Ghost Riders

Photographs by Christopher Griffith

In June 2005, Kevin Caplicki was biking down Fifth Avenue in Park Slope when he came upon the body of cyclist Elizabeth Padilla, who, minutes before, had been killed by a delivery truck. Caplicki belonged to the street-art collective Visual Resistance, and at its next meeting, they decided to construct a memorial for Padilla. The group took a spare bike, painted it white, and chained it to a sign post near the accident. The installation no longer looked like a bicycle as much as the negative space where one should have been, as if it had been cut out of a photograph by an X-Acto knife. It became New York’s first Ghost Bike.

The idea can be traced to Patrick Van Der Tuin, a St. Louis bike mechanic who in 2003 installed a Ghost Bike at the site of an accident he witnessed in the neighborhood of Holly Hills. (The victim ultimately survived and befriended him.) After Van Der Tuin and his friends created fifteen more Ghost Bikes in the St. Louis area, the project was featured in Dirt Rag, a national cycling magazine. He was inundated with e-mails. “Some people were adamant that this was a bad idea,” Van Der Tuin says. “They thought that we were discouraging people from cycling.” But others were moved by the spectral sight of bicycles repurposed as tombstones. Ghost Bikes started to appear in Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh and have since spread to 35 cities around the world. “I had no idea it was going to be a viral thing,” says Van Der Tuin.

In New York, bicycle ridership has increased 77 percent between 2000 and 2007, with approximately 130,000 daily cyclists now on the street. The city has committed to building 200 miles of new bike lanes by 2009, but riding a bike in New York remains dangerous: There were 23 cyclist deaths last year—the highest in eight years.

The building and maintaining of Ghost Bikes are now managed by the New York City Street Memorial Project, a group of about twenty members. Usually within one week of a cyclist’s dying in the saddle, a bicycle is donated or salvaged and covered with three coats of white paint. Often members of the project will gather for a memorial ride to the accident site. A short ceremony will conclude with a “bike lift,” a cyclist send-off in which mourners raise their bikes above their heads and are silent. The victim is rarely known to the cycling community, but the memorials often serve as congregating places for members of bicycle-advocacy groups like Time’s Up! and Transportation Alternatives.

The project currently maintains 35 Ghost Bikes throughout the five boroughs. Thirty-four can be found on the these slides. The 35th, for Asif Rahman, was recently installed on Queens Boulevard. There will be a memorial ride for him next Monday.

Andre F. Anderson (left) Shore Front Parkway and Beach 77th Street, Far Rockaway. Fourteen-year-old Anderson was struck by a Lincoln Navigator while riding home from the Rockaway Skate Park on September 24, 2005. He died of massive head trauma. Anderson had recently begun ninth grade at East New York Transit Tech. Luis Ramos Flushing Avenue and Beaver Street, Bushwick. On June 22, 2007, 18-year-old Ramos was biking to work at George’s Spanish and American Restaurant. He was knocked off his bike by a car door that opened in front of him, then was hit by an oncoming school bus.

Donna Goodson (left) Rockaway Parkway and Avenue D, Canarsie. On June 5, 2006, Goodson was hit by a dump truck taking a right turn. “Eve” 65th Street Transverse, Central Park. According to the New York City Street Memorial Project, on December 13, 2006, an anonymous woman was struck by a car’s side-view mirror and thrown over her handlebars onto the pavement.

Jamel Lewis (left) West 145th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Lewis, a 21-year-old security guard, was hit on November 30, 2006, by a private sanitation truck. Franco Scorcia West 40th Street and Broadway. On December 6, 2007, 72-year-old Scorcia was returning home from Central Park when he was hit by a charter bus making a right turn.

Keith Powell (left) Avenue L and East 92nd Street, Canarsie. On August 20, 2006, Powell was on his way to visit a brother when he was struck by a drag-racing car. Witnesses said the driver ditched the stolen car and fled. Jian-Lan Zhang Allen and Hester Streets. Zhang, a 55-year-old Chinatown resident, was struck and killed by a delivery truck on April 16, 2008.

Alvaro Francisco Olsen (left) West 36th Street and Broadway. On April 16, 2008, Olsen, an El Salvadoran immigrant living in Jackson Heights, was killed by a DHL truck. Flaco East 153rd Street and Melrose Avenue, the Bronx. On May 18, 2007, a thief known as Flaco stole a fourteen-karat-gold cross from a jewelry store on Elton Avenue. He was struck by a city bus as he fled. The necklace was never recovered.

Unknown (left) Utica Avenue and Fulton Street, Bed-Stuy. On October 18, 2007, an unidentified 25-year-old was killed by a speeding van. The driver pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide. Andrew Ross Morgan Houston and Elizabeth Streets. On June 22, 2005, Morgan was biking to Blue Ribbon Bakery Market, where he worked as a manager, when he was pinned under the axle of a furniture delivery truck.

Jerome Allen (left) Hylan Boulevard and Lipsett Avenue, Staten Island. On April 26, 2005, during a daily sunset ride near his home, Allen was struck from behind by a Lexus SUV. He was a member of the Staten Island Bicycle Association. Eric Ng West Side Highway and Clarkson Street. On December 1, 2006, Ng was struck by a BMW on the Hudson River Park bikeway. According to police, the driver reached 60 mph.

Carl Henry Nacht (left) West Side Highway and 38th Street. After dinner on June 22, 2006, Nacht, a doctor who often cycled to make house calls to his elderly patients, was hit by an NYPD tow truck crossing the Hudson River Park bikeway. Shamar Porter Linden Boulevard near Williams Avenue, East New York. On August 5, 2006, Porter’s Little League team won its playoff game. He was struck by a minivan after leaving the field.

Reginald Chan (left) Third Avenue and 17th Street. On September 15, 2006, Chan was hit by a flatbed tow truck while making a delivery of Chinese food. Brandie Bailey Houston and Essex Streets. On May 8, 2005, Bailey was struck by a private sanitation truck while on her way home to Williamsburg after waitressing at the West Village restaurant Red Bamboo. Bailey was a regular at CBGB, where a memorial was held in her honor.

Craig Murphey (left) Ten Eyck Street and Union Avenue, Williamsburg. Early in the morning of October 18, 2007, Murphey was biking home from escorting his date to her South Williamsburg apartment. According to police reports, Murphey attempted to outrun a gas truck turning left on Ten Eyck Street. His pelvis shattered on impact, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. In his honor, over 40 friends have since received tattoos that read BE BETTER. Frank C. Simpson Linden Boulevard near 175th Street, St. Albans. Simpson, a janitor returning from the evening shift at a Con Edison facility, was hit by a Dodge Stratus on November 9, 2006.

Jose Mora (left) North Conduit and McKinley Avenues, Cypress Hills. On September 4, 2006, 11-year-old Mora was on his way to the barber for a back-to-school haircut; that week, he was to start the sixth grade at nearby Junior High School 302. He was struck by a Honda while walking his bike across an intersection. Jonathan Neese South 4th Street and Roebling Street, Williamsburg. On August 12, 2006, Neese, a bike messenger known as “Bronx Jon,” was struck by a livery cab while cycling from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Sam Khaled Hindy (left) Base of the Manhattan Bridge. On November 16, 2007, Hindy was run over after mistakenly entering a Manhattan Bridge lane reserved for cars. Habian Rodriguez Main Street and Horace Harding Expressway, Flushing. On September 1, 2007, Rodriguez collided with a city bus and died 30 minutes later.

Elizabeth Padilla (left) Fifth Avenue and Prospect Place, Park Slope. Commuting to the Brooklyn Bar Association on June 9, 2005, Padilla swerved to avoid the open door of a parked P.C. Richard’s truck. She lost control of her bike and fell underneath the wheels of an ice-cream delivery truck. Juan Luis Solis East Gun Hill Road and Bouck Avenue, the Bronx. Attempting to pass a double-parked car on June 22, 2007, Solis was struck by a box truck and died of severe head trauma. The truck did not stop.

Jeffrey Moore (left) Chauncey Street and Rockaway Avenue, Bed-Stuy. According to witnesses, on May 29, 2007, Moore was run over (twice) by his girlfriend Jeanine Harrington. She was indicted on charges of murder and criminal possession of a weapon (her Nissan Pathfinder). Derek Lake Houston Street and La Guardia Place. On June 26, 2006, Lake reportedly skidded on a steel construction plate and was crushed underneath the wheels of a passing truck.

Elijah Armand Wrancher (left) Springfield Boulevard and 130th Avenue, Springfield Gardens. On August 28, 2007, 12-year-old Wrancher attempted to ride his bicycle while holding onto a moving truck. He lost his grip and fell under the truck’s rear wheel. David Smith Sixth Avenue and 36th Street. On December 5, 2007, Smith was biking up Sixth Avenue when the passenger-side door of a parked pickup truck opened unexpectedly. He was knocked into the path of an oncoming truck.

Anthony Delgado (left) Palmetto Street and Central Avenue, Bushwick. Shortly after midnight on April 29, 2007, 13-year-old Delgado borrowed a bike to head home from his friend’s baptism party. As he crossed the intersection, he was struck by an SUV. Carolina Hernandez 57th Avenue and Junction Boulevard, Elmhurst. On August 16, 2007, Hernandez was riding to a mall when she was struck and killed by a Chevy truck. The driver pled guilty to driving with a suspended license.

Ghost Riders