities. More than a dozen were for children under the age of 15.
Now, just four summers after Shamar Porter's death, the New York City Department of Sanitation has issued a proposal regarding the removal of abandoned bicycles that will threaten the safety of the Ghost Bikes. The new guidelines for identifying a derelict bike not only encompass these beloved memorials, but label them specifically as bikes to be removed.
The proposal has been met with heated outcries from cyclists all over New York demanding the city’s respect for these memorials. However, the presence of the Ghost Bikes is not just a remembrance of lost lives but a wake up call for drivers and bikers alike. As the MTA looks to raise public transit fares again this September, more and more New Yorkers are choosing bicycles as an alternative mode of transportation. It’s now more crucial than ever to acknowledge the danger in doing so.
Cycling has gained popularity in the last several years, with bike lanes popping up in every borough, shops and flea markets flooded with overpriced vintage cruisers, and the addition of bike routes on Google Maps. However, the danger has not subsided. There is still no safe or legal way to travel by bicycle across Central Park and bike lanes in Brooklyn are not consistent enough for the novice biker to navigate without having to cross a handful of high-risk roadways. Removing the Ghost Bikes is as detrimental as removing signs that say "Slow!" or "Bicycle Crossing" because to me, their purposes seem identical.
Each bike represents the death of an individual, the grief of a family, the artistry of a group, and the camaraderie of a community, but it’s also a tool to promote public safety for the entire city. I believe removing the abandoned bikes that lay rusting, chained to public property, is a proactive contribution to cleaning the city's public spaces, but including the Ghost Bikes under the same umbrella is beyond irrational—it's disrespectful. To define them as derelict or abandoned is troubling because they belong to all of us, no matter how we choose to travel.
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