Ghost bikes reappear at Dupont intersection

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Local,Michael Neibauer

A busy Dupont Circle intersection was beset by 22 "ghost bikes" Thursday, two weeks after the District government removed a single memorial to a cyclist run over by a garbage truck there.

"It was straight-up grave robbing as far as I'm concerned," said 27-year-old Legba Carrefour, a self-described anarchist who led the effort to replace a single white-painted bike with 22 new ghost bike memorials -- four of which were pilfered before 10 a.m.

Alice Swanson was riding her bike westbound on R Street on July 8, 2008, when she was struck and killed by a garbage truck at the intersection with 20th Street and Connecticut Avenue. The truck driver was traveling in the same direction when he made a right turn into the 22-year-old cyclist, apparently unaware she was there.

The Washington Area Bicyclists Association placed a ghost bike at the intersection in Swanson's memory a day after her death. It was removed Aug. 31 by the Department of Public Works and replaced with a "Yield to Bikes" sign. The only other improvement there since Swanson's death: The bike lane was extended through the intersection.

Nancee Lyons, DPW spokeswoman, said the original ghost bike could have been treated as an "abandoned bike," rather than a memorial, and removed. Typically, Lyons said, an identified "memorial" is allowed to remain for only 30 days, at which point there is an effort to make personal contact with the victim's family before it is taken away.

Lyons was unable to say when or if Carrefour's remembrance would come down. The main ghost bike stand-in was locked to a light pole, and Carrefour said he would replace it as many times as DPW took it away.

"It's wonderful that they put these bikes back," said passer-by Judy Brody. "It was a reminder to look both ways and watch out. I found it a positive and inoffensive."

Brad Gamble, a Dupont resident, said the ghost bike was "embraced" by the neighborhood and made an important statement about safety to cyclists and drivers.

But though most people agreed that the original bike should have remained, Carrefour's project was not unanimously beloved. The Columbia Heights resident was assailed in the blogosphere for attention seeking, for going too far and for blocking the sidewalk.

"Why not put the effort and resources into getting a new bike lane, signage or bike rack dedicated in Alice's honor instead of wasting it on obtaining, painting and chaining up 22 bikes?" Anthony Nigrelli, of Columbia Heights, commented on DCist.com.

mneibauer@washingtonexaminer.com

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