Ghost (bicycle) riders in the sky

Ghost (bicycle) riders in the sky

They rest affixed to street signs, stark whitewashed bicycles locked on sidewalks near dangerous intersections where accidents have claimed the lives of cyclists and pedestrians.

On Sunday, January 3, a group of cyclists added ten more ghost bikes to memorialize those killed traffic accidents over the past year, bringing the total number of roadside memorials placed around the city to 66.

Now in its fifth year, the memorial ride, held on the first Sunday of the new year, is part of the Street Memorial Project’s effort to create a compassionate and supportive community for friends and family of those killed while raising awareness about the dangers of cycling in city streets and ultimately make them safer for both vehicles and pedestrians.

“This is hard every year,” said Sully Ross, a Carroll Gardens resident who helped organize the Street Memorials Project ride. “It’s a cold day and it’s a long ride. It’s very emotional. Every stop is a reminder of another seemingly senseless crash. It can be overwhelming.”

The ride began in Elmhurst, Queens with a memorial for James Langergaard, while also making several stops in Brooklyn, including Green and Washington avenues in Clinton Hill where riders placed a memorial for Julian Miller, and Manhattan Avenue and Milton Street, where a memorial for unknown cyclists and walkers was held. In addition to Langergaard and Miller, the cyclists mourned Juan Espinoza-Navarrete, Pablo Pasarán, Stephen Hodnett, Dan Valle, Eliseo Martinez, Aurelio Perez, Solange Raulston, and Violetta Kryzak.

While the number of cyclists on the road has been steadily increasing over the past few years in New York City, including a 35 percent jump between 2007 and 2008, traffic fatalities remain a pressing concern from cycling groups.According to the Department of Transportation, in 2005, there were 24 cyclists deaths, 18 in 2006, 23 in 2007, and 25 in 2008. In 2006, 166 pedestrians were killed, and 136 were killed in 2007. In 2008, 147 pedestrians were killed and 150 were killed this past year.

“Most of the deaths we are commemorating have completely faded from light (in the news),” said Wiley Norvell, a spokesperson for Transportation Alternatives (TA), a bike advocacy group. “The aggregate is something New Yorkers seldom think about. It’s important to look at them in their totality.”

While recent cyclist demonstrations in Wliliamsburg have treated the removal of bike lanes with wry humor and theatrical gestures, the Street Memorial Project’s riders chose a different tone for their ride, which many participants believe was poignant and quietly powerful.

Cyclist Heidi Gollogly said it was a “wonderful day to spend my Sunday” and that she was happy she has not had an accident on city streets, while TA volunteer Noah Berland rode to show support for safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists alike.

Leah Todd, a cyclist who organized the ride, echoed Norvell’s hopes that the ghost bikes would bring awareness for changes in transit engineering and planning at the street level such as traffic calming devices.

“It’s important to not be comfortable while riding and remember those we have lost,” said Todd.