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Memorial Honors Bike Rider Hit by Trash Truck

By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 10, 2008

The bicycle, painted stark white, chained to a traffic light just north of Dupont Circle and bearing a basket overflowing with flowers, put last night's frenzied evening rush in slow motion. Many commuters in cars, on foot and on two wheels stopped to read the attached sign: "Cyclist Struck Here."

It is known as a ghost bike, a memorial that has started appearing in cities around the world for cyclists killed on urban streets. The one placed last night at Connecticut Avenue and R Street NW was for Alice Swanson, 22, of Mount Pleasant, who was fatally struck at 7:40 a.m. Tuesday by a trash truck as she rode to work.

More than 150 people, many holding helmets and leaning on bikes, gathered at 6:30 p.m. for a dedication ceremony. The crowd included several Swanson family members.

"She's exactly the person you want as your daughter -- or niece," said Brookland resident Philip Blair Jr., Swanson's uncle.

Eric Gilliland, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and the coordinator of last night's service, said Swanson's death was sobering to many in the city's growing cycling community.

"We all love the excitement, joy and freedom of riding a bike, but it is at sad times such as this that we recognize just how vulnerable we can all be when we are out there enjoying the thing we love," Gilliland told the crowd. He urged a complete investigation by police.

Swanson was riding west on R Street NW, which has a dedicated bike lane, when she was struck by the trash truck as it turned right. As of last night, police had filed no charges against the truck's driver.

Right-turn collisions are one of the biggest hazards of urban cycling. Many of the accidents involve trucks, which have large blind spots on the right side.

Swanson's death comes as the District is attracting attention for its efforts to encourage two-wheel commuting and recreation.

The District was named as the country's most improved bicycling city in the June issue of Bicycling magazine. The city is adding miles of bike lanes, has started the country's first bike-sharing program, and installed valet bike parking at Nationals Park. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) is a triathlete who goes twice a week for training rides on his Cannondale road bike.

"Alice's death reminds us just how dangerous it is for bicyclists," said D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who attended last night's vigil and commutes by bicycle from his Capitol Hill home to the John A. Wilson Building downtown. "It reminds us how much work we have to do to make our city safe and that our streets belong to all of us."

Many who gathered at the memorial service said they thought it was important to band together as cyclists.

"It's a great way to get to work but at times it can be unsettling -- or even scary," said Ted Matherly, who rides daily from his home in the Bloomingdale neighborhood to his job in College Park.

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