Rise of the Ghost Bike

If you see a “ghost bike” while out trick or treating this Halloween, don’t panic. There is a reason these ghosts rise.

A ghost bike in Hempstead, NY on Long Island
A ghost bike in Hempstead, NY on Long Island

Have you ever heard of a ghost bike? Despite its spooky name, ghost bikes aren’t scary at all. However, they do have a rather somber meaning. Ghost bikes—typically painted white and chained to a fence or other immobile object—are memorials for cyclists who tragically lost their lives while riding their bike.


The issues of cyclist injury and fatality are well documented on Long Island. In 2019 and 2020, at least 135 pedestrians and cyclists were fatally struck by motorists in Nassau in Suffolk Counties. Newsday recently reported that Nassau County had the third-most pedestrian and cyclist deaths of counties statewide in 2019, after Brooklyn and Queens. Suffolk County was fourth. The annual number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths on Long Island has fluctuated since 2010, but remained mostly steady.


Memorials dot what seems like every major roadway on Long Island in honor of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians who have died on the road. Ghost bikes are another way to honor those who have died while riding their bike.


Origin of the Ghost Bike


The tradition of the ghost bike first publicly emerged in St. Louis, Missouri circa 2003, when a witness to a collision between a cyclist and car placed a painted bike at the crash site along with a sign reading “cyclist struck here.” The witness enlisted a group of friends to place more ghost bikes at other dangerous areas for cyclists. Since then, ghost bikes and initiatives like that one have popped up all around the country. Some places are even home to ghost bike groups, like Houston and many other locations around the world. There is even a website dedicated to all things ghost bikes, fittingly called ghostbikes.org.


Importance of the Ghost Bike


Believe it or not, Newsday revealed that of the 135 individuals fatally struck, only 20 of the drivers were prosecuted—a 15% prosecution rate. New York State’s Pedestrian Action Plan is addressing the issue of pedestrian and cyclist safety with a three-pronged approach called the “Three Es:” education, engineering, and enforcement. Until the enforcement rate catches up to the unfortunately high rate of fatality, ghost bikes are a somber reminder that every individual deserves the right to bike safely on our shared streets, even those for whom justice has not been served.

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