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ODOT has removed Brett Jarolimek’s ghost bike: Here’s why

Posted by on December 15th, 2011 at 10:56 am

A ghost bike for Brett Jarolimek (L) has been removed by ODOT.


Earlier this month, crews with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) removed the white ghost bike with the cardboard sign attached to it that read, “Brett Jarolimek 1976 – 2007″.

The bike was placed up in the bushes and against a road sign near the intersection of N. Interstate and Greeley — the same intersection that claimed Jarolimek’s life on October 22, 2007.

ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton told me this morning that the bike was removed as per the agency’s policy. “State highways are not a bulletin board,” he said, “We have to make sure anything that goes under the side of one of our roads is safe and doesn’t cause distraction for road users.” (Interstate isn’t an ODOT-managed road, but the intersection is under an ODOT highway on-ramp.)

Hamilton added that ODOT is open to discussing more permanent memorials, but they’ve got to go through a more formal vetting process. On that note, it’s important to recall the history of this location.

Just a few months after Jarolimek’s death, a beautiful stencil painting of him appeared on a concrete wall just a few feet away from the collision. ODOT painted over the stencil, but not before struggling with the decision.

Then a few months later a previous ghost bike for Brett was stolen, only to be returned a few days later by a remorseful thief.

Plans for a permanent memorial surfaced soon after that episode and, while the plans progressed, the actual project never got off the ground.

For their part, I’ve confirmed with ODOT’s Region 1 manager Jason Tell that they’re still interested and willing to allow a permanent memorial. I’ll keep you posted on any developments.

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  • Scott December 15, 2011 at 11:18 am

    I was wondering what happened here. I always found the ghost bike and the beautiful stenciled painting a sobering reminder of caution when traveling our roads.

    I have been ashamed to see the lack of maintenance and weeds that have grown up in the area nicely paved with bricks below the original mural. Perhaps we should take the time to pull the weeds as well.

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  • ofoab December 15, 2011 at 11:27 am

    adopt a ghost bike,lest we forget; The Ride of Silence needs many more riders to make up for the ones we are losing !

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  • kittens December 15, 2011 at 11:28 am

    oh yes this is totally distracting, while all the massive 14×48′ illuminated billboards across the state are not. Their sole-purpose is to distract drivers! I’d also suggest it is a first amendment issue. By continuing to allow billboards aimed at highways and freeways as long as they are on private lands they have invalidated their rationale.

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  • chad December 15, 2011 at 11:31 am

    “State highways are not a bulletin board,…” Seriously? Have you driven down McLoughlin lately? There are at least two seriously distracting electronic billboards that blink bright LED light at drivers as they speed through West Moreland and Sellwood. If a ghost bike needs to be removed as to not distract drivers, surely flashing billboards the size of a small house should also be removed. Oh, wait, that might hurt business for Clear Channel or AT&T. Never mind.

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  • David M December 15, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Suddenly it is a problem after four years?

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

    RE: the complaints about the “distractions” double standard with electronic billboards.

    I agree that those billboards are a step toward more distraction… but comparing them to random, grassroots memorials isn’t really a good comparison.

    There is a whole system of regulation and precedence around billboards that doesn’t exist with roadside memorials.

    I’d rather argue that we need a new law that allows roadside memorials and/or makes it more of a program that is accessible to the community.

    For me, the glaring double standard in all this is how the Oregon legislature this year passed a roadside memorial bill for fallen law enforcement officers… But they’ve twice voted down a similar bill that would have honored people killed while bicycling.

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    • are December 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm

      billboard should be regulated a lot more than they are, and yes, that is an unrelated problem, except as ODoT trots out the “distraction” argument. but then, absent legislation imposing tighter restrictions on billboards, ODoT has no authority there, whereas here they apparently do. interesting question who owns the bridge support.

      but i also do not much care if the legislature wants to put money into roadside memorials for dead police officers, and i would not expect the state to pay for memorials for anyone else killed in traffic. the ghost bike has always been, and i would hope will always be a grassroots, impromptu act of benign “vandalism,” which you might expect the traffic control people to take down. and then you put another one right back up. and keep putting up the stencil and letting them paint it over.

      there is a permanent war on here, between vulnerable users and the careless operators of motorized vehicles. the ghost bike and the stencil are propaganda weapons in that war. i do not ask the state to pay for it or condoneit or formalize it with a green box and an electrified signboard.

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  • sorebore December 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

    I would like restate my idea for a petition to have the stencil art of Brett that was done under the overpass allowed to be put back in place. It was tasteful, showed Brett enjoying what he loved to do, and would also serve as a model to our city that street art can be embraced. Does ODOT control the bridge, or is it federal property? anyone know?

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  • Joe December 15, 2011 at 11:41 am

    We all need the reminder to drive safe and its more then getting from point A – B. when we loose a fallin rider, or rider down message it might wake some up to slow down and pay attention? * my heart remains on the street I ride on *

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  • Chris I December 15, 2011 at 11:50 am

    I like the idea of allowing roadside memorials. It’s a good reminder that driving is the deadliest activity the majority of our population. Do they get in the way of weed removal activities or something? Is there a legitimate reason for ODOT to object?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 15, 2011 at 11:54 am

      I think a key issue at play is ODOT doesn’t want to get into a position where they let these memorials stay in place and then some group places something with a message or object that is inflammatory or inappropriate then says to ODOT: “Why can’t we put our our message, you let people place other things! Do you have a formal policy about this?!” To which ODOT would be caught in a sticky spot.

      Again, I think the winning move here is to work with ODOT and the legislature to pass a law that formalizes a program wherein anyone killed while using the public right of way is eligible to have a memorial put up in their memory. We have the precedent of the police one passed this year. Just copy/paste the bill text and replace the “police” part with “killed while bicycling, walking, rolling, or driving” on Oregon roads.

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      • sorebore December 15, 2011 at 12:17 pm

        They may seem drab and uniform, but do other states not have some type of standardized roadside marker for accidents involving fatalities?

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        • sorebore December 16, 2011 at 11:58 am

          My comment was more to seeing the “home made” memorials replaced by an official state marker. I have no opinion of “car memorials” being any more or less of an eyesore than a ghost bike simply out of politics. Actually, I find both equally so. As a cyclist If myself or any one in my family had a ghost bike, I would want it removed. just my opinion.

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      • Gabriel Amadeus December 15, 2011 at 4:15 pm

        They’re already in that postion. What about the thousands of auto-related roadside memorials? ie: https://www.google.com/search?q=roadside+memorial&hl=en&safe=off&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=XI3qTp3bMaGniQLPwPWBBA&ved=0CE4QsAQ&biw=1584&bih=898

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        • Gabriel Amadeus December 15, 2011 at 4:17 pm

          Oh, now I see many others have brought up that point too. Definitely seems like a double standard.

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          • JRB December 15, 2011 at 5:35 pm

            My recollection is that ODOT does not disturb the memorials put up by family members of people killed in auto accidents. This definitely seems like a double standard to me.

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  • stace December 15, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    In Montana (at least when I used to live there), road side memorials were common. I had never seen any thing like them before moving there. They were certainly a sobering reminder to be alert and drive safe. You could drive along roads for hours and not pass another car, but pass several memorials, reminding you that people have died along this very same path due to an automobile crash. Very sobering, and a nice way to honor a person who has died by hoping that it might help prevent another crash. Now living in Portland, ghost bike and other roadside memorials serve that same purpose, a reminder that our lives on this planet are vulnerable and we should be conscious to protect our lives and the lives of others. If the ghost bike must be removed, I would like to see some sort of memorial that creates the same awareness.

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    • Otto December 15, 2011 at 12:27 pm

      They’re common in CA too but are sometimes activist driven, rather than just a memorial. A totaled car from a drunk driving accident would be placed under an intersection bridge. There are also too many informal wreath or flower memorials to count. Distracting? Yes. But effective. Bicyclists should be allowed to do the same here.

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  • Joe Adamski December 15, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Across the State I spot ad hoc memorials on all types of roads, local, State and Federal. Small crosses, often adorned with flowers, flags,etc. marking fatalities( I presume) of motor vehicle wrecks. Many have been in place for year, some attended, some not.
    Not a ‘double standard’ in place here, but a triple standard.
    Glaring oversized signs are protected as ‘free speech’.
    Motorists memorials are ok.
    Cyclist memorials aren’t.
    We are all equal, but some are more equal than others.

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    • 9watts December 15, 2011 at 2:54 pm

      I’d like to hear ODOT’s response to Joe’s points above. He said it very well, I think.

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    • jim December 19, 2011 at 8:25 pm

      Where is there a “Motorist” memorial?

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  • Caroline December 15, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    ODOT you are a grinch! And to whomever kept stealing the faux flowers I kept putting on Brett’s bike, I hope they really impressed your date.

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  • Machu Picchu December 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Maybe proposing a design for a universal memorial in advance of approaching the legislature is a good idea. Something conservative, and not distracting, but instantly recognizable to the educated passerby.

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  • ME Fitz December 15, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Jonathan – Do you know who’s land it is? While ODOT may manage within their right of way, they may not have total authority of the area.

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  • q`Tzal December 15, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Someone in Portland needs to make Ghost Bikes out of something worthless to thieves like plastic, lint or pennies. Fill the fake frame with concrete.

    Instead of attaching them to government (DOT) owned infrastructure show up with a post hole digger, instant concrete and some tie down cable.

    Set a 6″ diameter 24″ deep footing in a hole with the cheap cable holding down materially worthless plastic Ghost Bike memorial.

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    • are December 15, 2011 at 8:28 pm

      most ghost bikes are made from sufficiently trashed parts that a thief should not want them

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      • jim December 19, 2011 at 8:23 pm

        look at the picture- no crankset

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  • Andycigarettes December 15, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Well. If it’s not “official”, then let’s put it back up!

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  • Grandpa December 16, 2011 at 7:32 am

    I support the removal of the memorials. I admit that this is a sensitive subject as Brett was a friend to bloggers here. Next to rural roads the cheap plastic flowers, teddy bears and 2×4 crosses become just more litter. It is admitted that ghost bikes are “trashy” and could easily be considered an eyesore. Everyone dies, and lots die on roads, but a home spun memorial at every intersection and off-camber turn will just be more visual clutter.

    I see no evidence that the memorials alter the behavior of drivers. Most drivers remain ignorant of the the weight of their responsibility or the lethal nature of their inattention while behind the wheel. If you want to alter driver’s behavior petition legislators to require serious training and testing before getting licenses, get laws changed that put teeth into driver safety laws and insist that serious punishment be imposed on traffic law violators. This will do more than spray painting a derelict bike and chaining it to a sign.

    If one wants to honor the dead buy a tombstone, plant a tree, write a poem or throw a wake. Remember them and honor that memory, but don’t insist that all road users join you at the funeral.

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  • GlowBoy December 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    What I want to see is South Dakota style memorials everywhere there’s been a death.

    In S.D., they put up a small sign that says “Think!” and “Why Die?” in EVERY location where there is a fatality. If there have been multiple deaths at a location, then there are multiple signs. The signs are small enough, and mounted lower than normal signs, that they don’t compete with normal regulatory and advisory signs.

    And when you come up to an intersection with a dozen THINK! signs at it, you’d better believe it makes you think.

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  • Skid December 19, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    I’ve got an idea. Let Tiago DeJerk re-create his mural there.

    And if you want a ghost bike with a little care and craftsmanship into it I am willing to donate my time and skill.

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  • Skid December 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    They can step into the 21st century by accepting that alternative art and sculpture are valid forms of expression, even though they don’t generate revenue. They are no more of a distraction than anything else and certainly not vandalism and litter.

    And artists can step into the 21st century and go through all the bureaucratic red tape.

    I think this is a workable compromise for a permanent Brett Jarolimek Memorial.

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    • Bob_M December 19, 2011 at 4:32 pm

      Is “no more of a distraction than anything else and certianly not vandalism or litter” the threshold for what constitutes art?
      If I am killed while riding my bike I don’t want my memorial to be a discarded bike painted ghost white.

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      • are December 19, 2011 at 9:19 pm

        if you are killed while riding your bike, already at least one thing has happened that you did not want. the ghost bike is as much (or more) a statement to the motoring (and cycling) public to watch the h*ll out as/than it is a memorial to an individual cyclist.

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