Durham News: Opinion

Gaspo: More (or less) from man against ghost bikes

By Tom Gasparoli

The ghost bikes removal has received considerable attention and rightly so. It involves bike riders, loved ones, who were killed on our roads while trying to share them with cars.

The ghost bike memorials are haunting and to many, beautiful. I remember the first time I saw one at the corner of University Drive and U.S. 15-501.

Waiting at the light at night, I looked over and saw the near-silhouetted white outline of the bicycle. I stopped nearby. Walked over and looked at the striking memory of – and message about – a rider lost. It stays with you.

A man named Khalil Nasir has now argued successfully to city officials that three ghost bikes should be removed under city policy.

Three different ghost bike memorials are gone.

If one person protests, the ghost bikes can apparently be ordered to disappear. Democracy at work, protecting against the tyranny of the majority, I suppose.

When I read Nasir’s correspondence with the city, it seemed a good idea to learn more about what looks like a one-man movement to have Durham roadways free of ghost bikes. There are errors or typos in some of his text.

From a July 22 email: “People have been asking me about the removal of this ghost bikes through out the City.”

Really?

A June 22 note: “I assume to morn the death of a bicyclist, which I can understand because I am a bicyclist also but this can not continue.”

Why not? Why is he so fired up, so ... uncompromising?

Nasir was also disturbed by what he said was a “giant ant pile growing around the bike,” the one near the Q Shack.

“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.”

More commercial developments that beautify? Ghost bikes apparently stand in the way.

Protest against Nasir’s lone protestations came quickly. But he’s a kept a near no-profile ever since.

What prompted him to emerge with his strong sentiments when he did?

Nasir is listed at Duke as a Safety & Health Specialist in the Occupational & Environmental Safety Office, according to the university’s website.

I called him and said I was working on a column.

His immediate reply was: “I have been told not to respond to questions on that matter.”

Who would tell him that and why? Second, why would Nasir initially be so driven about ghost bikes and now withdraw to the comfort of no comment.

I asked who told him not to talk. “I don’t have a comment.”

I told him I wanted to understand what fueled his unyielding passion to have ghost bike memorials moved away.

“It’s not my opinion,” Nasir said. “It’s the ordinance of the city.”

“There are a lot of ordinances,” I said.

“I don’t have anything else to say,” he said.

I mentioned his emails, inquired about those people asking him about removing ghost bikes.

“Those are my comments right there,” he said.

Somewhere in the chat he added, “The city owns what it owns.”

Well, that’s true.

The conversation, though succinct, was instructive. It heightened my feeling that Nasir’s actions and words appear perplexing at best. They just don’t register right.

At worst, some might think them heartless.

“We all mourn our love ones but it should not be at the cost of the City,” he wrote.

In the notes I saw, Nasir, a safety and health specialist by title, never articulated that he thought the memorials were unsafe.

On the phone, I thanked the ghost bike protester for his time.

Khalil Nasir loosened up at last, and said, “Alright, man, have a good one.”

Click.

Um, you too, man.

You can reach Tom Gasparoli at tgaspo@gmail.com or 919-219-0042.

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