State removes 'ghost bike' tribute to cyclist

April 12, 2011 

Sometime Monday night or Tuesday morning, the ghost bike vanished. Sometime soon another one may take its place.

In the week following 36-year-old bicyclist Wil Curry's death in a collision with a Toyota Camry at Tudor Road and C Street, a mystery memorial appeared at the busy Midtown intersection. Called a "ghost bike," the all-white road bicycle was chained to a metal traffic light and draped in flowers.

Like a 21-gun salute for cyclists and a reminder for drivers to use caution, similar monuments appear all over whenever a bicyclist is killed. A website, www.ghostbikes.org, maps the tributes in 22 countries and teaches friends and family how to make their own.

But the Alaska Department of Transportation removed the Anchorage ghost bike this week, calling the tribute a potential safety hazard.

"We felt an obligation to go out and remove that obstacle," said Transportation Department spokesman Rick Feller.

The bicycle is now in a state maintenance garage in Anchorage -- the same place the state takes illegal campaign signs during election season -- waiting for someone to claim it, he said.

"At worst it can be an object that, if there's an accident at that intersection, can present another item that flies through a window or somehow otherwise injures people," Feller said of the state laws against placing things in public rights of way.

Still, the busy Midtown crossing where Curry died may not be bare for long.

A group dedicated to improving bicycle safety in the city, Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage, has been in talks with the department to place another ghost bike in the area. One that the state won't take away.

While state law allows for roadside memorials under certain conditions, Feller wasn't making any promises Tuesday.

"I don't think it has been ruled out or ruled against at this point of time," he said.

Curry was hit just after midnight on April 5 while biking to his girlfriend's house, his roommate has said. Police have not charged the driver of the Camry, Melinda Talaro, who was headed south on C Street and making a right turn onto Tudor, said police spokeswoman Marlene Lammers.

The accident is still under investigation. A traffic fatality investigator is still receiving reports from police officers who responded to the crash, Lammers said.

Meantime, some of Curry's friends said they don't know who put the first ghost bike at the intersection but they were sad to see it gone on Tuesday.

Curry's girlfriend, Allison Theriault, initially heard it had been stolen rather than confiscated.

"It was such a beautiful memorial to a much loved man, and to discover it stolen just leaves me completely at a loss for words," she wrote in an email.

The Anchorage bicycle commuters group plans to hold a 1.5-mile memorial bike ride at about 5:30 p.m. Friday from Curry's workplace at GCI to the intersection where he died.

"We're expecting his family to attend and so we will have a small, quiet memorial. We will put the (new) ghost bike up and have a moment of silence," said president Brian Litmans.

On Tuesday afternoon, half a dozen drying bouquets surrounded the light post at the northeast corner of the intersection. There was a candle. A poem. A broken lock.

Bicycle commuter Danny Templeton, cycling south along C Street, stopped his black Specialized Hardrock in the dirt and waited for the light. Templeton works in the Frontier Building a couple of blocks away and commutes every day from Jewel Lake.

Cars flooded by along Tudor Road.

"My wife worries about me all the time. Especially in winter," Templeton said. Just that morning a white pickup nearly hit him at an intersection where the cyclist had the signal to cross, he said.

"I had my light going here. I had my vest. Red helmet. I feel pretty visible," Templeton said, gesturing to the lamp strapped to his helmet and his orange-and-yellow safety vest.

He jabbed the round signal button on the light post.

Someone had taped a picture of Curry to the metal below. Lower still was a note written in black marker, telling the day Curry died. "Please ride safe," it said.

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