The latest ghost bike is a haunting reminder for Denver drivers
The ghost bike for Gelseigh Karl-Cannon, in Cherry Creek North.
The bright-white bicycle that has been resting against a sign at the corner of East First Avenue and Clayton Street for seven months stands out in the Cherry Creek North shopping district. But it's not a piece of artwork, and it's not for sale.
On November 7 of last year, Gelseigh Karl-Cannon was killed at that spot when, according to what witnesses told police, her bike hit the curb and she fell into oncoming traffic and was hit by a truck. The 23-year-old had just moved to Denver from New York.
Now the painted bike — known in the cycling community as a "ghost bike" — stands as a memorial to her, and as a way to heighten awareness of cyclists on the road.
"I had decided the day of the accident that a ghost bike had to go up," says Will Best, Karl-Cannon's boyfriend, who lives in New York. "Gelseigh constantly and tirelessly worked to make the world better for people around her.... I know people won't be able to tell how special of a person the world lost by looking at a ghost bike, but I can at least hope they might think about cyclists a little bit more while they are driving."
The white spectacles, which are more common in New York, St. Louis and some other cities, aren't as well known in the Denver-Boulder area, but Karl-Cannon's ghost bike is one of several that have popped up in recent years.
Like other public memorials, though, they don't usually stay in place for long.
"Public Works respects the right of individuals to erect memorials as part of a grieving process when a tragedy occurs," says Denver Public Works spokeswoman Emily Williams, echoing a statement she has made before on the subject.
"When a memorial is erected in the public right-of-way without a permit, our department will leave it intact for thirty days unless the memorial creates an unsafe situation — for example, if the memorial interferes with sight lines for drivers," she adds. "After thirty days, Public Works will remove the memorial if it has not been removed already."
Nevertheless, the bike has stayed in place for several months.
One of the most high-profile bikes, at Speer Boulevard and Lincoln Street, was dedicated to Dan Peterson, age thirty, who died in July 2012, the victim of a hit-and-run at that corner. The bike, which was locked to a pole, stayed for several months before being taken down.
Brad Mann, a local cycling advocate who helped create and maintain Karl-Cannon's ghost bike at Best's request, believes the memorials should be allowed to remain permanently.
"They are the same as a pile of flowers and crosses at an intersection. Hopefully the city won't remove them and will respect the intent behind them, because it's a memorial to someone's death," he says. Removing them, he adds, is "really disrespectful."
According to the 2010 US Census American Community Survey, Denver was ranked the sixth-highest for bike-commuting cities out of 44 metro places around the nation. In 2010, the number of cyclists had grown by 22 percent. Also reported in 2010: Bike fatalities made up 3 percent of all traffic deaths.
Best, who had planned to join Karl-Cannon in Denver before she died, found Mann after contacting several local bike shops to see if anyone could help him.
"In less than 24 hours, they had a bike on their hands," he says, adding that he is grateful to Mann and others who helped. "Having a ghost bike up means a lot of different things to me. I just hope drivers will think more often about cyclists when they see hers or any ghost bike. Making sure this doesn't happen anymore is what matters."
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