Friday, June 25, 2010

Don’t Bust These Ghosts

When you first come across a Ghost Bike—a bicycle painted entirely white and chained by the side of the street— in New York you may think it’s some kind of odd art project, a waste of a perfectly good bike dipped in paint as a way to impress you with the decadent brilliance of the artist. At least that’s what I remember thinking the first time I came across one. Then I noticed some flowers and a sign that had been added to a street sign and realized it was a memorial to a cyclist that was killed.

There are plenty of cyclists in New York who deserve some hurt: delivery guys who ride on sidewalks, stupid kids who ride the wrong way in the street and speedo-clad Lance Armstrong wannabes who think they’re important because they were dumb enough to spend $1,000 or more on a damn bicycle. Sadly, these are usually not the people who get killed riding their bikes.

Like with much in life, it’s often the people who deserve pain the least who get it the most. It’s not the asshole illegal immigrant delivery boy who gets beaten by the cops, it’s an earnest Army vet trying to promote bicycle riding. It’s not the douchebag who thinks he’s in the Tour de France who gets flattened by a city tow truck, it’s a doctor out for a weekend ride with his wife, staying in the bicycle lane.

The Sanitation Department recently planned to take away the ghost bikes, but changed their plans when faced with the prospect of explaining their actions to the families of killed cyclists. It’s good that these memorials are staying put. It will put a little seriousness and perspective into our daily lives.

I have several friends and coworkers who are avid cyclists. They all have horror stories about being hassled by the police, threatened by rogue cab drivers, nearly killed by ignorant drivers or caused to crash by oblivious pedestrians. But they all love it and wouldn’t commute to work any other way ever if they could help it. Despite all the risks, I’m eager to give cycling a try. It looks very liberating: no longer at the mercy of MTA incompetence, having the mobility of a car without the stress of having to park it or buy gas. There’s a strong case for riding a bicycle.

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