'Ghost bikes' mark crash sites
By Dan Nephin
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH -- Late on a May night, a mangled bicycle painted a ghostly
white was chained to a pole along a downtown intersection, with a large
sign reading: "Cyclist Struck Here -- Ghostbike.org."
The group behind the project hoped it was an effective way of drawing
attention to bike safety -- even if the bike display and others like it
ran afoul of city sign laws.
Makeshift roadside memorials to victims of drunken drivers and other
car accidents -- often simple displays involving crosses, small signs and
flowers -- have been around for years. Now, biking enthusiasts around the
country are spreading their own message of road safety.
Organizers of the Pittsburgh "ghost bikes," which have been put up
near 14 spots where cyclists have been hit, drew their inspiration from a
similar project late last year in St. Louis that seems to have sparked the
A St. Louis cycling organization was unsure about what to do with a
donation of several hundred bikes until group member Patrick Van Der Tuin,
25, saw a cyclist hit by a car in front of his house -- and the idea
clicked for "Broken Bikes, Broken Lives."
In August, Van Der Tuin put up a bike in memory of the crash near his
home. In the fall, he and his friends put up a dozen more bikes, all
painted white, around St. Louis. This spring, another 15 or so went up.
"I was expecting it to gain attention to the problems we were having
in St. Louis," Van Der Tuin said, but word of the campaign spread beyond
the city's borders via the Internet.
In Cleveland, Kevin Cronin, 42, helped place 10 bikes around the city
in May, National Bike Month, after learning of Van Der Tuin's project. He
put up the bike displays on private property to avoid permit hassles,
removing them when the month was over.
Cronin's bikes did not mark the sites of accidents. They bore signs
reading, "Share the Road, It's the Law," and "Same Roads, Same Rights,
"Bike safety shouldn't be just a one-shot deal when somebody's hurt
or, God forbid, killed in a car crash," he said.
Melinda Preston, whose son, Matthew Preston, 23, was killed in October
2001, couldn't get bikes, but put up posters last month saying "Cyclist
Struck Here" at 12 sites around Tucson, Ariz., where 10 cyclists have been
killed and two seriously injured. She placed the signs with another woman
whose child had been killed riding a bike.
"I probably would not have done this had I not been the mother of a
child killed," said Preston, of Tempe, Ariz. "We're hoping for people to
start taking a look at how to be safe."
Most people don't realize how often cyclists are hit by cars, said
Brad Quartuccio, 23, who works at Dirt Rag, a mountain-biking magazine
published in Pittsburgh, and who helped organize the local project.
In 2002, 662 people died in accidents involving bicycles, tricycles
and unicycles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration. The agency doesn't track injuries.
After Dirt Rag ran a story about the St. Louis project, "a handful of
us in Pittsburgh took a look at it and said it would be cool if we could
make that happen here," Quartuccio said.
Quartuccio calls the Pittsburgh area initiative, which is not
affiliated with the magazine, part public art, part safety campaign.
One of the area memorials is to Jim Rihn, an avid cyclist killed two
years while riding in a Pittsburgh suburb. He was 55.
His widow, Carmella Rihn, said the project helps make drivers aware
that cyclists also have a right to the road.
Public works crews have taken down most of the bike displays in
Pittsburgh because of a city ordinance prohibiting signs on any city right
of way, said Guy Costa, public works director. Costa said he supports the
public safety message but that the sign ordinance must be enforced
Costa said no tickets would be issued for bikes still on display but
fines of $350 would be levied for any put up in the future. Government
agencies elsewhere have also removed bike displays.
In Pittsburgh and St. Louis, organizers said they would continue with
their bike safety projects, but also hoped their campaigns would start
making some difference.
"I don't want to be doing this, is the thing," Van Der Tuin said. "I
can put out 160 bikes in my city. And I don't want to put out that many."
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