Monday, November 21, 2011

Ghost Riders

Motivated by the 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.  
The first bike installed across from Goodwin College must have touched a grieving acquaintance of the cyclist that had been killed two months ago in September by a drunk driver.  Within a day of being put up, the bike had flowers attached to the handlebars and a candle placed at its base.  The second and third bikes were put up across the street from each other, closer to the intersection of Main Street.  The most recent death (November 14th, 2011), just one week ago, had a shrine to the rider set up in a plastic bin.  Candles, flowers, and photos affixed to the phone pole memorialized the slain rider and showed that members of the community cared greatly about this lost life.  While installing the bike next to the shrine we discussed the tragedy of the death with the owner of the adjacent grocery, who had experienced first hand both cyclist deaths.  The fourth and final ghost bike was placed separately on Hebron Avenue in Glastonbury, near the Route 2 on ramp to Hartford.  In December of 2010, a 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.


Tony C said...

Photo credit to Ken Krayeske on the 2nd photo of the bike next to the shrine with the photos affixed to the phone pole.

Tony C said...

Much thanks to all those that helped out with the ghost bikes, lots of help in acquisition, preparation, and installation.

I left out names to protect the innocent. ;)

Valerie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Valerie said...

I'm really proud of you. Glad to see bike advocacy pick up some momentum in Hartford.

aabner58 said...

If there are signs or flashing lights stating to walk your bike please obey, it will help ensure your safety and the safety of others around you.

Brendan said...

Thanks for doing this.

Kevin S said...

Youn Ken and Chris did a nice job with those bikes! Here's to hoping no more are needed in the future.

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