The 'Bizarre' Life of a Memorial
White Bikes Go -- And Come and Go

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post staff writer
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The quirky urban streetscape that memorialized the death of cyclist Alice Swanson in the District has been swept up by city workers and carted away from 20th and R streets NW.

The memorial was established with a single bicycle painted white and chained to a lamppost not long after she was struck by a garbage truck as she biked to work in July 2008. There was a sign attached -- "Cyclist Struck Here" -- and sometimes friends of the 22-year-old left flowers.

There are memorials to untimely deaths -- traffic accidents and homicides -- throughout the city, region and nation, and the District is one jurisdiction that feels the need for rules governing their endurance. Generally, memorials are allowed to remain for 30 days before crews remove them. Swanson's white bicycle became something of a symbol to city cyclists, and it stayed chained to a pole near the Church of Scientology for more than a year before the Department of Public Works cut it loose and hauled it away.

Legba Carrefour, who rides a bicycle but did not know Swanson, was so distressed by its removal that he and his fellow riders delivered 22 white bikes to the intersection before dawn one day this month. He said he expected all but one of them, the one chained in place where the first had been, would disappear. But he vowed that the chained bike would be replaced if the city took it away.

On Friday, city workers collected the remaining white bikes, cut the chain on the "Alice" bike and cleared all of them away.

The bikes had been left in various spots around the intersection, leaning against poles, fences -- almost anything that afforded the space. But then they were moved, said Karyn LeBlanc of the District Department of Transportation.

"Somebody had piled them up at two locations on the sidewalk, and they were a pedestrian hazard," she said.

LeBlanc said she did not know whether the chained bike was cut loose by city workers or the unknown person who piled up the bikes.

"It only gets more bizarre," said Carrefour. "Somebody piled up all the bikes, and then somebody else put them right back where we left them. After that, the city came out and tagged them all, saying they would be removed as 'abandoned' unless the owners contacted the Department of Transportation.

"I called the DOT and told them [the bikes] weren't abandoned, and they said, 'Oh, okay.' Then they hauled them away."

Carrefour said he is recovering from an injury caused when someone opened a car door into the path of his bike in Adams-Morgan. "As soon as I'm up again, we'll take another [bike] out there and put it up."

The only bike chained near the intersection Monday was a green urban cruiser. And the only sign was for a yard sale.

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