A ghost bike is seen set up near 14th and Folsom streets in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo courtesy GhostBikeOrg/Twitter)

SF may permit ‘ghost bike’ memorials for bicyclists killed in crashes

When 21-year-old Dylan Mitchell was struck and killed by a Recology refuse truck on his bicycle ride into work one morning in 2013, his death left his family “devastated.”

In May 2015, the family established a “ghost bike” memorial for Mitchell, a stripped down bicycle chained to a post on the sidewalk with flowers in the handlebars and an 8.5 inch-by-11-inch laminated poster with his photo and details of the crash.

SEE RELATED: Bike advocates reeling from cyclist deaths in SF

His father sat in his car some days and observed how passersby would react to the memorial. But just a few weeks later, however, The City removed it, said Julie Mitchell, Dylan Mitchell’s mother.

“It felt like another insult to injury when The City removed our precious son’s memorial that we put so much emotion into making to honor him,” Julie Mitchell recently wrote in a letter to the San Francisco Bicycle Advisory Committee.

She added, “It was doing good by being there and was another way to raise awareness that these are people that are loved and cherished, not just another fatality statistic.”

Rachel Gordon, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Works, said, “We don’t have a record of removing it. It’s possible our crews did.” She noted that “in general, we have allowed public memorials, whether for a gunshot victim or people killed riding a bike or walking, to remain up for short durations – usually up to a couple of weeks after the incident occurred.”

But Julie Mitchell wrote in her letter that “ghost bike memorials are an important reminder that motorists share the road with bicyclists and they need to pay attention so they don’t end up destroying lives.”

It appears city officials are listening to Mitchell.

Last week, Supervisor Norman Yee introduced a resolution supporting a city permitting system for the establishment of such memorials, which was a recommendation by the Bicycle Advisory Committee, and “an immediate moratorium on the removal of any ‘Ghost Bike’ for one year so long as they are not obstructing local ordinances, such as blocking pedestrian egress.

The resolution calls for a permitting system recommendation by Oct. 23, 2017, developed by the Bicycle Advisory Committee working in partnership with Public Works and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency “for an ordinance for the permitted placement of ‘Ghost Bikes’ or other memorials by citizens who wishes to do so.”

Yee said in a statement Monday that “ghost bikes are powerful reminders to our community that we still have a long way to get to Vision Zero.”

“I hope that by memorializing the lives needlessly lost to collisions, we can take proactive action to improve safety so that there will no longer be a need for ghost bikes,” Yee said.

Julie Mitchell told the San Francisco Examiner she plans to re-establish the ghost bike for her son’s death as soon as The City commits to allowing it to remain on the street, and would like it up without a time limit. A friend of the family has donated a bicycle for that purpose.

The details of the permitting process and parameters have yet to be determined. Gordon said that “we now have a forum to craft a plan that will consider how ghost bike memorials can be erected safely. We need to look at such factors as who will be responsible for their upkeep, the duration of the permit, what happens to them if they have to be removed for a construction project, etc.”

More than 20 cyclists have been killed in traffic collisions in San Francisco since 2005, including four cyclists killed in 2015, and two to date in 2016, according to Yee’s resolution.

Julie Mitchell is now dedicated to improving safety on the roadways, including founding a new group called San Francisco Bay Area Families for Safe Streets.

“[Dylan] was following in his father’s, grandfather’s and great grandfather’s footsteps to become an electrician for the IBEW in San Francisco,” she wrote. “There is not a minute of my day that goes by that I don’t think of and miss my son. His death has ruined my life!”

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