Bath & North East Somerset Council says that it plans to remove a white ‘ghost bike’ commemorating a young cyclist who was killed while riding his bike more than three years ago.
It says the proposed action is in line with an initiative being piloted by a number of local authorities across the UK regarding roadside tributes to people who have lost their lives in collisions, as well as bikes used for advertising purposes or ones that have been abandoned.
However, the charity Cycling UK has told road.cc that it cannot find any evidence of a nationwide policy regarding roadside memorials, and that the approach taken tends to depend on the individual local authority involved.
The ghost bike commemorates 19-year-old Jake Gilmore, who was fatally injured in a hit-and-run incident on Midland Bridge Road in November 2013. It was placed there shortly after his death, but the identity of who was behind it is not known.
The teenager’s parents, who live in Chard, Somerset, have said that it should be up to the citizens of Bath to decide whether or not the bike, which they say acts as a reminder to motorists to maintain concentration, should stay.
Toby and Sue Gilmore, whom the council says it has attempted to contact ahead of the removal of the bike, scheduled for 3 April, told the Bath Chronicle: "The white bike has been marking the place where Jake was killed for over three years.
"It has been an obvious symbol of the consequences of driving badly and without full attention; and may have inspired some motorists to concentrate on what they are doing.
"In this way it has served the community of Bath. If the people of Bath would prefer it to stay for this reason then we would not want to stop them asking that it remain.”
The local authority has attached a notice to the bike saying that unless it is removed by 3 April 2017, the council itself will remove it.
It said it had taken the action "following complaints from members of the public concerned that pedestrians could trip or knock into them.
"We are sympathetic to the use of bikes being used for memorials but we ask that they are removed within one month,” it continued.
"They can be returned to mark anniversaries, but must be removed after 30 days."
It's not clear how many complaints the council may have received about this specific bike, and certainly locals that the Bath Chronicle spoke to seemed to have no problem with it remaining where it is.
The council cited “best practice researched nationwide” as being behind its decision and said it was one of a number of local authorities across the country trialling the initiative, although Cycling UK said this was not something it had previously heard of.
The organisation also highlighted a page on the council’s website which outlines the procedure to be followed, which Cycling UK interprets as meaning that the bike can remain in place so long as whoever put it there contacts the local authority – although another interpretation is that the bike will still be removed, but not disposed of as long as contact is made.
Ghost bikes/Abandoned bikes/Bikes Chained up clearly being used for advertising purposes
1. Tag bike stating it will be removed by specific date (5 working days) unless Council is contacted (use Council Connect for contact details).
2. If Tag remains, and no contact then remove and store tagged Midland Road Recycling Centre for 3 weeks. Keep a list of those removed, and a photograph accessible by Council Connect in the event of enquiries. Inform police of this approach.
3. If no contact made within 26 days of first tag then dispose of bike through usual reuse/recycling contracts.
4. If bicycle is claimed then must be collected from Midland Road depot. No charge proposed (subject to numbers).
The national cyclists’ charity told road.cc: “Without knowing the reasons behind Bath & North East Somerset Council’s trial in removing ghost bikes, their actions seem more than a little insensitive especially considering reports suggest this is an active memorial.
“Cycling UK is aware some road safety officers have previously claimed, without evidence, that ghost bikes could distract drivers and cause collisions. However, by extending this rationale, all advertising should likewise be banned!”
In September 2014, the driver of the car involved in the fatal collision, Raymond Isherwood, was jailed for three years after pleading guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, failing to stop at the scene of an accident, perverting the course of justice, failure to surrender to police bail and cultivation of cannabis.
Jake’s parents said that they avoid the location where their son sustained his fatal injuries, and that the ghost bike “marks a location of unspeakable horror for us and we never go anywhere near it.
"Jake is buried in the churchyard in the village where he lived with us and grew up,” they added. “His headstone stands at the head of his grave and is his permanent memorial.
"Whether the bike stays or goes, Jake will always be gone. We have not recovered."
It’s not the first time we’ve come across instances of local authorities in the UK removing ghost bikes or giving notice of their intention to do so, as these stories from Hackney and Nottingham show, and we’re aware of ghost bikes that have been removed elsewhere, such as one outside Oxford’s Bodleian Library.
We’re trying to build up a picture of individual councils’ approach to the issue, so if you are aware of any ghost bikes in your area that have been removed or which the council has left in place, please let us know in the comments below including the name of the local authority concerned.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.