Monday, June 21, 2010

New York City Ghost Bike Busters

Cyclists and the rest of society have at best a strange acceptable coexistence - a symbiosis. But as any high school ecology student learns symbiosis is a bit like saying "fruit", there are many different kinds and not everyone like them all.

Commensalism is a type of relationship between two things where one benefits, but the other is unaffected (car drives on street and doesn't hit bike). There are three other relationships: mutualism (where both bikes and cars benefit), competition (where both vehicles are harmed), and parasitism (one vehicle benefits and the other one is harmed). This last versions is where ghost bikes appear on our streets.

In some cities that approaches true symbiosis, struggling as it may be, but still what might be refereed to as commensalism - when two species share the same table. In other cities the symbiosis teeters on parasitism. And parasitism always has victims.

Ghost bikes in New York City appear to remind us a wee bit too much of garbage, rather than memorials, at least according to that city's sanitation department. Ghost bikes dot the streets of many of the US and world's major city streets. They are haunting reminders of Koyaanisqatsi
, life out of balance, symbiosis gone bad. 67 reminders have been put up around NY City as part of the Street Memorial Project to honor the 108 known cycling fatalities since 2005. For half a decade they have stood as silent reminders to NY residence that their streets are a shared environment, but those reminders may become distant memories if a new proposal [pdf] from the NYC Department of Sanitation is approved; part of an initiative to clear the sidewalks of unused and junked bikes, the department wants to get rid of Ghost Bikes as well.

In articles popping up around that city - both on the web and print - (Sanitation Department wants to remove 'eyesore' bike-death memorials & Ghost Bikes Targeted by Sanitation Department) - it appears ghost bikes are illustrating the divide, mental more than physical, between those that ride and those that don't. Bikes are the representation of the "them." Those people who simply will not accept that vehicles are a symbol of our manifest destiny. They are the counter-culture. It's the kind of "everyman" device that reeks of communism - or worse yet, Europeanism. And ghost bikes are blatant symbols that "we", the drivers of those steel leviathans are costing lives. Not such a pretty reminder when you put your kid on their bike in the park.

The ghost bikes may even be more haunting these days as oil and methane gas spew from the Gulf of Mexico sea floor, creating dead zones in that fruitful sea and spill toxically along hundreds of miles of Gulf coast. Their thin white frames stand in stark contrast to the giant hulks of oil hungry steel that struck most of their owners down. Bikes are one of the few clean transportation vehicles that are "pedal ready" and cost us nothing to implement - except greater patience, awareness and sharing - a greater understanding of symbiotic commensalism and of the core tenant of every belief on this planet - sharing is good.

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