City wants three-month limit on memorials for traffic victims

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David Reeveley, Ottawa Citizen

Impromptu memorials to people killed in traffic on Ottawa’s streets could only stay up for 90 days, under a new policy proposed by city staff.

But people could instead pay for permanent memorials that the city would design, install and maintain.

Often the temporary memorials are “ghost bikes,” old bicycles spray-painted white and locked to something in memory of a downed cyclist. They’re both monuments to a person and political statements meant to draw attention to a corner or a stretch of road where bad design, bad behaviour or both led to someone’s death.

One on Queen Street downtown memorialized Danielle Naçu, a cyclist knocked off her bike when a driver opened a door into her path. Another on the west side of Bronson Avenue near the Rideau Canal was for Carleton University grad student Krista Johnson, whose death in 2012 led the city to redesign several hundred metres of Bronson Avenue.

One at the corner of Bank Street and Riverside Drive is in memory of Meg Dussault, a cyclist who died in 2013 when she was hit by a cement truck. It’s been up for more than two years and is pretty elaborate, with plants and seasonal decorations. It also occupies some of a narrow piece of sidewalk and some people have complained it’s a distraction for drivers at a spot that’s already self-evidently dangerous.

Under the new policy, which city council’s transportation committee is to take up next Wednesday, it would have come down the autumn after Dussault’s death.

Ninety days is long enough to “balance compassion while ensuring public safety is not compromised,” the report says. Staff surveyed 20 other municipalities and made up a policy based on their “best practices,” though the report notes that only two of the cities they looked at have 90-day limits. Most allow memorials to stay up for one or two years, or leave them up as long as somebody’s tending them.

Existing memorials would be taken down by the city three months after city council approves the policy. City staff say families who want permanent memorials could instead pay the city to install something more discreet and that wouldn’t become an eyesore.

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