Ghost Bikes, Street Lights and What’s Really Important

The city is talking about ghost bikes again…and, to be clear, they’re talking about removing ghost bikes again. Never do we actually talk about the bikes themselves, not institutionally.

Honestly, I wasn’t going to write about this. I’ve written about it before; I’ve been interviewed about it; and I went on a bit of a twitter rant the other day (probably not my first). The narrative is always the same. People lie about the hazard ghost bikes pose, and others respond by trying to talk about safety.

Just about anyone with any sense will quickly go to the most accurate talking points: ghost bikes aren’t a distraction, certainly no more than the crazy billboards all around; don’t talk about ghost bikes, talk about what caused them; let’s trade all the ghost bikes for some safety improvements.

There you go. It can be said much more eloquently, but I just don’t have the patience to slog through this tedious, insulting, inhuman debate. The dance is stale.

But I will talk about one bike.

Much of the chatter about ghost bikes has centred around Meg’s Bike, installed at the Northwest corner of Bank and Riverside in memory of Meg Dussault, who was run over by a truck as she tried to navigate our city. There are calls to remove it. There are suggestions that it gets in the way of people walking the sidewalk.

Here’s the thing about Meg’s Bike. Anyone who tells you that bike is obstructing pedestrians is lying, to you and, possibly, to themselves. That bike is in no one’s way. It’s tucked back, completely out of the flow of walking traffic.

What is in the way is a traffic light. The light standards impede walking. The light standards pinch the sidewalk at a disgustingly dangerous intersection. The light standards ensure that it is uncomfortable to cross those streets. Meg’s Bike is further recessed than the light standards. You would have to intentionally snake around these large metal poles for Meg’s Bike to even come close to getting in your way as a pedestrian.

This is a perfect metaphor for this city and the way it manipulates the public about street safety.

We impose on pedestrians in order to benefit cars. We put traffic poles in sidewalks. We take up chunks of pedestrian space–what little we provide–for traffic, for speeding, deadly traffic.

And it’s worse for bicycles, of course. We often give them zero space. We have a street–a street–that we have dedicated to cars with no bike infrastructure whatsoever. It’s fast and it’s scary (I’m hardly ever willing to ride over either of the bridges on Bank Street). And it kills, and we know it kills, and everyday we go by, we’re reminded that it kills. And the city, in its cowardice and its complicity refuses to admit it.

The city refuses to do anything to make that street and that intersection safe. There have to multiple lanes. There have to be massive trucks. There have to be high volumes of traffic that are allowed to speed every damned day.

Because driving, and driving fast, is truly important to the city. The city does not value safety.

The city does so very little about safety, and they certainly don’t acknowledge the depths of our safety issues. A memorial to the victim of our city planning has to be taken down, and we have to gin up an excuse, lest we be exposed for the murderers we are.

So we blame the memorial. We blame the dead the cyclists and those who care that she was killed by our streets. There are traffic poles that block far more of the sidewalk than the ghost bike. The traffic standards block the ghost bike, but the city doesn’t care. The city has to make it about Meg’s Bike.

The city has to blame bicyclists–some of the most vulnerable road users–for endangering pedestrians. They do this all the time. We can’t have a bike lane, because then there won’t be room for sidewalks. We can’t have shared space, because pedestrians will be run down. It’ll be carnage! (Please ignore the actual carnage on the adjacent street.)

It happened with the Rideau Street re-design. We could make it safe for pedestrians or cyclists, but god forbid we make it safe for both groups, that might slightly inconvenience drivers. This is what this city, this council and this mayor do. It’s dishonest. It’s callous. And it should be unacceptable in any civilized community.

But no, it’s about ghost bikes. They’re in the way. Pretend that we can’t build a safe city. Pretend that the greatest threat to pedestrians is a guy on a Schwinn. Pretend that that if not for bicyclists, pedestrians would never be harmed by tonnes of metal flying through our city at 80 km/hr. It’s ghost bikes. Worry about them.

And ignore the fucking light post in the sidewalk.

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