Even though I’m a self confessed Victorian, it’s often touching to see how little flashes and glimmers of how they celebrated death emerge in this day and age. Their affection for death symbols and rituals and even dress codes for certain periods of mourning are now no longer relevant, but their celebration of life has trickled down into a touching and strong message that happens all too frequently in most major cities of the world.
I’d never seen a ghost bike until a few weeks ago when I was on a walk from my home in Bromley to Charing Cross Station. We’d reached Lewisham, and me and my friend Dan realised the shoes we’d worn for the task weren’t suitable at all. We stopped off at a Poundland so he could get some insoles and then carried on to our destination. Had it not been for that emergency stop, I would never have seen the bike tethered to the railings just outside Lewisham Station.
I was in a rush and didn’t get a close look but I instantly knew what it was and what it signified: a Cyclist was struck here and killed.
To have such a bold reminder in public I think is no bad thing, considering that in London, Cyclist deaths still happen – and increased as a result of the 2012 Olympics. Campaigners and those who sympathise that traffic is still a danger to the average Cyclist have used this statistic and for years erected bikes spray-painted white wherever a fatality has happened. It’s quite something to see, and just as potent as an obelisk or mausoleum: in every day life where your own mortality is drowned out by the stresses of your job or family life – there it remains, still there, and just as likely to happen as it ever was.
Ghost bikes even have a website detailing the message behind the act, with maps showing where they are and memorial events that are happening to coincide with the message. London has recognised ghost bikes just as importantly as blue plaques or statues.
The first time a ghost bike marked the passing of someone was reputedly in 2003 in Missouri, where a witness saw a collision between a cyclist and a car. The witness decided to mark it by placing a white bike at the scene with a messaged attached to it saying ‘cyclist struck here’. The first UK incidence of it happened in the same year, when an Australian man was struck in Islington, and his colleagues at the Bike shop where he worked placed a ghost bike at the scene to mark its fifth anniversary.
These memorials however have not been universally accepted by the authorities. Many councils order their removal, such as the case of singer and charity worker Shivon Watson, who was crushed to death by a Lorry whilst she was commuting to work. A ghost bike was erected in her memory, which Hackney Council then placed a removal notice on after complaints were received from the public. A similar incidence happened in 2009 when North Norfolk District Council removed the tribute to James Danson-Hatcher, citing its removal ‘on safety grounds’.
The general consensus by most bike users is their positive influence on promoting road safety. In New York on the first Sunday of every January, installed bikes are rounded up and taken for rides in memory of those who passed away, and new bikes placed for those who died in the past year. They seem to now have become an intrinsic part of life, even getting the support of Boris Johnson and the maintenance of TFL if they’re placed on main roads. In today’s hectic and often dangerous life, little reminders of those who’ve passed away I think make our environment all the more enriching and respectful.
Images from London Remembers.
- The Skateboard Graveyard (cemeteryclub.wordpress.com)