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Boston Ghost Bike Ritual an Increasingly Common One

A bicyclist in Cambridge was struck and killed in Inman Square recently, prompting a vigil and a lasting memorial we’ve come to see with increasing commonality in Boston: The ghost bike. bikememorial

The 27-year-old cyclist, Amanda Phillips, was allegedly hit by a landscaping truck at the intersection of Cambridge and Hampshire Streets around 12:15 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon. She was in critical condition following the crash and was transported to Mass. General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Witnesses told investigators Phillips either swerved to avoid an opening door of a sport utility vehicle or was actually struck by the door and thrown into the path of the truck. One nearby resident told reporters the Cambridge intersection has been a huge problem for decades, and it’s gotten even worse as the number of bicyclists has ballooned in recent years. 

The day before the crash, the Cambridge Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department hosted a public meeting to talk about the Inman Square intersection safety. The city’s presentation revealed there were nearly 70 accidents just at that intersection alone during the five years between 2008 and 2012 – with 15 of those being bicycle accidents.

Those at the meeting posited a number of possible fixes, including altering the patterns of traffic to help alleviate some of the congestion and make it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to traverse the area. Some residents are doubtful there is much that can help, given the sheer number of vehicles – cars and bikes – moving through that intersection all the time.

Phillips, The Boston Globe reported, was a nursing student who was working as a barista to put herself through college. But even though many of the cyclists who showed up at her memorial did not know her personally, they felt, “as if we’ve lost a cousin.”

The memorial vigil held in her honor was attended by some 250 people, and was the latest in a ritual that is becoming increasingly common anytime a person is killed in a bicycle accident in Boston. Vigils – and the “ghost bikes” (stripped-down-and-sprayed-white bikes) that are left behind – are coordinated by private Facebook groups comprised of dozens of cyclists, many of whom not only mourn together but are calling attention to the perils pedalcyclists face each day – and advocating for reform. Many have called their gathering an opportunity to share their “righteous anger.”

And it’s so true because at the end of the day, every single one of these bicycle accident deaths was preventable.

There have been five such vigils hosted by the same group in Boston since last year. However, the group didn’t create the ghost bike for Phillips. Instead, it appeared at the intersection the same day she died. No one is sure exactly who put it there.

The ghost bike tradition isn’t entirely new. It’s been around since at least the early 2000s, and has mostly arisen organically following a tragic bike accident. These events speak to the close-knit bicycling community. For example, following the deaths of five riders and the injury of four others in a single accident in Michigan, some 70 riders in Boston turned up for a ride of silence to honor the victims.

During the memorial service for Phillips, a minister talked about the impermanence and fragility of life. The traffic roared behind her at times which, as The Boston Globe reporter noted, “Testified to the power of the cars and trucks.”

Mourners said they attend these events hoping this one will be the last. But then just that very same day, a 15-year-old suffered serious injuries in a Dorcester bicycle accident.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a Boston bicycle accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-789 BIKE (2453).

Additional Resources:

Ghost bikes emerge as a Boston ritual, June 30, 2016, By Lisa Wangsness, The Boston Globe

More Blog Entries:

Boston Bike Accident Lawyers Advocate for More Bike Lanes, May 14, 2016, Boston Bicycle Injury Lawyer Blog