The Ottawa Citizen is reporting that the city is considering a 90 day limit on how long “ghost bikes” can remain in place to mark a location where a cyclists died. The restriction would be part of a larger policy addressing makeshift memorials for traffic victims in general.
The proposed limitation may be of particular interest to Ottawa’s cycling community since many (perhaps the majority) of the memorials in question are ghost bikes. These are usually old bicycles that have been completed painted white and installed at a location where a cyclist died as a result of a collision or other dangerous situation they encountered on the road.
While strictly speaking, ghost bikes can be considered memorials, I’m not so sure it’s appropriate to include them under a policy about roadside memorials in general. I say this because I have always believed that ghost bikes are more of a political statement meant to draw attention to the need to do more to protect cyclists from aggressive motorists and poor road design, and the need to provide for better cycling infrastructure. For this reason, ghost bikes are often installed by a member of the cycling community at large, and not necessarily by the family of the person who was killed.
I’m not sure how long ghost bikes should be left in place, but I do think a 90 day limit is a little short. It almost seems like municipal officials might be just a little too anxious to sweep ghost bikes, and issues that they are meant to draw attention to, under the rug. It’s like the old saying “out of sight, out of mind”.
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Update: Ottawa City Council finally approved a policy that will allow ghost bikes and other makeshift memorials for traffic victims to remain in place for up to six months before they are removed. In other words, 3 months longer than had originally been proposed, but less than a year (the period which many other jurisdictions allow ghost bikes to remain in place before they are removed).