Ghost bikes are increasingly haunting our towns and cities.
Poignant reminders of the dangers of our modern busy roads harken back to an earlier time where tokens of remembrance and affection pay tribute to a life stopped far too early.
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 friend and I decided to walk from Bromley to Charing Cross Station. By the time we reached Lewisham, the shows Dan were wearing were not up to the task at all, so we stopped off at a Poundland to buy some insoles to ease our twelve mile journey. Had it not been for that emergency stop, I would never have seen the white 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 had been killed and this was a poignant reminder of cycling on busy London roads.
We live in an age where death is sheltered from public view – an opinion which is, bit by bit, changing. 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, bikes have been placed where cyclists were killed as a memorial and a reminder. It’s quite something to see – it’s just as potent as an obelisk or mausoleum.
Ghost bikes even have a website detailing each location that a cyclist fell, with events which memorialise the fallen. London has recognised ghost bikes just as importantly as blue plaques or statues.
The First Bike
The first time a ghost bike marked the passing of someone was reputedly in 2003 in Missouri. The witness who nsaw the dreadful collion between person and vehicle decided to mark the tragedy by placing a white bike at the scene with a message attached to it, simply 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 that he worked in 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 City of London has tackled a long standing issue in the limiting of vehicles in the notorious Bank Junction, close to the Royal Exchange. By Limiting vehicular access to this busy road intersection between 7am and 7pm to cycles and buses only, it is estimated that bring casualties down by 50-60%. This has not had acceptance from many Black-Cab drivers, who barricaded the junction in response to the plan of action.
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 and the maintenance of TFL if they’re placed on main roads.
As more and more people take to cycling as a way to keep fit and save money from increasing transport fares, little reminders of those who’ve passed away as a result of the dangers of our busy roads serve a greater purpose than remembering the fallen – they make our environment all the more enriching and respectful.
Images from London Remembers.