growing pile of dead cyclists on Burnside Avenue, a group of concerned bike commuters created and installed white ghost bikes at four locations. Each location corresponded to the site of the cyclist death and included a sign with the date of the crash. Three of the ghost bikes were placed on Burnside Avenue in East Hartford, a bustling multi-lane state highway, Route 44, that passes through a dense, largely hispanic neighborhood.
cyclist was struck and killed at this location by a hit and run driver. Fortunately the driver was found and charged.
While installing the ghost bikes on Burnside, we noticed how many cyclists were out even at 9PM late in November. The economic situation of many residents of the neighborhood makes a bicycle a necessity, and not a decision. Almost all the cyclists out that night were riding without lights and many were riding against traffic, dangerous bike salmon nearly invisible in the dark. Three of the four cyclist deaths occurred at night. As any experienced bicycle commuter knows, riding at night - use your lights (and lots of them). Unfortunately there really isn't bicycle safety education that would have reached this segment of the cycling population, and a $20 light set may seem like a luxury when that is equal to 25% of the cost of your bike. If you're living on the margin, $20 could mean the difference between going hungry or making the rent this month.
Aside from the physical symbol of the ghost bikes, I sent a letter to the CT DOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator (Kate Rattan) and Sandy Fry at CRCOG, the regional transportation planning organization. I also cc'd the good folks at Bike Walk CT. After pointing out the growing number of deaths on Burnside Avenue, I recommended a focused (and free) bicycle safety training or free light distribution in this neighborhood. While I was living in Champaign-Urbana, IL a family of organizations put on a yearly "Light the Night" event that made great strides for cyclist safety at night. Within days, the wheels were turning at CT DOT and CRCOG and I think something might actually come from this suggestion. Phone calls are being made and proposals are being made. It would be a fitting memorial to the lost lives to make this happen and use the momentum to prevent future crashes and improve bike safety culture in neighborhoods that are largely missed by bicycle advocacy.
Note: Speaking of momentum, Bike Walk CT is having their Annual Dinner on December 13th out at CCSU in New Britain. I'll be taking this opportunity to talk more with stakeholders about "Light the Night" and keep this moving forward. Hope to see others there. Please help spread the word. If you're on Facebook, here's the link to the event where you can help by inviting your multitudinous friends.