Testimony of Caroline Samponaro, Director of Bicycle Advocacy, Transportation Alternatives
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Caroline Samponaro and I am the Director of Bicycle Advocacy for Transportation Alternatives. Transportation Alternatives is a non-profit advocacy organization with over 8,000 members and over 35,000 active supporters. We work with tens of thousands of advocates and volunteers to promote and increase bicycling, walking and public transit as the best transportation alternatives, and to make New York City's streets safe, accessible and livable for all.
Transportation Alternatives commends the Department of Sanitation for accepting the responsibility of clearing away “derelict” bicycles in New York City. For the more than two hundred thousand cyclists that bike everyday in NYC, this announcement is welcome news. Clearing derelict bicycles from precious outdoor bicycle parking facilities is an urgently needed service, and one that Transportation Alternatives fully supports and has advocated for over the years.
However, Transportation Alternatives does not support DSNY’s inclusion of “Ghost Riders [sic],” or Ghost Bikes, in this policy. *
In cities around the world, Ghost Bikes are installed by cyclists, victim’s families and concerned citizens, as a public monument at a location where a cyclist has been killed. To the friends and family of deceased cyclists, these white painted bikes are memorials of remembrance and reflection. To the public, these bikes serve as a newsflash as to the often unseen dangers faced by cyclists in any given community. To motor vehicle drivers, Ghost Bikes are cautionary reminders of the potentially fatal outcome of careless and dangerous driving behavior.
Ghost Bikes are intentionally rendered unusable, through the removal of unnecessary components and the application of white paint, to transform them from working vehicles into static monuments to fallen cyclists. Therefore, while these memorials may take on some of the characteristics of a standard bicycle that could be classified as “derelict,” Ghost Bikes are not working vehicles that have fallen into disrepair, nor are they in reality “derelict” and therefore should never be tagged or removed by DSNY.
Our support of the removal of “derelict” bicycles not withstanding, it is the position of our organization that the Department of Sanitation’s proposed “derelict” bicycle removal policy must draw a clear distinction between (1) “derelict” bicycles and (2) Ghost Bikes. While we agree that existing bicycles which meet the proposed definition of “derelict” should be tagged and cleared from public property, fundamentally, we believe it is both an improper and inaccurate to attempt to classify a Ghost Bike as “derelict,” even if that bike meets the proposed definition of a “derelict” bicycle.
There are less than 70 Ghost Bikes currently spread across the five boroughs of New York City. Because this small number is such a minor blip of the NYC streetscape, Transportation Alternative’s discourages DSNY from doing anything at all to NYC’s Ghost Bikes.
If DSNY determines that it is unwilling to revise its proposed rules by entirely removing Ghost Bikes as bicycles which could be classified as “derelict,” the following recommendations are necessary to further clarifying the proposed rules:
In general, all Ghost Bikes are not “derelict” bicycles as the current Proposed Rules imply. While like all bicycles, they may fall into a level of disrepair that would classify as “derelict”, it must be considered that the bikes are memorials, constantly exposed to the elements, and built to not function as vehicles, and thus should be viewed with a different consideration of the “derelict” definition. There are several instances whereby the proposed language in regard to Ghost Bikes has the potential to create confusion as to the basic definition of this type of bicycle:
1. Proposed Section 1-05.1 (a) (2) states that, “Ghost Rider [sic]” shall mean a derelict bicycle…”. While we agree that Ghost Bikes may become derelict, Ghost Bikes are not per se derelict. The usage of “shall” in this section creates a situation where it appears that Ghost Bikes are in fact by definition inherently “derelict.” Rather, if a Ghost Bike becomes derelict—either through exposure to the elements, vandalism, etc.—then it should be dealt with accordingly. Accordingly, the current language should be modified to indicate that a Ghost Bike is not automatically considered derelict because of its stature as a Ghost Bike.
2. Proposed Section 1-05.1(c) should insert the word “derelict” as follows: “Notwithstanding subdivision (b) of this section, in the event that a derelict ghost rider [sic] is affixed to public property…” Again, without the insertion of the qualifying “derelict” adjective, a reasonable, though incorrect, conclusion could be drawn that Ghost Bikes are fundamentally, per se, derelict in nature, regardless of their actual condition. The existing mischaracterization appears to be inline with the proposed language in Section 1-05.1(a)(2) as noted above.
Since Ghost Bikes are located in fixed locations, relative to where a cyclist was killed, it must be addressed that the Proposed Rules do not address what occurs if a “derelict” Ghost Bike is cured of the characteristics which qualified it as “derelict” within the time period of when it was tagged and when it was scheduled to be removed. If a Ghost Bike is tagged for removal, and then the offending parts and conditions are repaired, the Ghost Bike should no longer be considered “derelict” and therefore should not be removed. To prevent this incongruity, we recommend:
1. In order to alert the family or friends of slain cyclist’s Ghost Bike what characteristics of the bicycle qualify it as being derelict, the tags used by DSNY to identify a Ghost Bike as being “derelict” should list the specific characteristics that qualified it as such.
2. These characteristics should also be recorded in DSNY records, so as to inform those in charge of bicycle removal as to what those in charge of bicycle tagging found as grounds for “derelict” classification, and to thus know if these have been corrected. Providing this information on the tag and in DSNY records will ensure that only bikes that remain derelict after the 30-day grace period are removed.
In conclusion, Transportation Alternatives commends DSNY for establishing a policy to make New York City’s limited and therefore precious bike parking infrastructure more accessible and functional for all, but strongly encourages DSNY to not apply their policy to the scant number of Ghost Bikes which serve as memorials to those lost to the chaos of our streets, that serve as significant beacons for the friends and families that they have left behind.
Thank you for your time.
*It should be noted that DSNY uses incorrect terminology in their Proposed Rules. There is no such thing as a “Ghost Rider.” The correct term for the white-painted bicycles locked on NYC streets in memoriam of slain cyclists is “Ghost Bike,” which is used throughout the following testimony. In all instances, the word “Rider” should be replaced with “Bike.”