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Originally published Tuesday, August 2, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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"Ghost bikes" eerie reminders of accidents

A beat-up, run-down bicycle often is evidence of years of use and wear. But a clandestine group of activists scattered dozens of battered...

Seattle Times staff reporter

A beat-up, run-down bicycle often is evidence of years of use and wear. But a clandestine group of activists scattered dozens of battered, twisted bikes, painted stark white, across Seattle early yesterday morning to raise awareness about safety issues facing riders.

The team of about 25 activists are part of an organization called GhostCycle, which has spent the past three months collecting online submissions of bicycle accidents across the city.

The group mapped the locations of about 140 accidents. Then, under cover of darkness, they placed 40 painted bikes at collision sites, each with an ominous sign reading "A cyclist was struck here."

"It's just about creating awareness and educating people about what the streets of Seattle look like through the eyes of a cyclist," said a member of GhostCycle who would not give his name. He said group members want to hide their identities to keep the focus on bicycle safety.

The project highlights many of the areas around the city that are dangerous for bicyclists. The goal: To improve the safety of city streets for cycling.

Derrick Clark, 27, is a cyclist living in the University District and says the roads can sometimes be dangerous for those who choose two wheels instead of four.

Poor road conditions, narrow sidewalks, unmarked bike lanes and drivers who don't want to share the roads all create hazards, Clark said.

Stories from the road


The accident submissions, posted at GhostCycle.org, range from bruises and scrapes to fractures and hospitalization.

One reads: "Car in lane to left of bike lane attempted to make a right turn and hit me since I was beside the car. I slid over the hood of the car, and landed in the middle of the intersection. I was unhurt except for a sore wrist."

A second entry: "A pickup truck was [moving from] behind the bushes. I saw it late, did a panic stop, and my front wheel locked. The bike and I cartwheeled forward and I fell, hitting my left shoulder on the road, breaking my clavicle. My head also hit on my left temple, which was protected by my helmet. I nevertheless suffered a mild concussion. Without the helmet I would have been very seriously hurt."

Another wrote: "As I was approaching the intersection where the Burke-Gilman Trail crosses Meridian ... [a] van turned right onto Northlake Way, hitting my handlebars and knocking me over. I started screaming at the van before it hit me, so he stopped almost right away. He was very helpful, getting a stool out of his van for me to sit on, etc. He got a ticket from the cops and his work insurance covered all my injuries, bike reimbursement and pain and suffering. Someone who worked nearby came out and told me he sees a lot of accidents in that area b/c of the way the trail curves when approaching the intersection."

"Some people just don't understand," he said. "I'm choosing to use a transportation mode that's not using oil; it's efficient; it's healthy for me."

Marybeth Turner, a spokesperson for the Seattle Department of Transportation, said Seattle is consistently rated one of the top five cities for bicycle safety, and she applauds the group's efforts to make a statement.

About 300 bicycle-car accidents are reported annually in Seattle, and one to three cyclists are killed here every year, Turner said.

Nationwide, 622 bicyclists were killed in 2003, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Those numbers are significantly down from the 816 fatalities reported in 1993, and exemplify a shift in the nation's attitudes toward transportation and safety, said Craig Raborn, program manager at the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center in North Carolina.

Stricter guidelines for the construction of roads, better driver education and awareness, and continued funding for roadway improvements have helped reduce the numbers, Raborn said.

Congress recently approved $612 million over five years for the Safe Routes to School initiative, which provides safer access for young bicyclists or pedestrians on their way to and from class, Raborn said.

GhostCycle is not planning to place additional bicycles on streets, but its members will continue collecting information.

Turner said the city likely will remove the painted bicycles only if someone complains or the bikes create a safety hazard.

Ari Bloomekatz: 206-464-2540 or abloomekatz@seattletimes.com

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