Ghost bikes in Edmonton act as memorial, raise awareness


Ghost bike memorial installed for the death of a cyclist in the street.
The most recent ghost bike memorial installed in Edmonton. Photo credit: Robyn Petrik

If you go through the intersection of 100 Avenue and 112 Street, you’ll see a ghost bicycle leaning against a light post on the southwest corner, a heartfelt memorial to an Edmonton cyclist who was recently struck by a garbage truck and killed. 

Painted all white, a ghost bike is a memorial placed at a site where a cyclist was killed on the street. Ghost bikes were first created in St. Louis, Missouri, back in 2003, and to date, ghost bikes have been placed in over 200 cities or locations worldwide.  

After a series of cyclist deaths here in Edmonton in 2007, the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters’ Society worked together with Michael Kalmanovitch, owner of Earth’s General Store, to bring the ghost bike memorial to our city. Michael was aware of the ghost bike in other regions, and has played a big hand in creating and placing the memorials here in Edmonton ever since.

This most recent bike in the Grandin neighbourhood is the 15th that Michael and the EBC have installed, and they keep a list of the memorials online.  Every time they install a ghost bike, they hope that it is the last one, but as explained on their website, they “remain committed to installing these memorials as long as they are needed.”  In fact, Chris Chan, the executive director of the EBC, says that they keep a white painted bike at the ready in their community workshop just in case it’s needed.  

A ghost bike, prepped and kept ready by the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters' Society
Photo credit: Edmonton Bicycle Commuters’ Society

As the EBC is almost entirely volunteer run, they will install a ghost bike memorial as quickly as they can after a cyclist is killed in traffic, which, including transport and set up, can take just a few days.  There is no need for the family to request the ghost bike memorial first, but if a family requests the removal of a ghost bike for any reason, the EBC will comply with the family’s wishes.  “Usually families appreciate the memorial though,” Chris says.

A sign hangs from the handlebars of the ghost bike explaining to visitors or passersby what the memorial is all about, and which can also be found on the EBC website and  ‘The installations are meant as reminders of the tragedy that took place, and as quiet statements in support of the right of cyclists and pedestrians to safe travel. For those who create and install the memorials, the death of a fellow cyclist hits home. We all travel the same streets and face the same risks, and realize it could just as easily be any one of us.”

Chris echoes these same sentiments in his own words.  “Ghost bikes serve two purposes. First, and primarily, they are memorials: a focal point to remember, to mourn, to gather around. Family, friends, and anyone who’s affected gather at the memorial. Secondly, ghost bikes serve as a broader reminder to all road users — pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike — that we all share the streets and need to watch out for each other.”

The memorial seems to serve its purpose well.  During the few minutes I spent at this latest memorial on 100 Avenue, nearly a dozen pedestrians noticed the ghost bike, slowed down to give it a second glance, and even stopped in their tracks to read the sign and spend a few moments in reflection.  

Courage and strength, written on a stone and left at the Edmonton ghost bike memorial.
Photo credit: Robyn Petrik

The ghost bike was also accompanied by fresh flowers and other tokens of memory and respect for the late cyclist. While we hope, just like the EBC, we never need to see another ghost bike like this in Edmonton, we can find some comfort from this meaningful memorial, and remind ourselves as pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists to keep an eye out for each other.