Ghost Bikes

I spotted my first ghost bike — a memorial to a fallen bicyclist — on Second Avenue in the East Village, chained to a signpost sprouting from the quiet little park in front of the the old stone St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery church. Perhaps that’s why it seemed both dissonant and appropriate — despite the proximity of the street, it seemed unlikely that the tranquil square could have been the site of so many bicyclists’ deaths. At the same time, it was wholly natural to memorialize them near an 18th century churchyard. A closer look revealed that may have been precisely the thinking behind this ghost bike, dedicated to all the New York bicyclists who had lost their lives on the streets over the last year.

The ghost bike movement began as the solo effort of San Francisco artist Jo Slota in 2003. By the next year, a full memorial project was underway in St. Louis. Several artists groups’ ghost bike initiatives coalesced into The New York City Street Memorial Project in 2007, one of 87 ghost bike projects documented in 14 countries worldwide. In New York, the memorials have an impressive geographic scope, spread from the southern tip of Staten Island to reaches of eastern Queens far beyond the end of most subway lines.

I soon came across a second ghost bike, decorated with flowers and adorned with a note describing the circumstances of the death that it memorialized, just removed from the careening cabs of busy Houston Street. Despite an ongoing debate about the need for roadside shrines to traffic accident victims, ghost bike organizations have claimed their memorials have been anything but invisible, slowing traffic and creating awareness among motorists of the dangers they pose to urban cyclists. In New York, they may have achieved something even rarer — in a city where chained bikes are sometimes rapidly stripped of wheels and other accessories, these ghost bikes have gone months, and even years, undisturbed.

This entry was written by Christopher Szabla , posted on Wednesday July 15 2009at 06:07 pm , filed under Art and Design, Society and Culture, Transportation, United States and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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