ALICE SWANSON. Ask any cyclist in the D.C. area and they’ll know her story.
On July 8, 2008, the 22-year-old was struck and killed by a garbage truck while commuting to her job at the International Research & Exchanges Board via bicycle. Over the last year, Swanson has evolved into a symbol of cycling safety in the city. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association placed a bike painted white — called a ghost bike — at the scene of Swanson’s crash (Connecticut and R streets NW) as a memorial and reminder for others on the road.
On Aug. 28, the Department of Public Works removed the bike. Speculation swirled that nearby businesses had considered it unsightly.
Now, the ghost bike is back — and it’s brought friends. The bikes were unloaded this morning by Legba Carrefour, a 27-year-old Columbia Heights resident, who says their number is significant.
“[Swanson] was 22 when she was hit,” he explained. “So we’re putting out one bike for each year of her life.”
Carrefour said news of the original bike’s removal was what spurred him to action.
“It was a really long process of combing through trash cans, dumps and begging people on the Internet,” he said. All in all, he estimates that tracking down and painting the bikes took 30 hours last week. Each bike will also be decorated with ribbons and flowers.
Carrefour didn’t know Swanson, but by doing this he says hopes to bring joy to her friends and family, while drawing attention to cycling safety.
“Fundamentally, people don’t understand bicycles are supposed to ride on the street,” he said. “I was on Georgia Avenue a month ago and some dude seriously threatened to shoot me for riding my bike in the road. That’s absurd. The amount of general abuse heaped on you by drivers is nuts.”
You can follow the rest of story at his new blog: Alice Swanson Rides Again, where he plans to post updates about his cause.
Photos courtesy Eric Gilliland, Ben West