For Cyclists, 'Ghost Bikes' Are A Haunting Memorial
MIKE PESCA, host:
The highways of America are dotted with crosses, flowers, pictures, testimonials to men, women, and children who've died in car crashes while on the road. Among urban bicycle riders, a similar tradition has arisen, one designed to remember, but also to kind of point a finger, to maybe haunt people. These things are called ghost bikes, bicycles painted all white, placed where bikers have been killed, most of them hit by cars. They're in cities all around the world. Our web editor Laura Conaway bikes to our midtown Manhattan offices from Brooklyn just about every day. She's here with the story of one particular ghost bike. Hey, Laura.
LAURA CONAWAY: How're you doing, Mike?
PESCA: I'm well. Tell us about this ghost bike.
CONAWAY: It's one that I see every morning on my ride into work. It's at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 36th Street.
PESCA: Is this a really dangerous corner for some reason?
CONAWAY: Well, it's not so much the corner as the Avenue itself. Sixth Avenue is four lanes of traffic, plus two for parking, and then there's this little bike lane. It's not even an arm's width across. And back in December, a guy named David Smith was killed there. He got doored out of the lane - it's every cyclist's nightmare - by an illegally parked car, and then he got run over by a truck.
PESCA: You mean - "doored" means he...?
CONAWAY: Someone just opened the door.
PESCA: And he either goes flying or has to swerve to avoid...
CONAWAY: Exactly, and he was actually knocked, physically knocked, into the traffic lane and hit by a truck. He was 65, and it so happens that he was gay. He'd had to same partner for 36 years. I'd been wondering whether the ghost bike I see every morning was for him. And then a few weeks ago right after Gay Pride, I saw that someone had decorated it with flowers and this rainbow flag. So, I blogged about it. And not long after, the person who decorated it wrote in to say that someone had completely stripped the bike. His name's Larry Boes, and he was not happy.
Mr. LARRY BOES (Caretaker, Ghost Bike Memorial to David Smith): This sign that states when he died, when he was killed, et cetera, was on the post as well as - on, you know, zip-tied on, and...
CONAWAY: Right onto the frame?
Mr. BOES: Right onto the frame. And we had flowers, and we had, you know, fake flowers, and a rainbow flag on here. It was gone. Everything was gone. So, I checked the trash, and it was all in the trash.
CONAWAY: Now, Larry didn't know David Smith, but it just happens that he lives nearby, and he's also gay. And he's an AIDS widower, so he understands loss.
PESCA: Does he bike?
CONAWAY: He bikes. He bikes every day. He's a gardener in Central Park, and he bikes up there. And Larry volunteered to take care of this bike, and he says that the vandalism was probably not a gay thing, because people have been damaging this bike for a long time. They've been kicking in the tires. They've taken off the name plate.
PESCA: And you know, I'm trying to understand it. Is the bike obstructing street traffic? Why would they target this bike?
CONAWAY: It's not really clear. You know, people - this bike is not in anybody's way. People have complained about that with other ghost bikes, sometimes in other cities. There's a place in Boston where one has been blocking a bus stop. Sometimes, they end up blocking manholes. This one is just tucked away. It does make you wonder how long memorials, like the ghost bike, can last in the middle of big cities, and I asked Larry about that.
You know, when you see old graveyards, they're covered over. And it's not imaginable, really, for the people who are burying any person that the graveyard would ever be covered over, or that the roadside cross where the car went off the road would ever just fade away, and yet they do.
Mr. BOES: There may be a time when - yeah, this bike is - doesn't need to be here anymore. I mean, yeah, that's a fact. I mean, things evolve, like you said, and that could be good, and maybe, you know, there'll be some wider - we'll have a really good bike path here and this won't have to be here, you know? And maybe, you know, people will be - you know, won't get killed on bikes anymore. And that'd be good, you know, and then maybe we don't need this symbol.
PESCA: I want to ask you about that. You mentioned the bike path's about an arm's length. Do people just - do the guys who are in charge of putting down a bike path, do they kind of just say, oh, let's see how much room we have, and then design it that way? Or are there standards for what constitutes a good bike path?
CONAWAY: Well, standards are changing in New York City. One of the things that's happened is they've begun building wider bike lanes and also separated bike lanes, where they've gone and they've looked at examples in other cities, like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and they've - what they've started doing is instead of placing the bike lane between the sidewalk and the cars, they now flip the order so that it's sidewalk, bike lane, cars, and they're using the cars - on Broadway, a new lane uses a little sort of pedestrian plaza to separate cyclists from the main flow of traffic. And...
PESCA: That makes sense.
PESCA: Because if you open - if the door opens that way, he doesn't go into an oncoming car.
CONAWAY: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I do ride on this old, antiquated lane on Sixth Avenue, still, which is a lousy, old lane, and it's just too small for the level of traffic there. I wouldn't ride on that street if I had a choice, and if it weren't so early in the morning when there's little traffic, but most of my ride in New York City is on quite wide, buffered bike lanes now, thanks to people laying them down.
PESCA: All right. Laura Conaway edits our website. You can find more of her conversation with Larry Boes, along with photos of the ghost bike and people commenting about it, on npr.org/bryantpark. Thank you, Laura.
CONAWAY: Thank you.
PESCA: And while we're on the subject of the interaction with people on the website, Matt Martinez is here with a little Most and Ramble news.
MATT MARTINEZ: Yeah, a little Most and Ramble news. We - we're - well, not inundated. A couple of people wrote, why aren't you doing The Ramble? Why aren't you doing The Ramble? Where's The Ramble? Is The Ramble ever going to be done again? And the thing is, is that we decided, over many beers, that we would just do The Most because it involved more of the staff, and we have very, very little time left. But because there was a mini-outcry on the blog, we are going to bring back The Ramble. The Ramble will be back tomorrow.
MARTINEZ: And - and! - The Most, in the same show.
PESCA: No way!
MARTINEZ: Yeah, it's a Ramble and The Most in the same segment - in the same show. It's going to be mind-blowing.
PESCA: We're like one of those community banks, where we're not so big that the customer doesn't matter to us.
PESCA: Couple people write in. They say, where is your Ramble? We say, I'll see what I could do. The chairman of the organization starts walking the hall. He says, you, sir, come up with a Ramble.
PESCA: And we do.
MARTINEZ: And you know, I have about 30 seconds left, but the one-hour thing?
MARTINEZ: Going to one hour? It was our choice. You know, a lot of people are on the blog, like, NPR cutting you down to one hour, too, and cancelled you? It's like, no, that was our choice. It's a process of moving on, and getting through this.
PESCA: All right.
MARTINEZ: So, that's pretty much the best explanation I can give all the folks out there.
PESCA: And that is it for this hour - or this program - of the BPP. I am Mike Pesca. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.
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