If you drove by a sombre memorial to a fallen cyclist every day, would you become more aware of bike riders, or would you decide that cycling was clearly a dangerous pastime and vow not to try it? This is the question being debated by the cycling community after the recent death of a cyclist in Swanston Street.
Roadside memorials are not new and have stimulated various discussions about the use of public land for private grieving, their effectiveness as a reminder of the permanent consequences of momentary lapses in judgement, and even their potential to create hazards by distracting road users. While no one has suggested such memorials actually deter people from driving or riding altogether, a particular type of roadside memorial, the Ghost Bike, has some cyclists spooked. The worry is that Ghost Bikes could frighten off the people they are designed to protect.
Debra Mayrhofer is entitled to her perspective, but in response I have several points to make.
Firstly, she doesn't reside in Melbourne and probably doesn't comprehend the deep sense of shock and grief felt by a much wider community in response to Carolyn Rawlin's death.
Sadly many bicycle riders have died already on Melbourne roads and Carolyn's death felt too close to home for many of us. She was a young woman, married, due to have a child in a few months, simply riding to work. She could of been any of us.
Needless to mention grief is a deeply personal emotion and people will respond in differing ways to heal their pain. In recent years Australians have been using roadside memorials to publicly show their loss after road incidents.
The first Ghost Bike I heard of in Australia was for Kate Tamayo, a Tasmanian bicycle advocate who's senseless death and resulting court case showed clearly the disparities in driver awareness: The Mercury: Message in road death
Motorists should give cyclists two metres of space when passing, a magistrate said when he told a negligent driver he faced jail over a fatal crash. Avid cyclist and road-safety advocate Kate Tamayo was struck and killed by a driver who failed to give her room as she was riding along the East Derwent Highway last year.
Edward James Alderton, 64, of Bagdad, was found guilty in the Hobart Magistrates Court yesterday of causing Ms Tamayo’s death by negligent driving. He faces a maximum jail term of one year and a fine of $1000. Ms Tamayo’s friend and Bicycle Tasmania president Tim Stredwick described the keen sportswoman’s death as ironic given her promotion of safe cycling.
The personal maybe indeed be political, Debra Mayrhofer may have her heart in the right place, but this article criticising Ghost Bikes, published one day after Melbourne Council reneged on a hollow "pledge" to move coaches out of Swanston Street comes across as insensitive and subtly patronising regardless of opinions about Ghost Bikes.
As a general comparison I don't believe that Perth cyclists endure similar levels of media-induced negativity, combined with varying levels of political expediency, that Melbourne cyclists have had to contend with.
For example: one week we're being encouraged to ride to work, improve our health, be aware of environmental issues and support sustainable transport.
Although as many of us who live in Melbourne realise (or Sydney for that matter), the next week may bring another round of shrill anti-cyclist rants masquerading either a moral crisis or colour piece to bolster the readership or ratings.
Then by stating "one of the biggest barriers in Australia to people taking up cycling is the perception that it is a hazardous activity" she seems conflicted by then mentioning "successfully lobbying for separated bike lanes or other safety devices at the site of crashes would be a more enduring and effective way to honour the fallen and lay those ghosts to rest".
Separate facilities are NOT the only response to perceived road user conflict. The largest barrier bicycle riders and potential bicycle riders face is something usually invisible until poor impulse control makes it apparent.
Road user attitudes.
Until that massive issue is clearly challenged, then relevant road authorities and advocacy organisations are ignoring the elephant in the room by continuing to pander to a outdated 'law of the jungle' mentality on our roads.
Also a smidgen further background research on the subject on Ghost Bikes and the Ride of Silence would of found this excellent article by Charles Komanoff that was published in StreetsBlog in January 2007: In Defense of Ghost Bikes
This weekend in Melbourne, the Bicycle Film Festival is screening a wide selection of bicycle culture and related events. Of particular interest is a short documentary in Program Five on Saturday night called from Tragedy to Advocacy.
It tells the story of Mary Beth Kelly who tragically saw her husband Dr. Carl Henry Nacht hit while they were cycling home together. He died four days later. Friends created a Ghost Bike in his memory.
Bicycling was an integral part of Carl and Mary Beth's lives. Their first date was done on bikes and they often took their bikes on vacation. A physician at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, Carl regularly used his bike to commute to the work and to make in-home visits to sick patients.
Rather than forsaking cycling after Carl's death, Mary Beth and her children Zoe and Asher got right back on their bicycles. Perhaps most important, Mary Beth has emerged as an outspoken and eloquent advocate for New York City cyclists. She now serves on the advisory council for Transportation Alternatives, where she is working to create and pass comprehensive complete streets legislation in honor of her husband
Right now Mary Beth Kelly is a remarkable example of tragedy turned to advocacy that Melbourne cyclists can find comfort and inspiration, instead of being lectured what to do by a Age contributor who probably doesn't comprehend the intensely personal reactions many people feel when they hear Carolyn Rawlin's story.