Stark black and white symbols of a horrific reality appeared throughout the borough Sunday as bicyclists paid homage to riders killed on city streets.
From Park Slope to Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg, “Ghost Bikes,” pale reminders of the tragic – and some say preventable – deaths were placed at key locations where bicyclists lost their lives in 2008.
Bicycle advocates estimate that there were 14 bicycle fatalities in the city last year. Five of the fatalities took place in Brooklyn, according to members of the bike advocate group Transportation Alternatives.
While the exact number won’t be official until the city’s Department of Transportation comes out with its findings, members of the Street Memorial Project decided to go ahead and honor the victims they knew about during Sunday’s memorial ride through the city.
During the tour, a Ghost Bike was laid at the corner of Eighth Avenue and President Street where 50-year-old Jonathan Millstein, a resident of Sackett Street, was struck and killed by a school bus.
A smaller child-sized Ghost Bike was placed at the corner of Boerum Street and Livingston Avenue to memorialize the life of young Alexander Toulouse, who was killed after he was struck by a mail truck after pedaling through downtown Brooklyn with his father. Both bicyclists were killed in September.
Still another Ghost Bike was placed under the Williamsburg Bridge to honor a still unnamed 32-year-old bicyclist who died from a seizure as he made his way across the span.
Mourners tethered the Ghost Bikes and a small plaque honoring the victim to poles near the corner where the death took place. Some mourners placed flowers in the spokes while others raised their two wheelers in solidarity.
Members of the Street Memorial Project said Ghost Bikes serve as both reminders of the tragedy and quiet statements in support of the “cyclists’ right to safe travel.”
Those participating in the tour demanded that the City help limit bicycle fatalities in the city by stepping up enforcement, upgrading streetscapes and improving education.
“We have to ban the word accident from our vocabulary,” explained Leah Todd, a volunteer with the New York City Street Memorial Project. “All crashes are preventable through better design and changing the culture of our streets to foster mutual respect among all who travel on them.”
Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, said that the 14 cycling fatalities that took place in 2008 was not an “unusual to our eyes.”
“The fact that we have that many highlights our concerns about bicyclist safety,” he said. “Every year this memorial run is a call to action. We need to focus on preventing these fatalities, which were for the most part caused by bad engineering and reckless driving.”
Bicycle advocates said that 2008 saw an increase in the creation of bicycle lanes throughout the city, although the City Council recently announced its intentions to halt further plans to increase the city’s bicycle network.
Officials said that the cash-strapped city would save $10 million by delaying any further improvements.
“The city needs to save money right now and we can save that money by either delaying or stretching out new capital plans that haven’t fully been laid out yet,” said Brooklyn City Councilman Lew Fidler.
Transportation advocates believe that failing to improve the network will put more bicyclists at risk.