Viral design and social awareness: Ghost Bikes

Posted by Ian on Oct 19, 2008 in blog | No Comments

Started in 2003 and spreading from St Louis, Missouri over the globe, Ghost Bikes are both somber memorials to the tragedy of cyclists killed in road accidents as well as potent demonstrations of the impact of viral design in creating awareness and promoting social change.
The memorials are bicycles, painted white and chained to a street sign near the location of the accident. The bikes become a focal point for grieving and commemoration, as friends, relatives and fellow cyclists leave gifts in honour of the dead. Also, in certain locales, every month cycling groups will ride together to different memorials and read texts about the victims and the accidents together. The ghost bikes also attract local media attention and have begun to be reported in national press – unfortunately usually in the art and design sections as in this Guardian article.
The ghost bikes are grass roots actions of commemoration, rather than state sanctioned memorials. As such, many have been removed either by state officials or others. Although, the question of ‘legality’ of such memorials can be questioned, it is the immediacy of action, transcending concerns of legitimacy that gives the movement such potency. As with cycling movements such as Critical Mass, Ghost Bikes empower the cycling community and the public in general by activating shared public domains.
Perhaps what has made the Ghost Bike movement so globally successful is its core purpose of commemorating individual, intimate personal stories of the lives and deaths of cyclists. The memorials are not political in themselves, but they help create and sustain ecologies of awareness and willingness to take political action, honouring those who have died and in the name of those who cycle today.
The ghost bike pictured above was dedicated to Lucinda Ferrier who was killed on 23 June 2008 when she was struck by a lorry. You can read about others and search maps of ghost bikes and learn about how to begin your own local memorials on the Ghost Bikes website.
One other interesting project alongside this is the Ghost Cycle project in London, which allows cyclists to map stories of accidents they have experienced around London and the UK.
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