July 15, 2016

Respecting Fallen Cyclists

When a cyclist gets killed in Toronto, a ghost bike memorial ride is organized one week after the crash in which a white painted bicycle (a.k.a. ghost bike) is brought to the crash site and locked to a post as a memorial to the fallen cyclist. The ghost bikes serve as a reminder to motorists and cyclists alike about the dangerous nature of Toronto’s streets.
Geoffrey Bercarich (with ghost bike) & Joey Schwartz leading the memorial ride

On Tuesday, July 12, over 100 cyclists took part in a memorial ride for a 71-year-old male cyclist named David Pearce who was killed on Tuesday, July 5 at Dupont Street west of Christie Street. After the ride wrapped up, I interviewed Geoffrey Bercarich of Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists (ARC); the group responsible for organizing the memorial rides and is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. Joey Schwartz – who leads the memorial rides – and Rick Conroy also contributed to this interview.

RZ: What is the story behind bringing ghost bikes to Toronto?
GB: We felt it was something that needed to be done and that other cities were using ghost bikes to remember fallen cyclists. The tradition goes back to 2003, when the first ghost bike was put up in St. Louis, Missouri.[1] I put up Toronto’s first ghost bike in 2006 when there were two cyclists killed on the same day; that being April 20, 2006.[2]

A detailed map contributed by ARC about Toronto's cyclist fatalities can be found below, with current ghost bikes shown in yellow.

RZ: When not hosting memorial rides, how else does ARC contribute to Toronto’s cycling community?
GB: ARC was the chair of the City of Toronto’s cycling advisory committee. For social events, we hosted rodeos, parties, and clown brigades which made fun of traffic.

We also installed “guaranteed bike lanes” using traffic cones with the most recent one being done on College Street at Spadina Avenue in 2014.[3] These were not very successful and do not draw as much media attention as our memorial rides highlighting tragic events.

RZ: Which factors do you feel contributed to the recent rise in collisions involving cyclists?
GB: The recent spike in collisions is caused by a drop in police enforcement, as well as drivers breaking the rules of the road. The laws need to be redone to reflect human values as opposed to insurance and property values.

RZ: What steps are needed for Toronto to achieve Vision Zero?
GB: Not only are new laws needed, but there needs to be an open door to allow for more communication. Collisions involving cyclists need to be framed as not just cyclist issues, but also pedestrian issues and living city issues.

There also needs to be a legal framework, but our organization does not have the tools to get litigators. However, we do offer legal clinics about the rights of cyclists.[4]

RZ: Given the presence of numerous cycling groups (e.g. ARC, Cycle Toronto, Community Bicycle Network, Bike Pirates), how do they interact?
GB: There is no interaction. While we do keep a listserv and a media contact list, the cycling groups and advocates need to work together to make a difference. We are also always looking for volunteers.

RZ: How can new cyclists get involved with ARC?
GB: We are hosting a social in late summer, the details for which will be available via our Facebook and Twitter as the time gets closer. We are working with Councillor Mike Layton to make ghost bike memorials permanent, as well as encourage people to create their own memorials. We need to bring every street user together, for we can’t sit in coffins all the time!

In light of the recent spike in collisions involving vulnerable road users and yesterday’s unanimous approval of the Road Safety Plan (link to earlier post), Toronto’s cycling and pedestrian advocates must keep the pressure on City Council to further improve this plan into one that truly embraces Vision Zero.

I will close off this post with a few pictures from the memorial ride.
Ghost bike waiting to be delivered to the crash site on Dupont Street
Geoffrey Bercarich (centre) accompanied by the CBC
Over 100 cyclists assembling on Bloor Street
The ride continues on Christie Street
Arrived at the crash site on Dupont Street
Ghost bike for a 71-year-old male cyclist whose identity was not yet known
At the crash site, the cyclist's identity - David Pearce - was revealed on CTV
This banner always accompanies memorial rides to send road users a message
Respect the cyclists!
Rob Z (e-mail)


[1] The year has been confirmed at http://ghostbikes.org/, which also provides more details about ghost bikes in cities around the world.
[2] Joe O’Connor. National Post. “Information Booth: Where did those ghostly white bikes come from?” September 26, 2011. http://news.nationalpost.com/posted-toronto/information-booth-where-did-those-ghostly-white-bikes-come-from#more-96440
[3] Derek Chadbourne. Dandyhorse Magazine. “Guaranteed Bike Lane on College at Spadina.” May 30, 2014. http://dandyhorsemagazine.com/blog/2014/05/30/guaranteed-bike-lane-on-college-at-spadina/
[4] Patrick Brown was interviewed last year about the rights of cyclists, in which he mentioned his involvement with ARC. You can read the interview at http://twowheelpoli.blogspot.com/2015/12/twelve-days-of-bicycles-two-legal.html.

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