On the Internet a picture is worth a thousand words and at least a couple of links:
This is a ghost bike. It marks the spot where a bicyclist was killed, most likely by a motorist. It’s a vivid reminder that one of our favorite and healthiest recreation activities is deadly. In 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 741 bicyclists died in collisions with motor vehicles. This represents a significant decline since statistics were first tabulated in 1975, when over 1,000 bicyclists were killed. That’s good news, but not good enough. Ghost bikes are a visceral reminder that when cars and bikes collide, the bicyclist pays the biggest, and often the ultimate, price.
These somber memorials have sprung up around the world since 2003, placed by fellow bicyclists and the victims’ loved ones as both a tribute to those who lost their lives and as a caution to motorists to be more careful. Unlike the typical roadside memorials of crosses and teddy bears, a ghost bike provides stark information about how a person died, imbued with additional symbolism of white paint, representing purity and innocence. Bicyclists are vulnerable; as victims they are innocent. We have all seen reckless bicyclists, perhaps, but none has ever deserved to die.
Cars kill so many people in so many different ways, but almost always because of driver error. We should all be excited for the arrival of driverless cars to our streets. Will they be foolproof? Of course not. Will they raise new problems? Undoubtedly. Will they save lives? Certainly. After nearly 1.7 million miles driven collectively, driverless cars have been involved in only 12 minor traffic accidents, but none of them were the fault of the driverless car.
Google is introducing its driverless car to California roads this summer. This is the company’s own car design—not their modified Priuses and Lexuses that they’ve used in developing their light detecting and ranging (LIDAR) technology. It features a removable steering wheel, brake pedal, and accelerator. Finally—nothing to obstruct your extravehicular activities.
You can mosey down to a dealership (presumably) in 2017 and buy one of these cutie pies yourself. Those of us who witnessed the Internet revolution first hand should be excited about this. Sure, driving is fun. Except when it’s not. The vehicle of the future will see bicyclists in all our blind spots—even when the furiously pulsating late afternoon sun is searing our retinas. I hope the Google car will save the lives of those 700 bicyclists each year, not to mention the 33,000 others who perish on our roads.
I saw my first ghost bike a few months ago, turning right onto a busy road from another busy road. Its spectral form stood in sharp contrast to the surrounding deep-green foliage; a placard above it read “Ghost Bike.” The tableau caught my eye in a “woah—what’s that?” sort of way. I dashed straight for Google when I got home for more information. Up popped the details:
A woman—a 26-year-old mother of three—was crossing the road on foot with her bike when she was hit by the driver of a Jeep. She had just gotten off a nearby bike trail that I myself have frequently enjoyed. The ghost bike was placed by the Michigan Mountain Biking Association, an organization that had no connection to the victim.
Let’s honor those we’ve lost and create safer roads by embracing autonomous driving technology. We owe it to those whose lives have been cut short and to future generations, which if they’re lucky will never suffer the effects of distracted driving or road rage.
Kathy Wilson Peacock is a writer, editor, nature lover, and flaneur of the zeitgeist. She favors science over superstition and believes that knowledge is the best super power. Favorite secret weapon: A library card.