The Ghost Bike: A Solemn Reminder

Just as white crosses sometimes adorn the side of a highway, bicycles painted white continue to pop up around Chicagoland as a reminder, heading into warmer months, of the dangers bicylclists face when they share the road with vehicles.

The "ghost bikes," like one at Western Ave. and Logan Blvd., signify a life lost.  Four cyclists were killed in bike-car collisions within an eight month period last year, the Chicago Tribune reported, including two at Kedzie Blvd. and Armitage Ave.

The Active Transportation Alliance, a bicycle advocacy group, says the presence of the bikes isn't their movement, but says it can appreciate what it's trying to accomplish.

"It's an opportunity to reflect on a tragedy, so it's representational of the fatality, that's why it's called a ghost bike. It's meant to look sort of eerie, meant to get people to contemplate 'Hey, what happened here?'" said the Alliance's Executive Director, Rob Sadowsky. "What it does for us and the bicycle community is it sort of reminds people maybe this is an intersection that you should be careful in, that there has been an incident here before. It reminds us to be safe and it reminds drivers out there they need to be careful."

A few people put together the bikes and place them, including Howard Kaplan, who said they sometimes make bikes for people who have no one to advocate for them.

The idea has caught on as the ghost bikes become more visible, Kaplan said.

"When we've had a tragedy, the loved ones and the family of the person has indepedently acted and put up bikes. That's kind of been the trend," he said. "We do it to mostly to make motorists aware that there are bicycle on the street and they're vulnerable. People get distracted when they're driving. When they're sitting at a light and they get an opportunity to look at a ghost bike, that hopefully gives them an opportunity to think things through, think about how they handle themselves when they see a bike on the road."

Kaplan guesses that there are 10 to 12 bikes placed around but he said he doesn't know the exact number. Some of them have been taken down or they disappear somehow. But the group said it puts a lot of effort into making the bikes unattractive to theives by using junk parts and welding everything together so it doesn't move.

"Eventually they kind of go away, but it's hard to really know whover has taken them down," Kaplan said, adding that the group has learned not to put them on CTA property or they will be removed almost immediately. Also, if a bike is supposed to be left near a business, the group will contact the business owner first to make sure the owner isn't upset that it's possibly driving away business.

Contact Us