Recent complaints about roadside memorials have sparked a new debate on how the city handles such situations.
In June, Durham resident Khalil Nasir complained to city officials about “ghost bikes” – bicycles painted white and placed along roads where a cyclist has died – near the intersections of University Drive and U.S. 15-501 and Chapel Hill Road and West Chapel Hill Street. The bikes memorialized Kent Winberry, 52, who died in October and Joshua Johnson, 33, who died in August 2013.
On July 22, Nasir also complained about a memorial near the intersection of Hillandale Road and Interstate 85. That ghost bike memorializes Seth Vidal, who died after he was struck by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bike on Hillandale in July 2013.
The complaints started the clock for a city policy that states memorials on city property can remain, but will be removed within 45 days after someone complains.
Nasir declined to comment beyond stating in an email, that “If a policy is in place for memorials in the city of Durham that’s my stance.”
The first two ghost bikes were removed.
But after learning about the third complaint, about the one on Hillandale, Eunice Chang, Elizabeth Witzke, and Carrie Orlikowski wrote an open letter to the city. The letter criticized the city for a policy that gives so much power to one person.
“This is at best misguided, and at worst a gross infringement of the free speech rights of those impacted,” the letter states.
Chang was Vidal’s partner. Orlikowski was a friend of Vidal. Witzke was Winberry’s partner.
The letter goes on to ask for changes in the policy to require complainants attest under oath that they live or work within one-fourth mile of the memorial and specify how it is a nuisance. Then the city along with the Durham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission should determine if the memorial is a nuisance. An appeals process should also be established, the letter states. Chang also set up an online petition at Change.org calling for the city to change the roadside memorial policy. As of 10 a.m. Friday, the petition had 1,055 supporters.
While officials sympathize with residents who’ve lost loved ones, city officials have to balance that with public safety and others’ use of city facilities, city spokeswoman Beverly Thompson said in an email.
This policy, approved by the City Council in December, was meant to strike that balance by allowing the memorial to stay in place for up to 45 days, if it is not deemed to interfere with public use and safety, Thompson wrote.
There are no plans to re-examine the policy, she wrote.
The policy was established to provide some consistency for the treatment of memorials on city property after a memorial was erected at the Durham Police Department following the November 2013 death of teenager Jesus Huerta, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.
But Chang, 37, said the bike is more than a personal reminder of her loss, but a public service that raises awareness about hazardous situations and the consequences of unsafe driving.
“Areas where the ghost bikes exist or used to exist, there is little to no bike infrastructure,” she said in an e-mail, “and efforts to change that have been either very slow or nonexistent.”
Kendra Bridges, chair of the Durham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, said the issue has been discussed by a subcommittee, but not yet by the entire board.
Personally, Bridges said, she thinks ghost bikes do let people know that someone was tragically killed there and mark a safety concern.
Nasir, however, sees the situation differently.
Nasir wrote in his June complaint that he has been a resident since 2006 and is bicyclist.
“It is a tremendous eyesore to pull up at the light and see a white bicycle attached to a pole with artificial flowers and with a giant ant pile growing around the bike,” he wrote. “As a city we need to continue to make beautification projects such as new subdivisions and commercial developments and not seeing these bikes throughout the city.”
What do you think?
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