City proposes white crosses as alternative way to reinforce road safety message

Plans to erect ghost bikes in Christchurch, New Zealand, to commemorate cylists killed on the city’s streets have been rejected by the city council, apparently due to concerns that “ghost pedestrian” or “ghost motorcycle” memorials could follow.

Instead, the council’s transport and greenspace unit manager Alan Beuzenberg believes that white crosses could better reinforce the road safety message, according to a report on the website Stuff.co.nz.

Mr Beuzenberg was reacting to an initiative launched by Lucia Alonso-Gonzalez, a researcher at the University of Otago Christchurch, who wants to use ghost bikes as a means of remembering cyclists who have died pn the city’s roads.

"I have four bikes that people have donated. I'm going to pick them up next week," said Ms Alonso Gonzalez, who earlier this week met with Andrew Roozen, whose wife Rochelle was killed when she was hit by a car in May last year.

Mr Roozen would like to see a ghost bike placed in her memory, but referring to the council’s resistance to the idea, added: "I wouldn't want to do anything if it upsets the authority. Part of the reasons I'm keen is because it's creating awareness. "Maybe this might be the chance to ensure better facilities for cyclists."

The council, however, appears inflexible, with Mr Beuzenberg saying: "The ghost-bike symbol seeks to make a distinction in the message to motorists specific to cycle fatalities. In our view, this complicates and dilutes the effectiveness of the message and would set a precedent for further distinctions, which include pedestrians and possibly motorcyclists.

"While we have considerable empathy for those that are wanting to erect these symbols, we believe that the white cross is a more meaningful and effective method of communicating the road-safety message to road users."

He added that the issue of ghost bikes would have to be considered on an individual basis. "The Christchurch City Council has guidelines in place for these assessments, which are aligned to the New Zealand Transport Agency guidelines," he explained.

"Ghost-bike symbols are not currently covered in council or agency guidelines and would therefore require specific consideration on a case-by-case basis."

Keith Turner, chairman of local cycling campaign group Spokes Canterbury said that the chairman Keith Turner said the organisation was not going to take a position on the issue, commenting that “we have a slight concern that in putting them up it is another thing that highlights maybe cycling is dangerous,” adding that statistics showed that one cyclist fatality occurred for the equivalent of every 52 years spent riding.

"We're basically taking a neutral stand,” he continued. “Some members think it's a very good idea, and they're free to do that. As an organisation, we can see both sides of the argument. When there's a car crash you see crosses, but you don't generally see ghost cars."

Going through the hoops of applying for council permission to put a ghost bike in place does seem to fly against the ethos of what began as a spontaneous, grass roots movement to commemorate fallen cyclists and which is the subject of a documentary currently in production.

However, the fact is that some form of accord does need to be reached with local authorities to prevent the memorials from being removed once they have been installed at the site where a cyclist died – the bike in the picture, for example, put up in Oxford to commemorate 22-year-old cyclist Tsz Fok, killed in Oxford in 2007, was removed by Oxford City Council the following 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.