Department of Sanitation plans to take away memorials to fallen cyclists

Ghost bikes, commemorating cyclists who have been killed while out riding, are set to disappear from the streets of New York City under proposals drawn up by the city’s Department of Sanitation to rid the streets of abandoned bicycles. The proposals have drawn fire from community groups that maintain that the bikes be kept as memorials to those who have died.

Under the proposals, which can be found here, the Department of Sanitation plans to remove “derelict” bicycles that are chained to public property and bear three or more characteristics from the following list:

  • It appears to be unusable.
  • It is missing parts, other than the seat and front wheel, including, but not limited to, handlebars, pedals, rear wheels and chains.
  • It has flat or missing tires.
  • The handlebars or pedals are damaged, or the rims are bent.
  • At least 75 percent of the bicycle is rusted.

In those cases, a notice will be placed on the bicycle stating that it must be removed by the owner within five days, otherwise it will be removed by the Department of Sanitation and disposed of.

However the proposals separately define a “ghost rider” as “a derelict bicycle that has been placed on public property and apparently intended as a memorial for someone who is deceased, and which may be painted white or have a sign posted on or near it, or flowers or other mementos in the basket.”

In the case of a ghost bike, none of the provisions relating to other derelict bicycles need to be satisfied, and the owner is given 30 days to remove it.

According to a report on the local news website YourNabe.com, the proposals regarding ghost bikes have angered the city’s cyclists.

Leah Todd, spokeswoman for the NYC Street Memorial Project, said: “The rules themselves define ghost bikes as ‘derelict.’ Nobody is in favor of these rules. Nobody.”

The Department of Sanitation has made no comment on the issue beyond saying that the new rules were likely to come into effect in October, although the website said that at a meeting last week, a spokeswoman had defended the decision, saying: “We’ve noticed an increase in the number of bicycles affixed to property, including traffic signs and parking meters. These bicycles are an eyesore, a potential public safety hazard and a constant source of complaints.”

There have been clashed in the past over the removal of ghost bikes in the city. In 2007, one commemorating bike messenger Jonathan “Bronx Jon” Neese, who had been killed in Williamsburg the previous year, was removed, although it was later replaced and registered with the city.

YourNabe.com says that at that point there were 27 ghost bikes throughout the city but now there are 70. However, the website says that despite the increased number of the monuments, there does not appear to be opposition to them at local level.

The website said that in July, Brooklyn Heights’ Community Board 2 had issued an appeal for the memorials to be safeguarded, issuing a resolution that said: “We ask that language regarding ghost bikes be removed from this proposal altogether. Such rules should reflect that ghost bikes will not be summarily disposed of without special outreach procedures, to include families of victims.”

According to the website www.ghostbikes.org, which logs the appearance of the memorials throughout the world, the first ghost bike appeared in St Louis, Missouri in 2003 and they can now be found in more than 100 locations around the globe. As reported on road.cc earlier this year, a pair of film makers from New York City are putting together a documentary charting the international growth of the phenomenon.

According to a report in The Sun last year, more than 100 ghost bikes had been installed in the UK both at sites where cyclists had died and at other locations to remind drivers of the need to be watch out for cyclists. The newspaper added that many of those had since been removed by local councils.

One, placed at the junction of Broad Street and Parks Road in Oxford as a memorial to student cyclist Tsz Fok, who was killed in a collision with a lorry in April 2007, was removed, presumably by the council, in August of that year.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.