Ghost bikes a haunting tribute

November 7, 2008

dsc_0007The number of cyclists on the road has exploded in the last few years. Soaring fuel costs, exorbitant public transport prices, the expanding congestion charge and increasing worries about the state of both our own bodies and the environment have all played a part. Few would argue that getting to work under your own steam is a bad thing, perhaps except the unlucky few that never complete their journey. Accidents with cars, buses and lorries invariably see the rider come off worse, and are sadly regular enough to warrant little media attention.

Some cyclists are trying to highlight these accidents, though, by placing ghost bikes at the scene of fatalities.

You may have already seen one without recognising its significance; spectral bikes painted entirely white, often bearing a memorial and a photograph of the rider. These bikes are intended as much as a political statement as they are a memorial to a fallen fellow cyclist. A reminder to drivers and riders alike, a plea for vigilance and safety, and a call to local councils to do more to protect the most vulnerable of all commuters.

The phenomenon was born in 2003 in St. Louis, but since then the project has spread to reach our shores.

London cycle mechanic Matthew Butt heard of a fatal accident just minutes from his home, and decided that a ghost bike would be a fitting tribute. He knew little of the idea prior to this, so posted a message on the popular London bike forum www.londonfgss.com offering to help organise a memorial. Matthew was later contacted by the victim’s family, who were keen to see a lasting memorial erected. He’s far from the only one in the city organising ghost bikes. According to www.ghostcycle.org.uk, there are now 14 within London alone.

“The only other one I’ve seen is on Kingsland Road,” says Matthew, “there was an accident down there and that sort of appeared a week after.”

To many the idea seems morbid, but are they really that stark? There’s a good chance that they could help save lives in the future. Certainly, it’s obvious that relatives need to be involved before any action is taken – not everyone would be able to stand such a constant reminder of a tragic event.

The thing is, it works. Waiting at a red light beside one of the tributes I couldn’t help but notice all eyes turned to it, whether cloaked in the relative safety of a car or exposed to the elements on a bike. Matthew says he would consider adding more, for this very reason.

“We’ve always got enough spare bikes to do it, but hopefully we won’t have to.”

This story was originally written for The Guardian

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