Ghost Bikes Remind of Cyclist Deaths
NEW YORK—Laura Rothfuss lit up every room she walked into and rode everywhere on her bike. She had smiled and greeted a man at the corner of 125th Street and Park Avenue on June 6 last summer.
He crossed the street—then heard a bang. He turned around and saw Rothfuss lying still on the ground. Two cabs had struck her, knocking her teal bike across the street just a few feet away from him.
“She didn’t respond to anything,” said Luis Munos Roda.
The 24-year-old died after being rushed to the hospital. A bicycle was painted white and locked down at the site of her death.
It was 1 of 12 “ghost bikes” installed by the Street Memorial Project last year. On Sunday, cyclists, friends, and family members rode to the sites and left flowers on these memorials for the ninth year.
A group in New York City has been installing bikes painted white at the sites of accidents where cyclists were killed. Sometimes the crashes go unreported, said Street Memorial Project co-founder Jessie Singer. Different city and state agencies have different numbers.
Twelve known cyclists were killed last year, including one who remained unidentified.
Singer, a Brooklyn resident, was part of a street art collective years ago. Many of the artists rode bikes to get around the city. In 2005, a member of the collective witnessed the immediate aftermath of a crash, and thought the group had to do something.
“We all felt it was our responsibility,” Singer said.
The idea of setting up a ghost bike was taken from a project in St. Louis, Mo. These projects have since spread to over 200 locations around the world, including Austria, New Zealand, Cyprus, and Singapore.
It was jarring and emotional. It was planned as a one-time thing. Then just a week after the first ghost bike was set up, another cyclist was killed on the road, Singer said—and then another.
In 2007, the project evolved into an annual ride across the city to each of the sites put up the year before. In 2010, the Department of Sanitation proposed rules for the removal of abandoned bikes, and amended the rules to exclude ghost bikes unless they pose an immediate threat to the public.
Remembrance, and a Growing Movement
“I wish we could say the numbers go down every year, but they fluctuate,” Singer said.
From 2005 to 2014, 128 bikes have been placed in the city. In 2012, there were 19 known cyclist deaths. In 2011, there were 21.
For a number of the victims and cyclists participating in the memorial, bicycles are their main mode of transportation.
Liz Patek, a resident on the Upper West Side, has ridden as a part of the memorial for the last three years. A bicycle has been Patek’s only mode of transportation since 1989.
“It’s an important message,” she said before leaving flowers at Rothfuss’s ghost bike. “There was a cyclist here. It creates awareness.”
There have always been streets dangerous to bike on, Patek said, but the growing movement and increased infrastructure has made a difference. Last year, there were no cyclist deaths below 96th Street in Manhattan, as more bike lanes were added in recent years.
The Department of Transportation also has many street redesign projects in known dangerous areas. The Economic Development Corporation is funding a $6 million redesign of the intersection where Rothfuss died.
Rothfuss’s parents live in Buffalo, but came down to New York City for the memorial.
“She rode everywhere,” said her father Rick Rothfuss. “Maybe having these bikes will remind drivers to slow down.”