Bicycle Diaries: Ghost bikes...

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Ghost bikes...

now haunting the Brits

The BBC UK Magazine reports on the haunting trend inspired by the Brit's American Cousins.
Ghost bikes don't just commemorate the dead, they also aim to draw attention to the dangers on the UK's roads. They first appeared in the US in 2003, but the idea has spread around the world and they are now becoming a familiar sight. In the past year, ghost bikes have been spotted in Oxford, Brighton, York and across London. They often appear overnight Cyclist David Pippin has left more than a dozen of the white bikes around the capital.

"They are both a tribute and warning," he says. "They are memorials for a fallen rider. The main point of them is to remember fellow riders who sadly died and also to highlight to other road-users the risks on the roads.

"The white bikes stand out, it makes the drivers aware of cyclists and if it makes one van driver stop and think and not jump the lights or check their mirror and it saves someone's life - it's worth the effort."

An old bike is stripped down so it's left with no pedals, chain or brake cables. This skeleton is then spray-painted white and chained to railings or a lamp post. Often they appear overnight, under the cover of darkness. Latest figures from the National Audit Office show the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on British roads rose by 11% between 2004 and 2007, despite the amount of cycling staying broadly constant. In 2007 alone over 16,000 cyclists were injured in the UK and 136 were killed.

In May 2009 Adrianna Skrzypiec, 31, was killed in Greenwich while cycling home from work. A ghost bike, adorned with flowers, was placed at the junction where she died. Anthony Austin from Greenwich Cyclists put up the tribute and says her family and friends were very appreciative.

"I'm a cycling instructor and I believe cycling is safe," he says. "I certainly wouldn't want to deter anyone from cycling. But when there's a collision between a vehicle and a cyclist - it's usually the cyclist that comes off worse. It's a temporary reminder of how dangerous it can be."

Giles Carlin is appealing for witnesses to the accident which killed his girlfriend Eilidh Cairns, 30, in west London in February. He says Eilidh was travelling the same route she had done every day for nearly three years and on that particular day she collided with a lorry.

"I knew she thought ghost bikes were a good idea, because we'd discussed it and we'd seen them dotted around London," he says. "Ghost bikes should be there to warn other road users about the vulnerability of cyclists. If that's all they do that's a great thing, but they're also a memorial to someone who's been killed."

Most ghost bikes are temporary - they soon get removed by the authorities, are vandalised or are stolen. But some friends and families of accident victims think the symbols should become permanent memorials. Giles Carlin says:

"A ghost bike as a permanent reminder would be great. As far as I know not many are kept up past six months. If the councils were involved and the Mayor, making them permanent would be a great thing. "

A ghost bike will soon appear at the spot where Eilidh was killed, another haunting reminder of the dangers on our roads.

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