Their Love Cannot Be Unchained
After ’Ghost Bike’ Removal, Cyclists’ Memorial Effort Multiplies
By Ashley Halsey III
Even in a city so thick with monuments that only tourists notice the big ones and pigeons get the rest, it was hard to miss the stark-white bicycle chained to a light post just north of Dupont Circle.
From a distance, passersby were drawn by the bouquets of flowers so often perched in its basket or left beside its wheels. As they neared, they saw the sign: "Cyclist Struck Here." And as they leaned close, they saw messages written on the saddle and the frame: "We love you Alice," and "you made the best cookies."
For more than a year, the memorial to Alice Swanson, 22, stood at the corner of 20th and R streets, just a few feet from the spot where a garbage truck struck her down as she pedaled to work in July 2008. Then, at the end of last month, the city cut the chain and moved the bicycle away.
On Thursday, the memory of Alice lived again. Twenty-two white bicycles appeared, commanding a piece of every light post at the intersection.
By late afternoon, they all remained, although the only one that had been chained was attached to the same post where the original stood.
"They are going to disappear over time," said Legba Carrefour, who joined friends in collecting, painting and positioning the bikes before dawn Thursday. "But the ghost bike that is chained is going to stay, and if they take it down, another one will replace it."
Carrefour said the stealth delivery of bikes Thursday was carried out by "a bunch of friends, all of whom are cyclists," who were dismayed when the original bike was removed.
"This is my stance against what I saw as grave robbing," said Carrefour, who did not know Swanson. "The bike had become a much loved part of that neighborhood."
Eric Gilliland, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said the original bike was removed after local businesses complained about it to the mayor’s office. Since Swanson’s death, his group has been working with the city to make the intersection safer for cyclists.
Signs urging motorists to be alert for cyclists were installed recently, and dotted lines marking the bike lanes have been continued through the intersections. Gilliland said the group hoped for a couple of other improvements, and John Lisle of the D.C. Department of Transportation said the city was amenable to additional modifications.
Linda Grant, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works, said city workers routinely remove sidewalk memorials after 30 days.