BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 10:24 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 11:24 UK

The ghosts haunting British roads

'Ghost bikes' haunting UK streets

Haunting memorials are appearing at roadsides across Britain. The white skeletal shrines, known as "ghost bikes", mark the spot where a cyclist has been killed. Rebecca Barry explains why.

Ghost bikes don't just commemorate the dead, they also aim to draw attention to the dangers on the UK's roads.

They first appeared in the US in 2003, but the idea has spread around the world and they are now becoming a familiar sight.

In the past year, ghost bikes have been spotted in Oxford, Brighton, York and across London.

Ghost bike
They often appear overnight

Cyclist David Pippin has left more than a dozen of the white bikes around the capital.

"They are both a tribute and warning," he says. "They are memorials for a fallen rider. The main point of them is to remember fellow riders who sadly died and also to highlight to other road-users the risks on the roads.

"The white bikes stand out, it makes the drivers aware of cyclists and if it makes one van driver stop and think and not jump the lights or check their mirror and it saves someone's life - it's worth the effort."

An old bike is stripped down so it's left with no pedals, chain or brake cables. This skeleton is then spray-painted white and chained to railings or a lamp post. Often they appear overnight, under the cover of darkness.

Ghost bike
A tribute can sometimes be found on them

Latest figures from the National Audit Office show the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on British roads rose by 11% between 2004 and 2007, despite the amount of cycling staying broadly constant. In 2007 alone over 16,000 cyclists were injured in the UK and 136 were killed.

In May 2009 Adrianna Skrzypiec, 31, was killed in Greenwich while cycling home from work. A ghost bike, adorned with flowers, was placed at the junction where she died.

Witness appeal

Anthony Austin from Greenwich Cyclists put up the tribute and says her family and friends were very appreciative.

"I'm a cycling instructor and I believe cycling is safe," he says. "I certainly wouldn't want to deter anyone from cycling. But when there's a collision between a vehicle and a cyclist - it's usually the cyclist that comes off worse. It's a temporary reminder of how dangerous it can be."

Giles Carlin is appealing for witnesses to the accident which killed his girlfriend Eilidh Cairns, 30, in west London in February.

He says Eilidh was travelling the same route she had done every day for nearly three years and on that particular day she collided with a lorry.

Ghost bike
After six months, they are taken away

"I knew she thought ghost bikes were a good idea, because we'd discussed it and we'd seen them dotted around London," he says.

"Ghost bikes should be there to warn other road users about the vulnerability of cyclists. If that's all they do that's a great thing, but they're also a memorial to someone who's been killed."

Most ghost bikes are temporary - they soon get removed by the authorities, are vandalised or are stolen. But some friends and families of accident victims think the symbols should become permanent memorials.

Giles Carlin says: "A ghost bike as a permanent reminder would be great. As far as I know not many are kept up past six months. If the councils were involved and the Mayor, making them permanent would be a great thing. "

A ghost bike will soon appear at the spot where Eilidh was killed, another haunting reminder of the dangers on our roads.

Below is a selection of your comments.

What a great idea. Two cyclists were recently killed by a motorbike driver who lost control of his motorbike and ploughed into a group of cyclists round the corner from our house. I shall print out this article and leave it near the standing memorials of flowers candles and crosses as a suggestion to the grieving family and friends who tend these memorials weekly.
Stephanie Halser, Munich Germany

I'm a cyclist, a driver and a pedestrian and I know everybody has their opinion on whether cyclists are good or bad. Whether or not you like them on the roads, they have a right to be there. These memorials are an excellent way to highlight the importance of being alert and really seeing what you are doing and the affect it has on others - whether on a bike or in a car, van or lorry. To show how easily that a simple mistake can lead to injury or death.
Katrina Collier, London

In a day where we are meant to be riding bikes more for the environment AND our health, we have a right to safe roads too. It would help also if the authorities stopped people parking on our cyclepaths as it means we have to then go into the road.
Elizabeth Edwards, Manchester, United Kingdom

My heart goes out to victims and their loved ones in fatal accidents of any type, but I am worried that the ever-increasing threat of cyclists to pedestrians is given little media attention. I've been hit twice by cyclists riding on footpaths - in one case next to a perfectly-good but rarely-used cycle lane on the road. School kids normally buzz past and even ring their bells at pedestrians on the path - I was with my deaf father once and he nearly got hit. As a driver I see bad cycling every rush-hour and even had one bike crash heavily into my mirror when I was stopped at a traffic light. I ride bikes too, but not on the pavement, and never at night without lights - most cyclists here do not use lights at all.
Vera, Cardiff

Nobody has pointed out how ironic that bikes are painted white AFTER the cyclist has been killed. The number of cyclists knocked off their bikes would be drastically reduced if more made themselves visible and wore helmets. I estimate that only one in five cyclists in Brighton have lights on at night or even bother with bright clothing or a helmet. The police should do more to enforce cycle lights in the same way they would for drivers. Cyclists should wear bright clothes and/or have hi-vis tape or bright paint on their bikes.
Karim, Brighton

Karim, helmet uptake is higher in Britain than in any other European country. Same with lights (go to Amsterdam or Copenhagen at night if you don't believe this). Reflective clothing for cyclists is unknown outside the UK. British cyclists are by far the most visible in Europe. Yet, Britain has also the highest cyclist fatality rate in Europe. No, visibility has got nothing to do with it. Drivers' attitude and lack of safe cycle facilities are to blame.
Andreas, Edinburgh

Ghost bikes could make cycling safer, or could over-emphasise the dangers. I wouldn't see them as a worthwhile priority, personally. As for helmets, they have failed as an intervention (see BMJ study by Robinson, DL), and hi-viz in general only works in daylight when it's not generally relevant to safety. Last month I drove past a cyclist whose back light had run out of battery, and very nearly hit him. Despite his "hi-viz" and my headlights I just didn't see him. I'm not aware of any actual evidence that bike lights prevent accidents, but I'm sure enough to spend money on good-quality ones for myself and my entire family.
Richard Keatinge, Llanfairpwll, Wales

As a cyclist, I fully support this. But as a cyclist, I also see the number of other cyclists who evidently feel the rules of the road don't apply to them. Many of the memorials will commemorate those who were law abiding, but cyclists also need to take responsibility for themselves and not jump lights, ride at night without lights, hi vis etc.
Richard Hunt, London

The first time I ever saw or heard of ghost bikes was on an episode of CSI New York. I thought it was a very disturbing idea then and I still feel the same. I know it must be heart breaking and tragic to lose someone close to you this way but I still feel that roadside memorials are a distraction and more likely to cause accidents than prevent them.
Jackie, Glasgow

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific