It gave me pause, the white bike, a familiar object, alone and riderless, chained to a street sign. I noticed it last spring while cruising up and down Killingsworth Street on my way to substitute teaching jobs. The nickname “ghost bike” came to mind. It seemed to only represent tragedy, an accident, death. It implied that something awful had happened at that spot with the bike serving as a reminder.
The Internet was full of links to information and photos. Still I hung back from researching. I wasn’t ready to dig in.
When we moved to Portland we had an avid bike riding neighbor. I’m more of a commuter type, but this guy went on long bike rides around town. He mentioned having had a couple of intense bike accidents. I began to expect the same fate. Sooner or later I feared I’d suffer a serious crash that would involve scrapes or broken limbs. I’ve been lucky so far. I’ve suffered only two minor falls. Once wherI got tangled up with the Max tracks and fell over. Another was a low speed, goofball flip over my handle bars that earned me a compliment from a nearby biker but caused no damage. I’ve had my share of wild riding when I’m late for work but I try to be safe.
Wikipedia talks about the bikes being set up as roadside memorials where cyclists have been killed or injured. The Willamette Week, in an article from October of 2005, mentioned that the ghost bike project in Portland was started by Forrest Burris to honor his brother Christopher who had been killed on Martin Luther King Blvd. Of course anything and all things bike related are well covered by BikePortland.org. I admit this was about as much research as I was willing to do. I don’t want to associate a name and details with the ghost bike on Killingsworth. It makes that much more intense.
A bike conscious place like Portland provides bike lanes and bike corridors that create the means for a alternative transportation system. I’m hoping people driving in cars and riding on bikes take time to consider the ghost bike. It’s a worthy reminder if it helps people slow down and be a tiny bit safer.
While looking online for ghost bike information, I was struck by a link that led to a list of people who had been killed on bikes in Portland. It was a stark reminder of the risks of cycling. It had me considering the need to read and obey stop signs and be careful about pulling into and riding with traffic. I hope it makes me more aware of bike riders when I’m driving. The ghost bike is a bit like that “there but for the grace of God go I,” saying. I have to remind myself to steer clear of becoming a roadside memorial. Looking at these pictures I took last spring has the ghost bike doing what it’s supposed to do. It haunts me.
See also a Portland Orbit video piece on this subject: https://youtu.be/kKuYhNIFaRE