A ghostly reminder of dangers to cyclists


First seen in the US, ‘ghost bikes’ will mark the locations where cyclists were killed

LATER TODAY a bicycle will be chained to a parapet railing on the banks of the Grand Canal at Harold’s Cross Bridge. It will be secured with a regular lock in an act so mundane that it seems not worth noting at all.

But this bike will be very different from the many thousands of others secured to lamp-posts and fences and bicycle racks across the city. It will be painted completely white – wheels, tyres, spokes and chain.

This “ghost bike” will have great significance. The spot where it will be chained is where a young Chinese man, Zu Zhang Wong, was killed in a collision with a lorry on January 14th. It will serve as a reminder to people of the dangers cyclists face on Irish roads.

Ghost bikes first appeared in St Louis, Missouri in 2003 and have since then become one of those viral phenomena made possible by an interconnected world. Ghost bikes have now been placed in some 80 cities. The concept is backed up by a website (ghostbike.org) and by well-organised campaigns such as Visual Resistance in New York, a political art group that has created almost 50 ghost bikes that it has placed around the city’s five boroughs.

The idea is simplicity itself. A pared-down bike (sometimes only a frame) is painted in a marble spectral white and chained into position with a small plaque naming the cyclist who died and telling a little about who they were.

Today’s event is organised by the Dublin Cycling Campaign (DCC) which is adopting the concept as a way of bringing the cycling community together and to remind people about fatalities involving cyclists. Eleven cyclists died in the capital between 2002 and 2006 (75 per cent of them struck by left-turning lorries) and three died last year.

The ghost bike idea has been discussed by cycling campaigners for over a year. Some oppose such symbols because they believe it sends out a message that cycling is more dangerous than it is. But it’s clear from the volume of posts on internet discussion boards that there was a groundswell of opinion favouring introducing it to Ireland.

“We have held off on doing this,” says Dr Mike McKillen of the DCC. “While it is a poignant memorial, you do need the permission of the family.” A lecturer in TCD, he attended the funeral of Zu Zhang Wong and received the permission of his parents and his cousin, who lives in Ireland.

“This young Chinese man was thousands of miles from home. At the funeral his poor parents were in bits. Only when you see the grief do you realise how important it is to remind people that a cyclist died there.”

McKillen’s personal motivation to highlight the dangers facing cyclists in Dublin, especially from lorries, began when he came upon an accident in September 2006. A trained first aider, he went to help. “The cyclist was under the truck. I started giving CPR, as I knelt in the gutter with rainwater coursing down. I did the breathing. Another passer-by did chest compression. The man died in my arms one minute after we started.”

McKillen believes that six-axle trucks and other big lorries such as concrete mixers are not designed for urban traffic-congested environments, even when fisheye or Cyclops mirrors are fitted (to allow the driver see what is happening on the passenger side). He argues that the view of the driver is still obstructed. He also says that traffic and road planning that places cyclists in lanes where they are especially vulnerable to left-turning lorries is a “public scandal”.

It’s not the first such viral campaign in Ireland. In the early 1990s, local people placed over 20 simple white crosses – each marking a fatality – on a notorious stretch of the N6 national road between Cappataggle and Aughrim in east Galway. The protest was devastatingly effective, coercing the authorities into belated action.