In mid-August, German tourist Nils Yannick Linke was struck and killed by a drunk driver at the intersection of Masonic and Turk streets in San Francisco. Soon after, a “ghost bike” was placed on that intersection, with the purpose of memorializing Linke and other cyclists who have been killed on city streets. The Ghost Bike movement is only seven years, but has recently gained momentum here in California, and elsewhere, as ghost bikes have been implemented in 134 cities including 35 states and 21 countries.
In recent months, the movement earned additional legitimacy in New York City, where the city’s Department of Sanitation said it planned to remove “derelict” bikes from the sidewalks until bike safety advocates intervened. Mary Beth Kelly, who’s husband was killed in a bike accident, was an outspoken critic of the department’s planned maneuver. “We are trying to make New York a more livable city, and that means alternative means of transportation have to be made available and safe,” she said. “These bikes serve as reminders that we’re only halfway there.”
Unfortunately, ghost bikes in San Francisco have not yet achieved the same permanence as in New York. In mid-September, San Francisco’s Department of Public Welfare removed Linke’s ghost bike because it was “blocking the public right-of-way” and obstructed a street cleaning crew. The agency’s current policy is to leave bike memorials up for three weeks, and then contact the family of the accident victim before removing the monument.
The San Francisco Bike Coalition has emerged as a vocal supporter of such memorials. “Ghost bikes are a way for a community to come together to honor and memorialize the victim’s life,” said the group’s acting executive director Renee Rivera. “Installed by the victim’s family, friends or loved ones, the ghost bike really underscores our work as it is a quiet, visual reminder of the importance of safer streets.”
It’s important that bike memorials do not obstruct public walkways or street cleaning crews. But with more than 700 bike accident fatalities each year (including more than 100 in California alone), safety advocates and city officials should compromise to devise a system that would maintain street efficiency while continuing to advance bike safety awareness.