'Ghost bikes' memorialize fatal wrecks, serve as safety warning

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The Times-Picayune

Published: Oct, 7 2015
http://www.nola.com/traffic/index.ssf/2015/10/ghost_bikes_materialize_to_ (...)

note: a slideshow and map of ghost bike locations accompanies the original article

Kenneth Thomas Sr., a 54-year-old New Orleans resident, was riding
his bicycle to pay a bill when a vehicle struck and killed him near the
intersection of South Carrollton Avenue and Nelson Street. That was more
than two years ago.

Now, however, there is a new reminder of his death, an all-white
"ghost bike" recently installed near the intersection to mark the fatal
collision. It's one of a growing number of similar memorials around the
New Orleans area, evidence of a sudden spate of deadly meetings between
cars and cyclists but also a byproduct of the increasing popularity of
cycling in the New Orleans area, where five riders have died on the road just this year.

"I think it was necessary to do it," said Thomas' mother, Gloria
Thomas, on Tuesday (Oct. 6). "What I think should happen is for more
people to get involved in it. People are not paying attention to the

Ghost bikes are part of an international movement begun in 2003 in St. Louis, Mo. For her son's installation, Gloria Thomas turned to the local Bad News Bike Club.

"The family didn't have any closure," said Steven "J.P" Pool, a member of the club. "Nothing."

By Pool's count, Thomas' memorial joined at least nine other ghost
bikes around town. They signal, "Hold up. Somebody was killed here.
Share the road," Pool said. "All of us have a right to it."

  • Click on map dots for more information about fatal bicycle wrecks.


  • Do you know of more ghost bike locations? Or have more details or photos about the victims on the map? Email Drew Broach at dbroach@nola.com.

Thomas' bicycle was his only form of transportation. He even rode it to wash his laundry, his mother said.

"Some people don't have an automobile or any other way of getting
around the city," she said. "They have a bike. I think (drivers) should
acknowledge the bikes and pay attention to people on the bikes for their

Charlie Thomas, a New Orleans lawyer who focuses on bicycle and road
safety and is a board member for the non- profit Bike Easy cycling
safety advocacy group, said the emergence of more ghost bikes coincides
with a boom of bike use in the New Orleans area:

  • Local bikeways have increased from just a few miles to more than 100 miles in recent years.
  • Jefferson Parish in 2014 became the first in Louisiana to complete a bicycle master plan. It envisions 460 miles of bikeways, a 10-fold increase.
  • More than 6,000 locals ride to and from work on bikes, placing New
    Orleans in the top 10 U.S. cities for concentration of bike commuters.

More biking opportunities are on the way. The Lafitte Greenway,
a pedestrian and bike trail connecting the French Quarter with Mid-City
neighborhoods about 2½ miles away, is nearing completion.

But with more bikes on the street come more conflicts with cars and
trucks. In July, about three dozen riders gathered at City Hall for a "die-in" to call for more dedicated bike lanes and better law enforcement to protect bicyclists.

"Really, we've had an influx of young people, both professionals and
service-industry people, who get around on their bikes," said Thomas,
who is not related to Kenneth Thomas. "We've reached the point where
motorists are aware that there are a lot more bicycles on the road. Now,
we're in the phase of deciding how to deal with them."

More than memorials to individuals who've perished while riding,
ghost bikes are also an effective cautionary symbol for cyclists and
motorists. "You can't help but see them," Thomas said. "A ghost bike is
not like a random cross of flowers you'd see on the interstate. I think
it serves as a much more focused reminder that it's important to be
aware of your surroundings.

"It's a very firm reminder of what happened at that location. "It's a terrible reminder."

Dan Favre, executive director of Bike Easy,
said New Orleans is following a national trend in increasing bicycle
usage by citizens. "In general, as ridership increases, so does safety
awareness," Favre said. "There can be some growing pains in that
process, but time and time again, in cities in Europe and cities in the
U.S., there is safety in numbers when it comes to people biking.

"We're in a high trajectory now here in New Orleans. This year has
been especially rough in terms of moving forward. There are five
instances that I know of in the city where ghost bikes were needed.
Those crashes were avoidable."

With about 200 others, Favre participated in a September ride organized by NOLA Social Ride. "They hit a number of the ghost bikes and stopped to pay respects," he said. "It was a great ride."

The local emergence of more ghost bikes predates the 2015 fatalities.
As far back as 2012, a child's bike painted white has been a fixture on
Jefferson Highway at Newman Avenue in Old Jefferson, where 5-year-old Jason Bauer Jr.
was struck by a car while crossing the highway with his uncle. And
Jason Beck said he participated in four or five installations, starting a
couple of years ago, as a member NOLA Social Ride bike club.

"A lot of people were getting clipped. A lot of our friends were
getting hit," said Beck, who at the time of his first installation was
running a do-it-yourself bike-repair shop in Mid-City. "At that point,
it started becoming the thing to do. A lot of people passed articles
(about bike accidents) my way.

"More and more, people were talking about ghost bikes, but nobody was
doing it at the time. I had a scrap pile of just junk, so it was
nothing for me to find a bike and paint it white."

Beck has passed on his de facto ghost bike leadership role to Pool, a
college student and military veteran. Pool said his involvement came
about through this participation in the Bad News Bike Club.

"We started making a big deal every time somebody got hit," he said.
"We'd make a ghost bike immediately and would show up because it was
important. It mattered that people get the message. I think it's finally
starting to work."