Sanitation Department Spares Ghost Bikes From Trash Heap

This memorial to Eric Ng, killed in __ on the West Side Highway, is no derelict. Photo:
This memorial to Eric Ng, killed in 2006 on the West Side Highway, is no derelict bike. Photo: ## via Flickr##.

The Department of Sanitation has backed off its controversial plan to remove ghost bikes from the streets of New York, relenting to a public outcry in favor of the memorials to cyclists killed while riding. Proposed rules governing the removal of derelict bicycles released in June would have taken away even the best-maintained memorials, but the final version published on Friday [PDF] specifically carves out an exemption for ghost bikes.

Originally, Sanitation was only going to spare what it called “ghost riders” for an extra few weeks. Ghost bikes would have been removed thirty days after being tagged with a notice, compared to five days for ordinary derelict bikes. The new rules, however, include a specific exemption for (the now-properly named) ghost bikes in the definition of what counts as a derelict bike. A statement attached to the rules declares that “under these rules ghost bikes will never be deemed to be derelict.”

This is a victory almost entirely attributable to the bike activists who mobilized over the issue. The revisions were made solely “based on the written comments and the public hearing that we had,” said a spokeperson from the Sanitation Department, which received over 250 comments on the proposed rules.

The new rules also set the terms under which abandoned bikes can be removed from where they are locked. Sanitation has established five criteria to determine whether a bike is derelict. Starting October 4, the department will tag any bike attached to public property that meets three of those criteria. Seven days after getting tagged, the bike would be disposed of. If applied fairly, that could clear away truly abandoned bikes and free up space for people to park the bikes that are functional and actively used.

The criteria are:

(i)  the bicycle appears to be crushed or not usable;

(ii)  the bicycle is missing parts, other than the seat and front wheel, including, but not limited to handlebars, pedal or pedals, rear wheel and chain;

(iii)  the bicycle has flat or missing tires;

(iv)  the handlebars or pedals are damaged, or the existing forks, frames or rims are bent; or

(v)  seventy-five percent or more of the bicycle, which includes the handlebars, pedals and frames are rusted, along with any chain affixing such bicycle to public property.”

There’s one loophole to keep an eye on, though. If any bike “creates a dangerous condition by restricting vehicular or pedestrian traffic,” state the rules, it may be removed immediately, whether it’s derelict, a ghost bike, or otherwise. Whether a bike creates such a dangerous condition would generally be determined by the NYPD, said the Sanitation spokesperson.

  • I think some kudos are also owed to Councilwoman Tish James on this. I could not attend the hearing myself but she is the chair of the Sanitation Committee and so I wrote her a very personal account of my own hit and run. I explained that “if the tide had turned the other way in the Brookdale Emergency Room, I like to think that a ghost bike could have been installed there so my loved ones would have a place to mourn, and every driver would see the outcome of reckless riding. Ghost bikes are needed on our streets – not just for a week, or a month but in perpetuity…” She took the message to heart and read part of it at the hearing. Immediately afterword, she emailed me to say ‘I am at the hearing and just read part of your email. It was powerful and poignant. Thank you.’

  • Bravo to Sanitation for making the “ghost bike exception” – it’s clear they were listening to the community and had good intentions. The final rule (excerpted below) is just slightly clumsy (not every bike has a basket), but assuming it’s enforced in the same spirit that it was written, that shouldn’t be a problem.


    “Ghost bike” shall mean a bicycle that has been placed on public property and apparently intended as a memorial for someone who is deceased, and which may be painted white or have a sign posted on or near it, or flowers or other mementos in the basket.

  • Ian Turner

    Actually, I disagree that ghost bikes should be maintained “in perpetuity”. That’s a really long time, and even given a very low death rate would eventually fill the city with ghost bikes. But it is reasonable for such memorials to exist for at least a few years. Perhaps it’s as simple as, if someone is still maintaining the bike so that it satisfies the same criteria as other bikes, then it can stay, and otherwise, it goes.

  • ChrisCo

    I’m as pro-biking (and pro-transit) as anyone here, but I think keeping ghost bikes in perpetuity is a terrible idea. I don’t want to be reminded about death everywhere I look. Were that the case I’d hang out at cemetaries.

    Can you imagine if they kept chalk outlines on the street forever every place someone was murdered?

  • Doug

    Cmon guys, ghost bike exist, like roadside memorials, as a sign of the times. Dangerous social attitudes led directly to death; these serve as a visible reminder of those attitudes. When such conditions change, ghost bikes will no longer be considered necessary nor desirable, and they will stop being created, will be taken down, and the rules will change appropriately.

    For the living biking community, you have only to go on the street every day to be reminded of those conditions; for the rest of the world, this is a window into how dangerous the activity is under the current laws and street conditions.

  • Noah, can we now call 311 and have Sanitation come and remove derelict bikes from city racks? There’s a mixte with chain cover that’s been yoked to the rack at 133rd & Marginal, in front of Fairway for the better part of a month now. Did someone bike to the store, buy too many groceries, taxi home, then forget to return for their steed?

  • ChrisCo

    >>When such conditions change, ghost bikes will no longer be considered necessary nor desirable, and they will stop being created, will be taken down, and the rules will change appropriately.<<

    If you think we have dangerous conditions for cyclists, I suggest you travel the country. Compared to most other cities, we actually have it pretty good.

  • Perhaps I shouldn’t have clipped my quotation where I did. What I wrote to Tish James actually continued ‘not just for a week, or a month but in perpetuity until the lessons and consequences of vehicular violence resonate louder and louder until a much wanted sea-change calms traffic and ends fatalities on our city streets.’ So, if ghostbikes are really helping usher in the desperately needed sea-change, then yes they would no longer be quite as needed because a dangerous street would be exception rather than the norm.

    I agree with Ian that it could remain as long as there is someone there maintaining it. And if our streets continue to become more livable, then thankfully we won’t see ghost bikes going up nearly as often as they unfortunately already do.

  • ChrisCo: “Can you imagine if they kept chalk outlines on the street forever every place someone was murdered?”

    Yes. Except with paint.

  • LN

    Here is the testimony read by Tish James at the hearing.

    Thanks to everyone who testified or wrote in support of ghost bikes!

  • Danny G

    To understand the fear of letting Ghost Bikes accumulate in perpetuity, see the short story of “Ersilia” from Italo Calvino’s book ‘Invisible Cities’.

    It might be more appropriate if Ghost Bikes are removed in order to make way for safety improvements to the intersections they clutter.

  • dave

    Seems like the criteria are too strict. I would think that meeting any one of those criteria would be enough for tagging.

  • j

    I saw Enrique Peñalosa walking down 14th street today. Does anyone know why he’s in town?

  • zach

    I’m with Dave.

    The easier we make it for bikes to be tagged and removed a week later, the less often cops will use the giant loophole and remove them immediately. These criteria (need three?!) seem so strict that I’m thinking cops will almost always go straight to immediate removal and call it a hazard.

    How about a year for a ghostbike?

  • Doug

    “If you think we have dangerous conditions for cyclists, I suggest you travel the country. Compared to most other cities, we actually have it pretty good.”

    That’s small consolation. I would say those cities need more advocates, rather than us needing fewer ghost bikes.


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