In passing there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual about the bicycle tied to a lamppost opposite the Stoke Newington Railway, but then something doesn’t seem quite right… eventually it dawns on me that not only is it a white bike but the wheels are white too. What does it mean? Is it an East End art installation or a marketing gimmick?

Ghost Bike on Kingsland Road. Photo by Tom Taylor

Ghost Bike on Kingsland Road. Photo by Tom Taylor

Closer inspection reveals the bike has been painted and has a bunch of dried flowers hanging off the handlebars.  Far from being trendy street furniture, the bike is part of a phenomenon known as ghost bikes – a memorial to cyclists that have been killed on the road.  This particular one is for Lucinda Ferrier who died last year and there is another one further down the Kingsland Road at the corner of Middleton Road commemorating Antony Smith – also known as ‘Smudge’.

The first ghost bikes were created in St. Louis, in America in 2003, and they have since appeared in over 80 cities throughout the world.  They serve not only as a memorial but also as a warning to motorists to be more bike aware – to remind them to look a little more carefully and to share the road, hopefully preventing more senseless loss of life.

The UK campaign is the brainchild of Steve Allen who began it after his friend James Foster was killed by a drunk driver. Steve, who teamed up with Ghost Bikes on a trip to America, said:

“Something had to be done. James was a great mate, a young man in the prime of his life. Cycle deaths on UK roads go largely unreported and I wanted to put something tangible out there to document the tragedies and warn drivers to look out for cyclists.”

Not everybody is on board though. Some activists believe the ghost bikes make the dangers look worse than they are. Indeed, in a Transport for London report published last year, fewer cyclists were involved in accidents than pedestrians in 2006 (the latest available data).

Each individual has to weigh up the risks involved and the benefits – of which there are many, both personal and for the planet.  However there is a certain safety in numbers.  As more and more Londoner’s take to the roads on their bikes, drivers will be forced to be become more aware and councils will have to provide cycle routes and lanes.

But if you do decide to take to the road on your bike, do be careful around lorries – they were responsible for both the accidents mentioned above and are implicated in the majority of deaths in the capital. There are much, much better ways to be immortalised than with a ghost bike.

Spotted any more ghost bikes in Stoke Newington? Let us know by leaving a comment…