As the year draws to a close, as snow falls and Christmas festivities consume our lives, it’s important to remember the fallen cyclists within our communities – and the fight to make our streets safer for two wheeled travel next year.
This remembrance is most poignantly encapsulated by the sight of solitary white bicycle locked to a lamppost. These apparitions act as a roadside memory to a cyclist killed in a traffic accident. A reminder, according the Ghost Bikes, “Of the tragedy that took place on an otherwise anonymous street corner, and as quiet statements as cyclists’ right to safe travel.”
St Louis, Missouri was home to the first ghost bike almost a decade ago, though the idea of painting bikes white may well have taken inspiration from a New York street gorilla art project (ghostbike.net) or even a free bike sharing program in Amsterdam back in the sixties. Since then, this low key, deeply personal project has grown in size, rapidly spreading to cities around the United States and across the world – Ghost Bikes have appeared in countries as diverse as Lithuania, Ecuador and Singapore. The bicycles themselves are painted completely white – right down to their components and tyres. Some feature memorial plaques with a few simple words or are decorated with garlands of flowers and tributes.
Many ghost bikes are left in place for several months or years. The death of Londoner Eilidh Cairns, in 2009, led her sister to petition successfully for the permanent placement of a bike in Notting Hill with the city’s mayor. “We want everyone to take notice. To keep this image in their minds as they rush to work. To remember that every act has a consequence, and nothing is worth this.” The ghost bike was the first step, encouraging Kate Cairns to campaign for trucks – the cause of the majority of bike-related deaths in London – to be fitted with sensors and cameras. She went on to take the See Me, Save Me campaign all the way to the European Commission.
Indeed, it’s the hope that these ghost bikes are seen as “quiet statements of cyclists’ right to travel”, rather than an ominous deterrent to would-be cyclists. In the UK, for instance, cycling fatalities have risen over the last three years, but fallen in proportion to the growth in pedal-powered commuting, and are on a general downward trend.
Clearly there remains much work to be done in making our streets a safer place to ride. Ghost Bikes help ensure this task, and those whose lives have been taken are not forgotten.
For more information and a record of many their locations, visit Ghost Bikes and the Ghost Bike Film Project.