As you walk through your local town or city, you’re sure to see plenty of cyclists traveling on the road. But there may be occasions when you spot abandoned white bikes sitting near lamp posts too. Why are they there? Well, these spooky-looking vehicles actually carry a very poignant meaning.
So where can you find these white bikes? Are they localized to a specific region? The bicycles started to appear in St. Louis, Missouri, back in 2003. And from there, more of them began to crop up across America, featuring in numerous cities. Now you’d struggle to name a state without one.
Yes, places such as Florida, California, New York, the Carolinas, and Alaska all house these so-called “ghost bikes.” But what are the numbers like? Let’s use The Golden State as an example. According to the website GhostBikes.org, Los Angeles had 14 of them dotted around the city by 2013.
The figures in New York City dwarf that number, though. Incredibly, the website reported that 164 white bikes have appeared in The Big Apple from June 2005 onwards. The latest addition was made in September 2020. So you’re sure to have seen at least one if you live in the city.
Mind you, these ghost bikes aren’t just restricted to America. In fact, they’re located across various countries as well. It’s an international effort! According to GhostBikes.org, nations such as Australia, Germany, Spain, Brazil, the Czech Republic, and Canada are all included. Edmonton alone boasted 18 of them up until 2017.
The United Kingdom is part of that lineup too, as the white bikes have appeared in London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Oxford, and Belfast. So how many of these vehicles are there in total? Well, there’s little indication of a recent number, but back in 2012 the figure stood at more than 630 worldwide.
That’s a lot of bicycles. But in general, we’ve been seeing more and more bikes on the road in the past few years. The stats certainly back that up, with Statista offering some interesting figures on its website. For instance, over 12 percent of the U.S. population were said to favor the vehicle in 2016.
Some 12 months after that, roughly 47.5 million people in America claimed to ride bikes. Pretty significant right? Then again, that massive number didn’t tell the whole story. You see, just because there were millions of bikers across the country, it doesn’t mean that they used the vehicles for every journey.
The American Community Survey highlighted that in 2017. It approximated that some 872,000 individuals used bikes to travel to their job in the U.S. Not quite 47.5 million! But while there’s a clear disparity, those commuters could still be aiding the environment in a major way by avoiding cars and buses.
It’s believed that bike riders emit roughly 1.2 ounces of carbon dioxide for every mile they traverse. Walking produces more than that, as does hopping aboard a bus or operating a car. You might want to change your travel plans going forward! Yet the environment isn’t the only thing to benefit if you cycle to work.
Yes, your health receives a hearty boost as well. To go into more detail, a representative of Sustrans spoke to U.K. newspaper The Daily Telegraph in June 2020. The U.K. biking charity’s manager of behavior change revealed that both your mind and body stand to benefit from the daily commute in the long run.
Ruth Chiat said, “A lot of people are stretched for time for exercise, but cycling to work is the perfect way to build exercise into your schedule. It is also good for your mental health as you are engaging with the environment and out in the community.” Sounds quite enticing, wouldn’t you agree?
But don’t just take Chiat’s word for it. The newspaper also spoke to a commuter who favors riding their bike over other forms of transport. Her name is Elen Kangert, and she got into the swing of it to reach her job in London, England, a number of years ago.
Kangert told the U.K. publication, “Cycling makes me feel healthy and more awake at work. I started commuting when I lived in Clapham because I hated how packed the train was, and the humidity in [the] summer was horrible. But cycling actually cut my journey time in half.” Then she offered an update on her situation.
“I now cycle from my home in Carshalton, which takes one hour and five minutes, as I stop to pick up my son on the way home,” Kangert added. “Cycling makes my life much easier. It is not a choice – it’s a lifestyle.” And the figures certainly back up the suggestion that your health improves.
For instance, the British Medical Journal noted that biking to work cuts down your chances of passing away from heart disease by over 50 percent. A person’s cancer prospects are slashed by 40 percent too, so that’s another plus for choosing a bike. And we haven’t even got to the weight difference yet!
Apparently, you can shed up to 750 calories for every hour you’re on a bike. On that note, certain studies have estimated that people who ride to work are up to 11 pounds lighter than those who drive. Wow! So, how can you get into the habit of cycling? Especially if you don’t own one?
Well, there are programs to encourage people. Using Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as an example, the city offered used bikes to commuters looking to get to work in May 2020. Meanwhile, the website BimBimBikes allows users to access their nearest bicycle rental shop from anywhere in the world. The options are certainly there.
Despite all the benefits that we’ve spoken about, though, you might still have some doubts regarding safety. In truth, that’s been a hot-topic for years, with countries looking to improve the conditions for cyclists. Take the U.K. for instance – a physician named Paul Welsh called for change in June 2020.
Welsh told The Daily Telegraph, “In my view, a painted cycle lane alongside traffic on a busy road isn’t enough. We need better-protected, physically segregated cycle lanes on key routes, and we need better prioritization of cyclists and pedestrians in traffic flow.” As for the U.S., certain cities have been putting plenty of effort into this in recent times.
Let’s look at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, first. Incredibly, the city went through a 25-year stretch without adding bike lanes to the roads from 1982 to 2007. But a lot’s changed in the intervening years. Now, it’s up there with the safest spots for cyclists in the U.S., with officials sanctioning “new protected” paths.
On the other side of the country, Seattle, Washington, is making strides too. Back in 2015, the Seattle Bicycle Master Plan was put in place. This was a 15-year outline to make the city’s roads safer for commuting bikers. Officials were looking to complete the first aim in five years.
What was it? Well, the online news outlet Grist reported that the city wanted over 35 miles of “protected” biking paths to be placed around Seattle. That certainly would’ve been welcomed by commuters! From there, the big goal was to put a stop to deadly accidents involving cyclists by the year 2030.
While we’re on that subject, you might have a burning question to ask: “how many bikers die in collisions on the road?” The figures from 2016 were eye-opening to say the least. According to the U.K. Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, close to 3,500 people were either badly hurt or lost their lives in the U.K. that year.
Then in 2018 some specific figures were released regarding two nations. In the U.K., just under 100 bike riders died over those 12 months, while more than 17,000 suffered injuries. As for America, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that 857 individuals passed away after accidents during that same period.
So that brings us back to the ghost bikes. As it turns out, these white vehicles are essentially shrines to cyclists that get struck or die on the road. Normally, they’re secured at the base of a post that isn’t too far away from the scene of the accident. You’ll find a marker with the person’s name on it as well.
As we mentioned earlier, the poignant trend began in St. Louis after a man witnessed a collision along a biking path. His name is Patrick Van Der Tuin, and he felt compelled to act. As a rider himself, Van Der Tuin didn’t want the same thing to happen to him or anyone else, even though the lady wasn’t badly hurt.
On that note, Van Der Tuin purchased some old bicycles and doused them in white paint. After that, he kept his eyes open for any incidents that’d been reported to the authorities, before dropping off the ghost bikes. The cyclist also tried to get the city to improve its safety measures, which led other people to adopt the idea.
Thus a new trend was born. Pretty interesting, right? Anyway, some 12 years after this all started in St. Louis, Van Der Tuin spoke to Grist in October 2015. During their chat, he revealed the reasons behind the ghost bikes’ iconic shade and spoke about the initial reaction to his inspiring idea.
Van Der Tuin said, “It could have been any color, but white was more powerful. The first [ghost bike] didn’t last 24 hours – it was taken down. It’s become more acceptable, so we do have a couple that have been up for pushing two years, three years at this point.”
“The families maintain [the ghost bikes], which I think is incredible,” Van Der Tuin explained to the news website. “They were never designed or intended to become permanent memorials, but that’s what those families have turned them into.” Speaking of which, one of those individuals shared their thoughts on GhostBikes.org.
Back in September 2005, a teenager named Andre Anderson tragically met his end after a vehicle knocked him off his bicycle. The collision occurred in Queens, New York. Now the ghost bike remained in place up until Hurricane Sandy hit, leading the family to put a new one down in May 2014.
So given everything that happened, Andre’s mom Audrey Anderson felt the urge to talk about the trend on the website. She said, “The Ghost Bike Project is a very unique and symbolic way to memorialize fallen cyclists. I think it is the perfect way to pay tribute to cyclists killed on the street.”
“[The trend] reflects the loss of a precious life and the passion of the person killed,” Anderson continued. “It should serve as a vivid reminder to everyone who travels that route that the most precious gift anyone could have, the gift of life, was lost because of the carelessness and recklessness of another person.”
Off the back of that powerful point, Anderson then concluded on a more optimistic note. The mom added. “We hope that [the ghost bike trend] sends a very clear and strong message to the driving public to be extra careful when sharing the road with others.” And she certainly wasn’t alone on that front.
You see, a number of other people took to GhostBikes.org to share their reactions too, praising the effectiveness of the trend. Not all of the comments were from bereaved family members either, which indicates that people are noticing the white cycles when they’re out. And that meant the world to one lady in particular.
Mary Beth Kelly lost her husband after a collision in New York in June 2006. A ghost bike was left in his honor, which really helped his family through their grief. Kelly admitted, “For myself, my children, our family and friends, it has provided solace at the place of great tragedy.”
Kelly continued, “I have visited the bike often and use it to meditate about my husband of 33 years. I have seen people stop, read the plaque, and think about its simple but poignant message.” So it’s clearly working, right? The more people who are aware of the cycle’s meaning can only be a good thing.
Anyway, Van Der Tuin didn’t start to notice how far-reaching his idea was until he went on a trip to Michigan. While he was with his partner “in the middle of nowhere,” she spotted a ghost bike at the side of the tarmac. Then the cyclist saw another one in New York.
Keeping that in mind, Van Der Tuin reflected on his role as an unsuspecting catalyst. He told Grist, “I don’t think anyone does something like this with the intention of it becoming a model that is repeated and taken around the world on such a grassroots level. I think that’s pretty amazing.” We have to agree.