Ghost bike debate: Permanent memorial for cyclists proposed

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Blair Crawford, Ottawa Citizen

The brother of a woman whose 2011 death on Queen Street was memorialized with a ghost bike would like to see a new permanent memorial in Ottawa to celebrate the spirit of cycling while commemorating those who’ve lost their lives on bikes.

Brent Naçu’s sister, Danielle, 33, died in October 2011 when she was struck by an opening car door that knocked her into the path of another car.

Naçu’s vision is for a bronze, life-size statue that would be privately funded but built on city land. He broached the idea with Councillor Dave Chernushenko when they met at a memorial ride in Danielle’s memory. Chernushenko has identified a potential site for the monument on Bronson Avenue, just south of Colonel By Drive.

“The concept will be to celebrate the art and the sport and the vitality of cycling, while at the same time commemorating those who have lost their lives doing it,” Naçu said. “It would be a permanent place where you can go and reflect.”

The white ghost bike that marked the spot where Danielle was killed became an important, but painful marker for the Naçu family. The ghost bike was removed — with the family’s permission — after about a year when the city had to do maintenance in the area. Now the city is proposing a new bylaw that would limit ghost bikes and other unofficial memorials to 90 days.

“I completely understand the necessity of a ghost bike,” Naçu said. “The ghost bike ended up allowing us to focus our energy, to channel our grief, (it was) a place to congregate, a place to drive anger and a place to raise awareness. It was a very, very valuable outlet. There’s no way that 90 days would be adequate.”

But he acknowledge that Danielle’s ghost bike was in “a very awkward place” on a street that still brings him horrible memories.

“It is very disturbing to me to be on Queen Street. I just think of Danielle, her body, her shattered bicycle helmet … I wish it could be in a park where I could look at the green grass and think about Danielle. Queen Street is just a place of death for me.”

As for the other role of ghost bikes — to raise awareness of bike safety with drivers and cyclists themselves — Naçu isn’t convinced they work.

“People see a ghost bike and they can say ‘This is horrible, someone died here’ … but I don’t know if 10 or 100 or 1,000 ghost bikes is actually going to create awareness. We could commemorate everyone who’s died in the city of Ottawa with a ghost bike and a plaque, but I don’t know if that would make a difference. How many people have died since Danielle?”

Proposed site for a city bike memorial on Bronson Avenue.
Proposed site for a city bike memorial on Bronson Avenue. GOOGLE STREET VIEW
Ghost bikes mark the spots of at least three other cycling deaths in the city: Krista Johnson, killed on the Bronson Bridge in October 2012; Mario Theoret, killed on Merivale Road at Hunt Club Road in October 2013; and Meg Dussault, who died in July 2013 when she was struck at the intersection of Bank Street and Riverside Drive.

Two of those ghost bikes are in Chernushenko’s ward. He recognizes the need for a bylaw, although he, too, feels that a 90-day limit is too short.

Chernushenko supports Naçu’s idea of a permanent monument, one that inspires as well as memorializes.

“What we didn’t want is a message that said ‘Come, grieve, and oh, by the way, cycling is dangerous,'” Chernushenko said.

“One thing all the fatalities had in common was that they were all very keen cyclists. They saw it as freedom … as joy. Their friends know how much they loved cycling. That should be recognized and celebrated.”

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