City’s new ghost-bike strategy trashes our grief

The Brooklyn Paper
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The Department of Sanitation has just put forward sensible guidelines for declaring when its agents can remove abandoned bikes from city sidewalks.

But in putting forward the new guidelines, the agency did not eliminate existing regulations that define “ghost bike” memorials as derelict.

Such a definition is extremely painful to all of us who see the white-painted memorials for what they are: symbols of remembering, not forgetting. Indeed, these ghost bikes are anything but “derelicts,” a word that denotes abandonment.

Of course, we side with the city in its effort to rid the streets of truly abandoned vehicles of all types. In too many neighborhoods, bicycles are chained to lamposts or street signs and simply left to rot.

The new rules allow the city to remove such bikes if they appear unusuable, are missing key parts, have flat or missing tires, and are at least 75 percent rusted. In all cases, the bike must be first tagged, giving its owner a chance to remove it before the city does.

Those rules also allow the city to remove all ghost bikes, regardless of their condition or state of decay. This is an important distinction, as virtually all of the 27 white memorials on the streets of Brooklyn are well maintained and appear anything but abandoned.

As a matter of free speech and the free exercise of religion, the government must allow the public to mourn its bicycling dead, though courts have long upheld the right of government to limit First Amendment protections when they endanger the larger public — which is why it’s illegal to yell “Fire” in a crowded moviehouse or put a memorial to a dead cyclist in a crosswalk or bus stop.

But the Department of Sanitation is not being reasonable in its restrictions on ghost bikes, which are universally well maintained, respectful and properly sited.

In taking out the trash, the agency should not also trash our right to express our grief and revulsion over the deaths of our two-wheeling residents.

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