More ‘ghost bike’ memorials erected across Colo.
The Denver Post
DENVER – The mountain bike, spray-painted white, is chained to a lamppost at the busy intersection in Lafayette where Marvin “Chip” Webb was hit on his bicycle by an RTD bus, and died the next day.
It’s adorned with some flowers, a memorial card signed by friends, and a stenciled sign that reads “A Cyclist Was Struck Here 4-6-10.”
It’s one of Colorado’s growing number of “ghost bikes,” roadside memorials erected at sites where cyclists have been killed by motor vehicles.
The first ghost bike appeared in 2003 in St. Louis, and the memorial tradition has spread to cities including New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Albuquerque. It’s now a global movement, stretching from Australia and Brazil to Singapore, Mexico and Ukraine.
Meaghan Wilbur, a New York cyclist who’s making a film on the social phenomenon, describes it as a subculture that’s “an interesting intersection of street art and mourning. It’s a quiet, positive statement that’s more about respecting the life of an individual, rather than a political statement.”
In Colorado, the subculture is so hidden that many who work in bike shops haven’t yet heard of ghost bikes. Further, the movement – grass roots, local and decentralized – differs from city to city. Joe Giovenco, owner of Joe’s Bikes in Lafayette, believes “they’re a nice touch, especially in Boulder County and Colorado, with its big cycling community.”
Donald Cicchillo, president of the Boulder Cycling Club, first saw a ghost bike last summer in Boulder near the intersection of Broadway and 36th; at Christmas he spotted one near 28th and Violet.
“I heard through the grapevine that it’s a solo guy who goes out and does it,” he said.
But the people who work at Chip’s Place, the Lafayette cafe that Webb owned, heard that a local bike club was responsible for his ghost bike.
“There’s a mystique to it,” said Dan Grunig, executive director of Bicycle Colorado. “They develop spontaneously.”
Part of the mystery, he said, is that there aren’t too many ghost bikes in Colorado, a reflection of its low number of bicycle fatalities.
In a 2010 study titled Bicycling and Walking in America, Colorado had 1.8 fatalities per 10,000 bicycles.
Vermont had zero fatalities, and Alabama had the most: 22.5 deaths per 10,000 bicycles.
Ghost bikes have popped up in Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Louisville, Lafayette, Boulder and Highlands Ranch.
Some vanish after a few weeks, like the memorial in Fort Collins for Urangua Mijiddorj, who was hit by a car as she rode her bike to school by a driver who was blinded by the sun.
People are left to wonder whether the mystery installers return to remove them, or whether they’re carted away by local transportation agencies.
In Colorado, “we won’t remove them unless they are a safety hazard or unusually distracting,” said Stacey Stegman, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
However, ghost bikes do fall into a “very gray area of the law,” she said. “They could be considered litter, an advertising device that sends a message, or abandoned property.”
Wilbur, who is featuring at least nine cities and two countries in her film, has discovered a variety of reactions to the phenomenon.
“Some anti-ghost-bike people are anti-road-memorial in general,” she said. “They don’t think they serve a useful function. Other people find them incredibly useful as a personal space to grieve a loved one. Some people don’t really care, and some are irritated by them. They think they’re just junk.”