Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Ghost Bike

Chris Shavers' ghost bike

The Sunday before last, the usual group for the ABC's Sunday afternoon ride were gathered around the outdoor tables at Community Bakery on Little Rock's South Main, cooling down from a fairly fast ride over to Cook's Landing and back downtown. Coreen met and chatted with one of her former students, who had stopped by on a bike as well. As the young fellow mounted his bike and rode away to the "Food Not Bombs" gathering over under the Broadway Bridge, Coreen noted the increase in people riding bicycles for transportation around town, and remarked, "We need to get them to wear helmets, that young fellow wasn't wearing one."

"We need to teach them not to run red lights, first" I replied, as I watched the young man sprint across the intersection at Main and 11th against a red light, causing two cars to brake hard to avoid hitting him.

"You've got a point there." said Coreen.

The next morning while coming in to work, I heard the radio announcers mention an accident at Woddrow and 7th; and Tuesday morning when reading the Democrat-Gazette before heading in to work, I read where a young cyclist had been struck and killed by a pickup truck at that same intersection. The truck was turning left as the cyclist entered the intersection, and as is quite frequent in these cases, the driver said he never saw the cyclist until he felt the impact of the collision. Scratching around for more information, I eventually found that the cyclist, Christopher Shavers, had run that red light, where the pickup had the green, and was turning left. At 9:00 p.m., it was fully dark, and Shavers was not wearing a helmet, nor did he have any lights, reflectors, or any other safety gear. No matter how oblivious the truck driver may have been, it's hard to see a cyclist in the dark when there's no lights or anything.

Shavers' car had broken down the previous Friday, so he had borrowed the bicycle to get around town. Obviously, he wasn't an experienced cyclist or even a casual cyclist as we would think of it, but just a guy on a bike who needed to go somewhere. I was a little touched, and scrabbled around in the storage shed until I found an old mountain bike frame my sister had rescued from a campus police sale several years ago, and I'd never gotten around to rebuilding it. A coat of primer and two coats of white enamel later, I had a "ghost bike," and took a little time Tuesday morning to drop by the intersection and chain it to a light pole where Shavers had been hit. It took a little longer, and circumstances required that I use a regular cable lock rather than the chain I had packed along, but there it was, with a crude placard that read "A CYCLIST WAS KILLED HERE."

Feedback came on the ghost bike before the end of the day... maybe as folks drive by the intersection and see that bike, they'll slow down a little bit and think about Chris Shavers, and the other vulnerable users of the road.

Sad to hear as I write this, three young boys were killed Thursday afternoon when they ran a stop sign on one of those little sport motorcycles at 22nd and Commerce, and out here in San Jose, a cyclist was killed yesterday when he ducked under a lowered railroad crossing guard and was hit by a passing train...