.citycycling

.ghost bike

With every inch painted stark white it's hard to miss a ghost bike parked out on the street. An almost angelic, pure look used as a marker for a cyclist who died on the very spot the bike has been placed. Chained to railings or a convenient lamppost, it serves as a reminder. And that's the problem I have with ghost bikes - I'm not sure the reminder is properly targeted.

It's an unpopular view, I know. I raised it in a few places and more or less found myself in a minority of one. But here is my reasoning. A ghost bike tells people a cyclist died, rather crucially this is subtly different from telling people someone killed a cyclist. Pedantic this may sound, but I have heard tell that ghost bikes serve as a reminder to motorists of their responsibilities, that they are aimed at drivers, making sure they act more aware of cyclists. This is certainly the case if you believe ghost bikes do give out the message that someone killed the cyclist who is the subject of the memorial.

But does the human brain really work in that way? My belief, based on speaking to non-cyclists, is that a ghost bikes says, "cycling is dangerous, look, someone died there." There is a disassociation between the cause and the effect, the result is clear for all to see, what caused that result is unclear without a large banner, legible to passing motorists, going into the detail of the death. All of which means that a ghost bike could stop some from getting on a bike by perpetuating the belief that it's too dangerous, while not adjusting driving attitudes at all. Somewhat the reverse from the intention I'm sure.

And it is important here that the query on the result of the ghost bike is asked of those non-cyclists. Regular cyclists, those who know intimately about ghost bikes, who ride every day, who realise where the danger does lie and what the bike truly signifies, will understand and give the response that driving standards need to be better. The non-cyclist, especially the pondering-starting-cycling-non-cyclist, will give you the response of Joe Public. And while as daily cyclists we might find it odd to understand how they can come to the conclusion that 'cycling is dangerous' without linking it to a driver who may have killed that cyclist, closing our eyes to that public perception means that we are destined to continue making the same mistakes and sending out (however unintentionally) the wrong message. Sorry, let me put that another way, sending out the right message that is all too easily construed incorrectly.

So you can take it as read, if I should happen to die on the mean streets I don't want a ghost bike placed on the spot. I'd rather a giant billboard was erected, with a picture of a car or a bus or a lorry on it and the words "Please don't kill anyone today" in giant letters above. That is targeted. And pretty hard to misconstrue...

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