The Bike Memorials’ Somber Beauty
& the Fear They May Be On the Rise
We don’t always write about bikes, dear readers. But when we do, we get lots of feedback. So as we’ve expressed concern, weeks ago, about safety issues surrounding the New York Share Bikes program, we found appropriate to republish another bicycle-related post.
It’s a way for us to pay homage to Derek Lake, a young filmmaker killed six years ago yesterday. As we’ve stopped by at his Ghost Bike on La Guardia Place, we were reminded how these spontaneous memorials help grieving friends and relatives to cope with their losses.
The bike sharing program has many positive aspects about it, but we’re not alone in fearing that the Big Apple may not be ready to implement it just yet. As a result, some expect such memorials to increase throughout the city. So why then a number of U.S. states have banned them altogether?
For as some cities can’t seem to cut down the number of fatal traffic accidents involving bicycles, they’re going after the next best thing: those white bikes that memorialize the victims of such fatalities.
It’s a funny logic and, in the context of bicycle riding, the irony of trying to shoot the messenger can not be lost. You may even think that it’s another sight of the kind of backlash against bikes the New York local media seems to be always focusing on.
Heated arguments between drivers and riders have taken over sidewalks and airways of local evening programs, and advocates and detractors themselves feel sometimes the need to pause, such is the vitriolic of the debates.
Those special street lanes, for example, are a favorite magnet for controversy. For riders, they symbolize the beginning of a more evolved, environmental-friendly era of public transportation. On the other side of the curb, however, there are plenty of walkers who consider them excuses for unlawfulness, and rude and sometimes dangerous exchanges.
Compared to that, those memorializing ghost bikes seem so poignant, utterly tame in their poetic homage to lives lived and ended rather abruptly. You may think that it has something to do with that, but you’d be wrong. As we said, it’s happening in many parts of the country, even as the phenomenon itself is now spread out all over the world. Some cities simply won’t have none of that, and those haunting ghosts, however evocative, will have to go.
Outside urban centers, travelers are used to seeing memorials by the roadside, marking the site of fatal accidents, with their crosses, faded pictures and withered flowers. They too have been the focus of the wrath of transit planners, who see them as dangerous distractions to drivers, somewhat too gloomy for such monuments to high aesthetics: our glorious highways.
Perhaps taking its clue from the same wretched mentality, now it’s the ghost bikes’ turn to be demonized for what they are not: visual pollution. Boston, San Francisco, Albuquerque, Miami, even Portland, in Oregon, or some of the most hipster-friendly regions in the U.S., seem to be bent into turning the originally spontaneous movement into something else.
Not entirely out of purpose, though. Miami and Portland, for example, have created permanent bike installations to replace the “a bike in each block” trend that keeps on growing. But others, that won’t hesitate on having another mammoth billboard advertising soda splashed above their historic districts, for instance, have a series of restrictions to justify the ban.
By now, it must be clear to everyone where our allegiances lay. Last June, Colltales even marked another anniversary of Derek Lake’s passing, publishing a picture of the ghost bike his friends and family arranged to be displayed on La Guardia and Houston streets. And we never even got to meet him.
If anything, those bikes speak of another set of wheels being hit one final time in the rush of traffic and, like a gentle, motherly advice, a reminder to us all to be careful out there.
It’s true, the Internet is full of sites celebrating the life of somebody’s friend, father, sister or band mate. One can see their smiling faces, the person at some favorite haunt side by side with a picture of a ghost white bike. But such sites will always lack the physicality one can only feel when passing by those immovable urban memorials.
It’s just a receding gesture from the part of those left behind to affirm, with little chance to prove it, that Derek’s, or Ginni’s, or Dennis’s lives did happen, apart from seven billion others, most likely oblivious to you and your grandfather. And that can’t be banned, ticketed, trivialized, or turned into a commodity. A life lost will never be another distraction of traffic.
JUST IN: So it goes that, at exactly the same time as we were writing this post, another biker got killed some 30 blocks from where we sit. It got us really sad and shaken. R.I.P., comrade, this post is our own ghost bike to you. WC