Utne Blogs > Politics

Ghost Bikes for Dead Riders Run Afoul of Law

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: bicycling, ghost bikes, death, memorials, law, politics, Keith Goetzman,

San Diego ghost bike 

As bicycling proliferates, so does a new type of urban death memorial: White “ghost bikes” that memorialize cyclists who’ve been killed in collisions with autos. The ghost bikes are equal parts shrine and safety awareness campaign, meant to honor lives and prevent more deaths. Bicycle Times magazine (Feb. 2011) interviewed Meaghan Wilbur, a filmmaker who’s working on a documentary about the phenomenon.

Wilbur has been in touch with bike advocates all over the country about their ghost bike displays, and she notes that not all cities allow the white bikes to stick around:

I sympathize a bit with both the pro- and anti- camps here. As a year-round urban bike commuter, I understand the bikers’ need to mark the places where their own have fallen, and both bikers and motorists can always use more reminders to be careful out there. Nothing does that quite like the bicycle equivalent of a skeleton.

However, I confess that I became firmly opposed to roadside automobile death shrines on travels through the Western United States, where they were more common than mile markers in some areas, and often unsightly: From a distance, many looked like crucifixes growing out of trash heaps. Some scenic stretches of road began to feel more like funeral routes.

I can’t get too worked up about ghost bikes, though. In urban environments, they don’t intrude much on the scenery, such as it is. And they can have a poignantly haunting quality, which I guess is the point. Several ghost bikes have been placed in Minneapolis, where I live and ride, and each time I pedal past one I think, there but for the grace of Ford go I. 

Sources: Ghost Bikes Film ProjectBicycle Times (article not available online), Ghost Bike Minneapolis 

Image by Osbornb, licensed under Creative Commons.