Looters are stealing the parts from ghost bikes, desecrating the white-painted memorials to cyclists killed on the borough’s streets, according to bicycle activists.
The thefts have stretched across Brooklyn in recent months, with crooks stripping the sidewalk monuments down to their frames — and insulting the memories of deceased cyclists in the process, bike booster and filmmaker Dan Gingold claims.
“It’s very disrespectful and it makes me furious,” said Gingold. “People wouldn’t be disrespectful in a cemetery or a national monument.”
The thieves have mainly gone after easy-to-snatch parts, leaving the ransacked bike frames chained at the spots where cyclists lost their lives:
An all-white bike at the corner of Atlantic and Washington avenues in Clinton Hill — meant to commemorate the 2010 death of cyclist Jasmine Herron — is now missing its seat and rear wheel.
A ghost bike at the corner of Fulton Street and Utica Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant that has honored the deceased biker Ralston Bryan since 2007 no longer has its front wheel.
And one memorializing the late Dan Valle, who was killed in 2009 on S. Fifth Street near the Williamsburg Bridge in Williamsburg, is nothing but a frame, handlebars, and a banana seat.
It’s unclear when exactly the looters struck, but the bikes paying tribute to Herron and Valle appeared intact as of late last year.
Ellen Belcher, a volunteer with the New York Street Memorial Project, said it’s inevitable that people will attempt to steal from ghost bikes.
“People who take parts off bikes are probably not connected to biking or even know what ghost bikes are,” said Belcher, whose group has installed about 100 ghost bikes across the city — and more than 40 of them in Brooklyn. “They are street people.”
No matter how far removed from the cycling world a person is, it’s hard to mistake a ghost bike for a regular bicycle. Not only are they drenched in thick, white paint, making most of the parts useless, but many feature a prominently placed placard describing what the bike is and why it’s there.
Since the New York Street Memorial Project has no official policy on checking up on ghost bikes after installing them, the group doesn’t know exactly how many of the Brooklyn memorials have been stolen or vandalized.
“If someone removed them, we don’t always know,” said Belcher, whose group did receive a heads up when someone cut the lock off of a ghost bike representing the victims of unreported collisions at Borough Hall.
Belcher also got a tip when a thief tried to sell a stolen ghost bike — placard still attached — to a bike shop.
“[A bike shop employee] gave the guy five dollars and then called us to come pick up the bike,” she said.
Stripped ghost bikes aren’t just an insult to cycling activists — each stolen wheel could pose a threat to a sidewalk shrine’s claim on its spot.
Ghost bikes used to be subject to removal by the Department of Sanitation, which considered them derelict. Bike advocates eventually convinced the city to only remove memorials that are in such bad shape they are considered a hazard — but pillaged ghost bikes could potentially be mistaken for abandoned two-wheelers.
And looters aren’t the threat that ghost bikes face.
In 2007, Sam Hindy — the son of Brooklyn Brewery owner Steve Hindy — was killed while trying to ride his bike across the Manhattan Bridge. Activists quickly erected a ghost bike near the spot where he was struck, but a few months later a car ran into the tribute.
Volunteers replaced the ghost bike — then repeated the process two more times after vehicles rammed into the memorial again and again
“After the fourth time, we kind of gave up,” said Steve Hindy.
Still, Steve Hindy believes ghost bikes play a vital role in street safety.
“They are a constant reminder to everyone of the importance of respecting bicycles and their place on the streets of New York City,” he said.