Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

A missing ghost bike and thoughts of a permanent memorial

Posted by on April 18th, 2008 at 9:45 am

Interstate and Greeley-1.jpg

(Photo © J. Maus)

As many readers have already noticed, the ghost bike for Brett Jarolimek at N. Interstate and Greeley has gone missing — again.

Back in February, a confused thief took the bike, only to return it soon after with an apologetic note.

This time, the bike has been stashed along the side of the N Greeley Avenue about a mile away and the mementos at the site have been strewn about in bushes nearby.

(Photo by Andy Askren)

After receiving several emails about this in last few days, I stopped by the site yesterday. I gathered what I could of the mementos (a bunch of peacock feathers, a laminated photograph of Brett and his friends, a bike pump, a water bottle) from the bushes, attached a bouquet of silk flowers to the pole where the bike used to be, and cleaned up the area a bit.

I didn’t move the bike, because I didn’t realize where exactly it was until a few minutes ago. I assume it’s still leaning against the retaining wall like in the photo at right (taken on Saturday 4/12).

This situation renewed my interest in a short conversation I had with ODOT’s Jason Tell a few weeks ago — and then followed-up on with a longer conversation at his Portland office on Wednesday. Mr. Tell is the regional manager for ODOT and he has expressed a desire to hear what the community thinks about how/if we should consider a more permanent memorial to Brett — in addition to possibly creating a more generic bike mural/memorial at a separate location.


This stencil was painted over
by ODOT maintenance crews.

Back in December, ODOT crews painted over a stencil of Brett on the underpass adjacent to where the collision occurred. I believe they were sincerely conflicted in making that decision, and I understand why they had to do it.

Now, Mr. Tell is willing to consider the possibility of a new painting, that would have some sort of official sanction from ODOT and perhaps the City of Portland.

His first idea was to create a mural at a different location, one that would give the community more space to gather and appreciate the mural away from a busy intersection. As he envisions it, the mural would become not just a piece of public art for the community, but could also serve as a meeting place — a place to gather and to grieve together when/if necessary, a place to meet for rides, and a place to celebrate bikes in general.

Mr. Tell said he started thinking about a permanent memorial after he watched the memorial sign bill fail in Salem twice in the past two years.

During our discussion, I shared with Mr. Tell my enthusiasm for his bike mural idea, but I also said we can’t forget about also creating something permanent at the Interstate-Greeley intersection. He understood my thoughts about the significance of that intersection to the community and he plans to work on how to make a permanent memorial at that location possible.

As for a larger, more general mural, he says there are several possible locations under consideration. One of the top choices so far is the wall of the Failing Street bike/ped bridge across I-5 in North Portland.

The wall on the eastern side of the Failing St. bike/ped bridge
is a possible site for a future bike mural.
(Photo © J. Maus)

I’m personally conflicted about memorials. On one hand I realize the need to never forget those we’ve lost and to never forget that we must stay vigilant — not just on the road as we ride, but in our work to make those roads safer.

However, I also don’t want to send the wrong message to the broader community. There’s already enough misplaced fear about the perceived dangers of biking and I feel too much focus on memorials (like the Ride of Silence for example) can sometimes have a negative overall impact on pushing our goals forward.

What do you think?

    Do we need to memorialize those who have lost their lives while riding a bike?

    Should we work to get a bike mural in addition to a permanent memorial at Interstate and Greeley?

    If so, where should that mural be?

    And, if a permanent mural was created, should it focus on fallen cyclists or have a more general message?

Please share your thoughts, and remember this conversation is just beginning (no decisions and no promises have been made yet)…


*There is a benefit event for the Brett Jarolimek Memorial Fund on May 1st. Go here for more details.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • pdxrocket April 18, 2008 at 9:50 am

    It would be nice for the city to have a central location for a mural/fallen list; something to honor the bike stricken. Of course a good location where folks bike so we can pay our respects. That way we don\’t have to always worry about \’ghost bikes\’ and murals scattered about.

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  • Andy A April 18, 2008 at 10:04 am

    When I saw Brett\’s bike gone – again – last Saturday morning on my ride, I was really disappointed. When I spotted it not too far away from where it should\’ve been, I was sickened. Pointless, gutless, mindless vandalism made easy by its unfortunate location.

    I think its location will always be prone to that behavior, but the location is what needs to be remembered. The stencil mural was, to me, powerful in its simplicity and presence. A reminder, a farewell, a signature, a celebration all at once. But the key to it was its location.

    While a more general mural representing all fallen cyclists has its positives, I think moving Brett\’s would be a real shame and dilute the purpose of marking its place in our lives and our hearts. As I said, if it were me, that original stencil would be back up and put on permanent display. An icon of the cycling community\’s connection to our great city and vice versa.

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  • DJ Hurricane April 18, 2008 at 10:07 am

    That mural of Brett is so unique and powerful, I would like to see it go back up where it was to restore and preserve our memory of the spontaneous outpouring of grief it was.

    On a broader note, we as a community should think seriously about doing something conspicuous to raise awareness about how many people are killed on the roads. People driving cars kill approx. 42,000 Americans each year. This safety issue is what keeps more people off bikes and it should be our singular focus as bike advocates. It\’s time to end this violence.

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  • Stacy Westbrook April 18, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Ghost bikes and memorials are moving, but the non-biking public needs to know what they are in order for the memorial to have real power. I know so many people who are sympathetic to cycling and the tragedies of the last year, but who had no idea what the white bikes were all about.

    Perhaps permanent memorials would serve as better reminders to all commuters that safety is everyone\’s concern. However, I think they\’ll only be informative if people know what they are and why they\’re important.

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  • Jeff Guard April 18, 2008 at 10:26 am

    I feel you need to continue the dialogue with ODOT. I lean towards having them at or close to where the incidents happen. The power of the awareness message is strengthened when we relate it to that particular site.

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  • Ron April 18, 2008 at 10:35 am

    I am 100% in favor of putting the stencil mural back up in the original location. I thought it was powerful, beautiful, and respectful.

    Of course, assuming the city will agree to having it placed there, it will still be under constant threat of being painted over by graffiti.

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  • Zaphod April 18, 2008 at 10:56 am

    I\’m conflicted. On the one hand, the location has strong meaning. On the other, the area is industrial and unattractive so creation of/investment in a memorial surrounded by so much ugliness seems off. All of that said, I do feel like it *belongs* there.

    Here\’s an idea for a more permanent memorial structure versus easily vandalized paint. Take the existing Brett stencil and create a copy out of thick plate steel and paint it white. Attach this to a solid surface painted black with two inches or so of airspace in between. Clearly this would be a major effort but if we find ourselves in a position to do this, it\’s a powerful image that speaks to the optimism and happiness of a bicycling life while paying respect to the sadness that we feel.

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  • Stripes April 18, 2008 at 11:08 am

    I think GhostBikes are absolutely beautiful, poignant, and communicate an important message via a very visceral medium about the need for us all to share the road to get where we\’re going.

    My two cents 🙂

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  • tonyt April 18, 2008 at 11:23 am

    Having lived on Failing Street, and heard all the jokes about the \”Failing Bike/Ped Bridge,\” (doesn\’t exactly fill you with confidence) I\’m wondering if it might not be cool to rename the bridge?

    It\’s not like it HAS to the same name as the street that feeds into it. I don\’t know.

    Rename the bridge and put a memorial there?

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  • tonyt April 18, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Ron #6,

    One of the problems is that it\’s ODOT, not PDOT, so it\’s the state that we\’d have to deal with, which is a bigger pain obviously than the city.

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  • Lenny Anderson April 18, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    ODOT allows crosses along state highways where fatal crashes have occurred. Why not here? Once the right turn pavement is removed, a small planted area with native grass/flowers could be installed and a memorial mural, incorporating the powerful image of a racing Brett, would be very fitting on the ugly concrete wall. Keeping its walls empty and ugly is an anal policy that\’s got to go. Let\’s keep pushing ODOT on this.

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  • Matt Picio April 18, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    This is meant with deep respect to those who have lost loved ones:

    We, as a society, cannot continue putting up a memorial for every fallen cyclist, pedestrian, motorist, etc. in the locations in which they fell. Eventually we will run out of room. Maybe not this year, or even in 20 years, but consider that each of these roadside memorials also serves to distract people at the very moment and in the very places where they should be paying attention to the road and the people on and around it.

    We absolutely should have some sort of memorial *somewhere*, and it should be clearly identified as such.

    To be honest, I\’m somewhat conflicted, because maybe if we had a memorial in every location where anyone died, motorists might pay more attention and be more careful about how they drove, and we wouldn\’t lose 40,000 people each year to motor vehicles. Then again, we (Americans) have shown a remarkable ability to rapidly become inured to that which is ever-present.

    To those who have lost loved ones to careless motorists, I don\’t know what the answer is, but as someone who\’s lost a loved one suddenly and without warning, you have my empathy, my compassion, and my shared sorrow.

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  • todd k. April 18, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    It may not necessarily be a matter of one site or the other. Both may have merit and serve slightly different purposes.

    Memorials can serve as a place to grieve, a reminder, a spring board for education, a tribute, symbolize a specific problem, etc.

    Memorial placement plays a large role in shaping the context of that message. A tribute at an accident site generally serves as a reminder for a specific instance and specific individual. People can extrapolate that specific instance to other instances, but generally it remains heavily tied to a specific situation. This does not minimize its worth, as it communicates a message very well, particularly shortly after something tragic occurs. That is important as it helps a community bind together, particularly during a time of grief. The current use of ghost bikes as a memorial symbol, as seemingly temporary and vulnerable as they may appear due to the vandalism referenced, resonates in Portland quite well for those instances in which fatal tragedies occur. Because the symbol is common in its use, it is easily understood, and this also draws these accidents together which promotes a general message. Because these memorials are organically created, they serve and appear regardless of a permanency or vulnerability to vandalism. The ritual that accompanies the period of grieving that has come to accompany that symbol (memorial rides, impromptu gatherings at the site of a collision, for example) also reinforces its authenticity and validity.

    A permanent site not aligned to a specific accident can also have value, though. However, that type memorial may be better served if it was intentionally inclusive of all accidents. I think it would better highlight a general message of public education, particularly if that location lent itself to public gathering. These sites can serve similar purposes to those that are tied to specific accident site, but they also tend to lend themselves very well for rituals that involve healing. (Think of the impact of the Vietnam Wall Memorial, not located in Vietnam, but very symbolic of a collective sacrifice to a location far distant from the memorial and a site that has provided closure for many folks who were directly impacted by that war).

    Regarding whether or not memorials in general deter folks from joining the cycling ranks….I think folks who do not cycle due to fear tend to already possess this fear through general news. Memorials may not get folks on a bike, but it does help message to those individuals that there are people who do recognize that problems do exist, that there is a very active community that supports the solution of those problems and it provides hope that people are working to develop those solutions. No memorials, may suggests to folks that Portland is \”fine\” with the status quo and/or nothing is being done to address the problems that cause people to avoid cycling.

    Sorry this is so long.

    todd k.

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  • Ashley April 18, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Hmm…I feel strongly about the memorial for Brett stay at the site of the incident. I would love to see the stencil put back up.

    I worry about a large community space memorial. To what end does it seek to show? While I could see that it would be there to \”pay respects\” to those lost, it also has a weird morbidity to it, and can\’t be considered a positive message.

    It would be nice to see a general message mural, focused on education and awareness, along with the various other aspects involved in Portland transportation. We don\’t need to sugarcoat the problems we have, it\’s important to see them, but a memorial feels like an obscure direction to take.

    What is clear is a very definitive need for transportation safety campaign. The apathetic-taken-for-granted-not aware/paying attention attitude that seems to be seeping into cyclists, cars, pedestrians, etc. is really frightening.

    Last week a car didn\’t signal and ran me off the road. The morning I watched a cyclist blow two stop lights like she had carte blanc to run into traffic at will. And the numerous pedestrians at crosswalk corners waiting while cars and bikes alike, fail to yield to their right of way.

    Where are you going that you don\’t have time to show consideration to someone outside yourself?

    Brett stencil. Giant mural focused on a positive message (I like the Failing St idea). Campaign against negligence.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) April 18, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    I agree a lot with what Ashley says above.

    My preference would be to make the memorial a positive image of biking (but not water it down by including all modes like the Share the Road mural on Hawthorne does so well).

    Along with a general bike mural, I feel that something to commemorate Brett at Interstate and Greeley would also be welcomed.

    Keep in mind that with a Brett-specific memorial, ODOT has to consider that other people will come to them wondering if they can also do something similar for one of their friends or loved ones.

    will permanent stencils/memorials become a standard ODOT program? that would be a big deal and I wouldn\’t rule it out someday but it won\’t happen without a lot of work.

    The case i was making to Jason Tell was that the significance of Interstate/Greeley location transcends Brett\’s crash… that due to not only Brett but Siobhan and the defining moment in Portland bike history their crashes helped create (bike boxes, emergency safety meetings, changes in police personnel and practices, etc…), it deserves a permanent symbol.

    I think the stencil of Brett could perform that function and help remind Portlanders of that story.

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  • Daniel (teknotus) Johnson April 18, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Maybe ghost bikes need just a little bit done to them so that they are unridable. Less of a theft target then?

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  • Opus the Poet April 18, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    Hmmm… memorial to cyclists killed by cars.

    \”We dedicate this structure to those killed in the battle to free the world from motor vehicle dominance and Fossil Fuelishness.\”


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  • todd k. April 18, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    You are likely right Jonathan, ODOT would be in a predicament with other requests by other families and friends and these are hard to manage (or can produce ill will or feelings of trivialization if they are denied or handled incorrectly). (A central location that accommodated multiple murals could alleviate this concern in some regards, but I don’t disagree with Ashley’s assessment that these types of locations can have a morbid sense to them if the story behind the symbolism is consistently tragic.) That said, I don’t think that this predicament is avoidable when it comes to memorials of any sort and is not generally a location invoked concern, or really a cycling unique concern.

    You list very valid reasons why the Interstate/Greeley location transcends Brett’s crash and has in effect become a symbolic location in and of itself. It may be that the location in this instance is integral to the overall symbology and message that a memorial represents and the two cannot be meaningfully separated.

    As an aside, \”Campaign against negligence\” as a general transportation safety campaign is a great idea. Two days ago I plowed into a car after I was right hooked by the driver of that car (~t.v. highway in Beaverton). The cause of this incident was also negligence. (Driver made a bad decision that could have been avoided had she simply made the effort to look over her shoulder prior to starting her turn). It is a general root to many of these issues and I know my encounter is not unique. All messages aimed to reduce negligence throughout greater PDX would be welcome.

    todd k.

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  • Adam April 18, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Jonathan, you say you don\’t want to send the wrong message to the community with bike memorials. This being due to the fact that many are scared of riding a bike. Does a cemetery make us scared of life? I think memorials are an important reminder that we need to make the streets safer for everyone.

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  • Hm. April 18, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    I don\’t mean this to be offensive, but I don\’t think the Ghost Bikes have much impact on Drivers – even those of us who know what they are. I live in North Portland and drive by the Brett Memorial everyday. Now, I grant you that I did not know Brett personally, and that his death is a tragedy, but the physical presence of a ghost bike does nothing to remind me to share the road.

    Of course, I do already drive safe and share the road.

    Again, I am not saying this to be rude, or cold hearted, but because I think we really need to deeply consider the purpose and extent of memorials.

    People die everyday – many of them tragically – on our city streets, in our city buildings, and in the homes of our community. Are we to put memorials for every tragic death around the city? What effect do you expect them to honestly have?

    Bicyclists have been killed, either through the neglect of drivers, the neglect of our transportation engineers, or at times, their own neglect.

    But other people are killed too. People are murdered because our justice system can\’t protect them. People die of Cancer because Science and Doctor\’s can\’t save them, etc. People in other nations are dying because we can\’t come together as a global community to help each other. These are all tragic deaths.

    My friend\’s child recently passed away at 9 months old after a fight with brain cancer. I mean NO disrespect when I say that her death is every bit as important as Brett\’s death.

    Yet there are no clamoring for memorials for her sake. She was every bit the citizen, the human being, the life, the part of the community that fallen cyclists have been. Her death happened right here, just as Brett\’s did, in the City of Portland.

    Her death was just as useless, tragic, and awful as Brett\’s was. It was just as much of a failure.

    Her death caused just as much pain.

    But no one suggests that her life be remembered in some overtly public fashion. Her only memorial, besides the memory in the hearts of her friends and family, is a tree planted at her church.

    I believe there is a major conflict in putting the death of one person, or one group of people, above the deaths of another person, or another group of people. I find it hurtful, and offensive.

    That being said, I can understand the desire to have memorials. Why does it have to be on the public infrastructure? There are dozens of bike shops around town with exposed walls that could easily be modified to serve as a memorial to those lost in your community, as well easily viewable by the greater public for potentially educational purposes.

    Please understand that this was written by somebody outside of your bike community, but with no anger or malintention in my heart. These are just questions, and issues, that I really feel need to be answered before you will recieve the support of the most members of the Portland Community.

    Thank You

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  • Brian B April 18, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Perhaps an effect of the loss of someone\’s life- be it Brett Jarolimek or a friend\’s child- is that that death might initiate positive change. It won\’t bring that person back, nor may it alleviate the pain of loss, but maybe from that passing may come an opportunity to shift awareness, to teach, to inspire to action.
    The ghost bikes seem to (have) appear(ed) from that impulse.
    Like enigmatic \”non-uments.\”
    There, not there.
    Their deeper value may not be in their presence as memorials, but as exclamation points in the urban experience, eliciting wonder, curiosity, asking of questions, looking for answers.

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  • Hill April 19, 2008 at 7:06 am

    As someone who was struck by an inattentive driver,and walked away from it, I fully understand the need for public awareness in regards to bicyclists. I think roadside memorials and the ghost bike project is a good idea. However I think a larger type memorial in a public area would serve a larger purpose as well.

    It isn\’t just busy streets that accidents happen they happen on quiet streets, unknown industrial thoroughfares, subdivisions etc. Some of these locations many drivers may never venture down, hence they will never see the ghost bike or memorial, and even if they do, will they take time away from driving to look for very long? I think a memorial or fallen wall type of project in a public place which would be seen by the most possible people would serve a greater purpose. Imagine an ode to the cyclist that not only local people saw but anyone who visited Portland would see. Celebrate the way of the bicycle and in the same breath educate people about the real situation out there on the roads.

    I feel its a matter who are you doing it for. Are you doing it for just friends and family of the fallen man/or woman or are you doing it for society, and building awareness in a larger way.

    Just my 2 cents..

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  • ChipSeal April 19, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    How about a wall of shame? List the names of those who have killed or injured cyclists or pedestrians by their negligence in a public place.

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  • erin g. April 19, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Something must be done to make Brett\’s memorial place nice again- a place of memories, warmth, and grief expressed in colorful and poignant ways. Today I stopped at the site on way back from the Overlook Park Earth Day Celebration (great to see you at the event, Jonathan). I cleaned up some beer cans and other trash scattered at the site. It felt cold and lonely there without the mural and now no ghostbike or photos or notes. Jonathan, thank you for this coverage and for salvaging some of the remembrances that people left at the place where Brett was killed. I hope that everyone attends the upcoming benefit for his memorial fund.

    It was good to pause and reflect at the place where the grim spray-paint remains several yards west of the now-closed Greeley turn-off. It will be better to pause to reflect at the place once it is again more vibrant… with signs of memories and creativity expressed in memory this much-loved Portland community member. I hope that a legally accepted permanent version of the stencil appears someday.

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