Ghost Bikes both art, memorial to cyclists killed on Tucson roads: Six installations also serve as awareness cue for motorists

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Arizona Daily Star

Published: Jul, 17 2008

White bicycles stationed along several Tucson roadways are part art, part memorial, and mostly public service, say some who have installed the six "Ghost Bikes."
The bikes mark the spot at which a cyclist was killed. An accompanying Web site has a map of the locations and brief descriptions of the circumstances for each bicycle.

They serve as a memorial, alongside makeshift roadside memorials from friends and family. But these bikes are often installed by people who did not know the victim.
The local cycling community sees them as a chance to raise awareness of bicycles among motorists and remind everyone on the road of their fragility.

"I found out about Ghost Bikes online, and I thought it was a beautiful movement," said Ari Shapiro, who put up the first Ghost Bike in Tucson.

He installed it at East Broadway and South Vozack Lane in May, near where 14-year-old Jose Rincon was struck from behind in January by a woman accused of drunken driving.

"I've always known that Tucson cyclists, like in any town, occasionally one will get struck," Shapiro said. Rincon's death "was just really tragic in my mind."
"I guess that was just the tipping point in my own head. I thought, 'Wow someone should really do one for him.' I didn't know it was going to lead to others," he said.

Shapiro is a bike commuter and rides all over town as owner of the three Xoom Juice stores.

Since he placed the bicycle for Rincon in May, five other bikes have been put up at crash sites. And this has been all without an officially organized group, thanks to word of mouth among the cycling community, bikes donated by Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage and the desire to send a message.

"In the beginning I just wanted it to be anonymous, because really it's for him," Shapiro said. "The way I see Ghost Bikes, first and foremost it's a memorial to the victim or the person that was killed. Second, it's an artistic way of promoting awareness."

For others the awareness is the key.

"The point of the Ghost Bikes is to be a reminder of the dangers … the vulnerability of cyclists," said Erik Ryberg, a lawyer who represents bicyclists. "A Ghost Bike is not usually put up by families or friends."

Rather, the memorials by family and friends tend to entail flowers, wreaths, candles, but not a piece of transportation equipment.

The city's policy on roadside memorials is to leave them if they do not pose a public safety threat. If they do not block visibility for those on the road, or block pedestrian or motor vehicle access, the memorials are allowed to remain in place, said Michael Graham, spokes-man for the Tucson Department of Transportation.

The bicycle at Broadway and Vozack is illegally placed because it is locked to a city sign, Graham said. The department and the cycling community have tried to find the person who put it up, but had been unsuccessful and planned to cut the chain within the week, Graham said.

But Shapiro said he will call the city about the problem and find another way to secure the bike. "I'm going to look for another way because I want it to stay up," he said.

Many Ghost Bikes in other cities are chained to city signs, but since the issue came up here, Ryberg said others in the cycling community came up with a way to anchor the bikes.

They pour a deep section of concrete, and sink the rear bike wheel into it. Then the concrete is buried at the site, or as close as possible, keeping the bike upright and legal and easy to see.

"Maybe putting Ghost Bikes up for the many people who have died in past decades will help bring the awareness and attention," Ryberg said.

Of the six bicycles in Tucson, five stories and locations are mapped on the Ghost Bikes Web site.
One of the bikes on the side of the road is not on the site. One of the bicycles logged on the site has been removed from the site of a fatal crash, though cyclists hope to replace it soon.

The bicycles sport signs with the victim's name, the date of the crash and often a note such as, "in memory" or "watch for bikes." One says, "A bicyclist was killed here."

"There's a lot of hostility toward cyclists. I'm not as big a cyclist as other people, but when I see one on the street, I respect them," said Dan Fleury, who helped put up the bicycle for Bruce Hedges on North First Avenue near East Orange Grove Road.

Hedges' widow was in town the weekend the Ghost Bike was put up, and she was thrilled to see it, he said. He also said awareness was one of his motivations.
"They say the more cyclists there are on the street the more people are willing to accept cyclists as belonging out there," Fleury said.

According to, the bicycles are placed in 33 cities in the United States, plus cities in eight other countries.

There's a bike in Sedona, the only other Arizona city with a bicycle listed on the site.

Contact reporter Andrea Kelly at 573-4243 or

The cyclists
The Tucson Ghost Bikes mark the spots where the following cyclists died:
• Jose Rincon, Jan. 12, 2008
• Francisco Sanchez, Sept. 9, 2005
• Laura Varela, July 31, 2005
• Peter Visconti III, Oct. 17, 2004
• Andria Ligas, Dec. 1, 2002
• Bruce Hedges, Jan. 1, 2001
For more information, and more photos, go online to

go to the article to see this photograph:
A Ghost Bike stands in silent commemoration of Andria Ligas, a University of Arizona student who was struck and killed by a vehicle in 2002 on Euclid Avenue just north of East Lee Street in Midtown. The Ghost Bike is both a memorial to the fallen cyclist and a reminder to motorists of the vulnerability of bike riders.
James Gregg / Arizona Daily Star