Ghost Bikes

At This Week's Ride of Silence, Raising Awareness of Cyclist Fatalities

BikeHouston and Mayor Sylvester Turner hope to decrease Houston's high rate of pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

By Katharine Shilcutt May 16, 2016

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The annual Ride of Silence meets at City Hall.

Nearly one year ago, three cyclists were killed on Houston streets in the span of just three weeks. The first was David Rosenfeld, struck by a car in Bellaire while riding to a memorial for a fellow cyclist who'd been killed while riding in Galveston. The 47-year-old Rosenfeld left behind a wife and three children when he passed away the morning after being hit. Rosenfeld's death wasn't an isolated incident, nor were the fates of the two additional cyclists killed in the following two weeks last summer; instead, these deaths are part of a growing trend.

From New York City to San Francisco, cyclist deaths are spiking across the nation. Ironically, child deaths have dropped dramatically over the past 40 years thanks to an emphasis on helmets and overall bike safety, but it's adults—not children—who are taking their bikes onto busy city streets in increasing numbers. As such, NPR reported last year, the mortality rate for cyclists between the ages of 35 and 54 has tripled in the last 40 years. Houston is not exempt from that trend, as most visibly evidenced by the growing number of white ghost bikes across town: six installed in memory of the six cyclists lost in 2014, six more in 2015, and four already this year. Frustratingly, charges are rarely brought against the drivers responsible.

"More than 30,000 Americans die on our roadways every year, more than most other developed countries," says Will Bruce, communications manager for BikeHouston. Studies from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration back him up, their numbers bearing out the fact that being a pedestrian or cyclist on U.S. streets is quickly becoming more dangerous than being a driver. "Furthermore," says Bruce, "Houston's fatality rate is higher than most other American cities."

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The Ride of Silence is attended by civilian and law enforcement cyclists alike.

This week's Ride of Silence, an annual event held in cities across the nation, is a testament and tribute to Houston's lost cyclists. It begins at 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18 on the steps of City Hall with solemn opening remarks from Mayor Sylvester Turner. "Mayor Turner has been very supportive of the Houston Bike Plan and encouraging people to ride," says Bruce. The ride itself begins at 7 p.m., "in honor of anyone injured or killed in a collision or crash and to raise awareness around the fact that people on bikes are legally able and often encouraged to ride on most roadways throughout Texas and the United States," Bruce says.

Participants in the ride, which is slow-paced and silent, are asked to wear white—the same, intentional color as Houston's many ghost bikes. "This is a powerful message to those that see the ride," says Bruce. Helmets, of course, are also required, as are lights. It's all in keeping with the primary mission of BikeHouston, which aims to make cycling a safe, enjoyable option for all Houstonians by raising awareness, whether during its Bike to Work days or its powerful Ride of Silence. 

"At BikeHouston," says Bruce, "we envision a future where Houstonians have safe transportation options and streets that are built for all users, not just cars."

Ride of Silence, Wednesday, May 18, 6:30 p.m. City Hall, 901 Bagby St. Free. In case of rain, the ride will be rescheduled for Saturday, May 21.

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