A recently-revamped organization dedicated to promoting local volunteer opportunities is launching another effort to increase awareness around cycling fatalities.
Volunteer Palm Springs (VPS), which operates a community outreach program known as P.S. Cares, announced Wednesday that “ghost bikes” will soon be seen again in the city as part of a coordinated effort between VPS, the Palm Springs Police Department, and the city’s Office of Sustainability.
Ghost bikes have been stripped of their parts, spray-painted white, and placed at or near the site where a cyclist was killed. The roadside memorials will also have a plaque reading “Cyclist Killed Here – Rest in Peace.”
For the past 12 years, VPS has been a hub of volunteer activity, connecting volunteers with nonprofits who need help. It returned in full force from a pandemic-related hiatus last November. There are currently 1,400 active members ready and willing to help local nonprofits.
The bikes used for the project were donated by the police department. The Office of Sustainability will pick the sites of the memorials. The installations will be in place for 30 days, and extra tributes like candles or flowers will not be allowed at the site.
The nationwide project began in 2003 with the first ghost bike in St. Louis and has spread to more than 200 major cities worldwide. The stark white memorial makes an otherwise unremarkable street suddenly meaningful.
“Ghost bikes are meant to reflect a quiet statement in support of cyclists’ rights to safe travel,” said David Carden, Jr., VPS founder.
Deaths of cyclists rose 44% from 2011 to 2020, and 2021 was the deadliest year for pedestrians in 40 years, with an estimated 7,485 people killed. The sharp increase in pedestrian and cyclist death over the pandemic has been blamed on emptier roads encouraging more reckless driving. Still, analyses show there were empty streets around the world, and other countries saw a decrease in fatalities over the pandemic.
Local cycling advocates who keep track of the fatalities say more than three dozen bicyclists have lost their lives on Coachella Valley roadways in the past 20 years, including four in Palm Springs in the past five years.
At the root of the problem is the fact “car supremacy” is a given on almost any thoroughfare in the country. The wide, straight U.S. roads prioritize moving as many vehicles through places as quickly as possible at the expense of pedestrian and cyclist safety.
The U.S. has more hazardous roads than many other countries, but it also has more dangerous vehicles. When SUVs and trucks balloon in size, pedestrians or cyclists are more likely to be seriously injured or killed when struck in the torso or head than if they were hit in their lower extremities.
VPS hopes the project and its partnerships will “raise the dialogue of the need for safer streets” and bring awareness to drivers’ responsibility on the road. It pairs with another effort — Blink for Safety — that provides free front and rear blinking bicycle lights.