For Cyclists, 'Ghost Bikes' Are A Haunting Memorial

Larry Boes

hide captionGhost bikes commemorate cyclists killed while riding.

Courtesy of John Moody

The highways of America are dotted with crosses, flowes, pictures — testimonials to men, women and children who have died in car wrecks.

Among urban bicycle riders, a similar tradition has arisen. Since 2003, Ghost Bikes, painted white and marked with a plaque identifying the fallen rider, have been dotting sidewalks and pathways around the world. They have appeared in at least 46 cities around the world. The artists and activists behind the project say they spend about $20 on each one, since they work largely with donated bikes.

In New York City, one Ghost Bike is chained to a pole at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and 36th Street. It's for David Smith, who was killed in December 2007 at the age of 65. Smith was cycling in a bike lane when a passenger in an illegally parked car opened the door, knocking him into traffic. A passing truck ran over him.

Like many Ghost Bikes, Smith's has a volunteer caretaker. Larry Boes lives around the corner. Boes didn't know Smith. He says he felt compelled to look after the bike because, like Smith, he's gay, and because they shared a commitment to biking in the city.

But just as time and weather take a toll on old cemeteries, so does city life chip away at the Ghost Bikes. Boes has had to replace the plaque for Smith because of vandals. He decorated it with flowers and a rainbow flag for New York City's gay pride celebration, only to have someone strip the ornaments away. Will the Ghost Bike he cares for always be there?

"There may be a time when, yeah, this bike doesn't need to be here anymore," he says. One day, the city might widen the Sixth Avenue bike lane, making it safer. "And maybe people won't get killed on bikes anymore, and that'd be good. And then maybe we don't need this symbol."

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