4th November 2018 by Will Stewart
Ghost Bikes are bikes painted white chained to places close to where somebody has been killed in a traffic accident, riding a bike. They serve as memorials to those who have passed away, and are often adorned with flowers or a plaque, or some other personal reminder of the cyclist who has died. The very first ghost bike was placed in St. Louis, Missouri in 2003, but the culture seems to be most prevalent in New York city, where just this week The New York city council speaker, Corey Johnson, announced New York was going to build an extra 250 new bike lanes in an attempt to ‘break car culture’. Whilst pedestrian and cyclist deaths declined steadily in the 90’s and 00’s, in the last decade the number of people killed by cars started to grow massively. Last year, 41% more us pedestrians were killed by cars than in 2008. Similarly, the number cyclists have been steadily increasing, at a rate of 26% between 2012 and 2017. So far in 2019 there have been 25 cyclists killed on the roads of New York City, the highest number for 20 years.
Ethan Brooks‘ short doc is about a young New Yorker called Mirza Molberg, who has been actively making ghost bikes since 2011. He says it’s something that he just wanted to help out with. In the opening of the film, Mirza talks very personally and emotionally about the way he feels whenever he passes a ghost bike. “I’ll acknowledge it, maybe salute it. Blow ’em a kiss. I’ll just try to stop and put my hands on the handlebars. I feel like, ‘oh yeah, someone died here'”. If this seems like a slightly extreme reaction to the white bike chained to the side of the road, the next scene of the film reveals a cruel and sad twist of fate. On the morning of April 2016, Mirza’s girlfriend Lauren was involved in a fatal cycling accident.
Mirza’s account of the day she died is heart breaking. “I road my bike to her house. I stopped at the site on the way, no evidence. I went to the house and walked her dog. Took care of her cat. Then, spent the night alone there.” Mirza created Lauren’s ghost bike the following week.
With the way Mirza talks about the way Lauren suddenly disappeared from his life, it’s easy to see appeal of ghost bikes. Painted all white, and sometimes colourfully adorned, they are a striking sight on an otherwise, usually very grey patch of road. When a relative or loved one dies unexpectedly, it can be a huge shock to have them suddenly disappear. A physical memorial serves at very least as an acknowledgement that something has happened. This probably explains at least in part the reason the phenomenon has spread so far around the world. They are a common site in London, but can also be seen in Italy, Finland, New Zealand, Singapore, all around The US, and over 30 other countries.
Ghost bikes are not only a solemn way to remember the dead, but a reminder to both cyclists and motorists alike, that the next ghost bike could be just an instant away.
If you would like to make your own ghost bike, ghostbikes.org offers the following advice;
“Anyone can make and install a ghost bike, you don’t need permission from anyone to do so. Groups, families, friends and individuals in different cities use many different techniques, so you should certainly feel free to adapt to your own needs, skills, and situation. If you need help with making a ghost bike you might want to contact groups listed on our location pages, a bike shop or local advocacy or community group.”
You can read more on the official Ghost Bikes website.