City Desk

Alice Swanson Memorial Removed

Memorial for Alice Swanson

The ghost bike memorializing cyclist Alice Swanson has been removed. Swanson was killed at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and R Street NW on July 8, 2008. The snow-white bike had remained there since shortly after the tragedy.  She was hit by a trash truck while she was riding her bicycle to work.

The bike's removal came in response to complaints from Dupont Circle business owners, according to both Anna Shoup, Swanson's roommate, and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

"WABA called me this morning to say that the mayor's office had taken down her ghost bike, pretty much without giving her family and friends time to put together any sort of response," said Shoup. Ghost bikes are supposed to remain in place in perpetuity.

According to Shoup, WABA was able to locate the bike today and confirmed to her that the removal had been ordered by the city. Shoup contacted Swanson's parents today, and learned that they had not heard from the city prior to the removal.

"When we were informed of the decision to remove the bike, we requested some additional time to contact the family to see what their wishes were," said Eric Gilliland, WABA's executive director.

The city told WABA it would until to Monday to act, but this morning, Gilliland found that "the lock had been cut and the bike was removed."

"We were initially told that the Department of Public Works left the bike at La Tomate, but we ended up finding it at Cosi," he added. Both restaurants are located close to the memorial, and Gilliland said neither had complained to the city or asked to have it removed.

When asked if Swanson's family or friends had plans for a new memorial, Shoup said, "We were working on the assumption, perhaps very naively that the ghost bike would remain up as it has in many cities across the country."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery.

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  • Sally

    I'm sorry for their loss, but exactly what sort of "response" did the family and friends feel entitled to? A bicycle painted white and chained to a lamppost does nothing to honor Ms. Swanson's memory.

  • J

    Sally -I think because in other cities, memorials have not been taken down- it seems odd that Dc has chosen to do that. It does honor her memory because it reminds everyone that sees it that you need to look out for bike riders. Hopefully to avert another tragedy.

  • tho

    the bike always reminds me to slow down. what
    jack ass would have any reason to take it down.
    amazing to me that it ever crossed someones mind
    that they don't want it there.

  • Deanwoodenizen

    DPW/the City showed bad form for not informing the friends and family. However, the bicycle is like the RIP memorials "in the 'hood" after 30 days with notification removal is necessary. Memorial options could be a public art of a bicycle or education and awareness programs named and performed in Alice's honor.

  • Genevieve

    As one of Alice's friends from childhood, I'm pretty insulted that they took down this memorial. As J and Tho mentioned, it is a visual reminder for motorists to demonstrate more caution; something that is not nearly so poignantly remembered when there's a simple yellow caution sign, pamphlet, or news article. Memorials of this ilk should remain-- if they remind a single motorist to slow down and prevent another senseless loss of life, then it is a job well done.
    I don't wish this tragedy on anyone.

  • Sally

    Again, I'm sorry for your loss, but I don't see how a white bicycle reminds the general public about the death that occurred there. If anything, most people just assume it's someone's bike that's chained up or something.

    I agree with Deanwooddenizen - the city should have told the family it was going to remove the bike. But there are better and more lasting memorial options that a slowly decaying bike chained to a corner lamppost. Quite frankly, I find the ghost bike to be as tacky as the "hood" memorials Deanwood mentions. Neither serves to properly honor a person's memory.

  • Angry Al Gonzales

    Expect a First Amendment lawsuit over this. Ghost Bikes are a well-honoured tradition in many cities throughout America, but in DC, money rules - so far.

    Ghost Bikes serve to warn bikers, drivers, & pedestrians that careless drivers kill, and Ghost Bikes work to rally pro-bike citizens to petition their elected representatives. As political speech, Ghost Bikes are protected by the First Amendment.

    Are the beaten down poor people & the self-absorbed transient yuppies are impervious to consciousness-raising? Look for the Communist Party of the District of Columbia - the CPDC - to make Ghost Bikes are major issue in the 2010 elections.

    PS I dare you to find a "beaten down" Ghost Bike. Ghost Bikes are maintained regularly by dedicated activists.

  • Sigmund Freud

    Sally You come off as an insensitive b*tch, which is probably what you are. Anyone from the neighborhood certainly knew it was not just a bike chained up and neither would "thinking" persons from abroad since it was always tastefully decorated, such as in the pic with new bright sunflowers.

  • Sally

    Al - Your legal knowledge continues to be as real and straight as Michael Jackson's nose.

  • Truth Hurts

    Assuming the photo showing the bike under sunflowers is recent, I think it would be obvious to anyone with a brain that it was a memorial. Can't understand why merchants would complain (if they did). Poor form on the city's part to abruptly cut the lock and make it disappear.

  • Angry Al Gonzales

    Sally - you're a racist dumbass. Rather than argue on the legal merits, you choose to make some inane, asinine remark that has nothing to do with the merits.

    I normally don't respond to morons, but uou must be a Republican & you're obviously not a lawyer. Go back to collecting your corporate welfare & kicking random dogs.

  • Sally

    Al - There are no legal merits to argue. You have no idea what you're talking about.

    Discussing constitutional issues with you is like discussing child raising tips with Britney Spears. At least she can pop out few kids, even if she has no idea what to do with them; you can't even pop out a coherent legal argument that has any plausible connection with actual reality.

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  • Truth Hurts

    Al- At least you flushed Sally out as being Republican. She's analogized you to Britney Spears and Michael Jackson (both times as put downs). The Michael Jackson comment was especially tasteless in light of his recent death.

  • Sally

    So anyone who analogizes Al's idiocies to pop culture celebrities is a Republican? That's about as insightful as Al's constitutional scholars on crack legal pronouncements.

  • A thought from Dupont

    I agree the Ghost Bike memorial tradition has merit, but for it to be respected by John and Jane Clueless Public, it needs to be obvious to the casual uninformed observer that someone is actively caring for it. Unfortunately, this particular memorial had suffered recently from a lack of maintenance. It did at times seem abandoned. Because of this, the local businesses didn't understand what they were stepping into when they requested the memorial be removed.

    Maybe WABA could dedicate a couple hundred dollars a year to have regular maintenance done to it. Or maybe Alice's friends could endow a 501c3 dedicated to creating and preserving a new memorial.

  • Angry Al Gonzales

    Sally said, "as straight as Michael Jackson's nose" - now how was MJ's nose not straight? As a kid, as an adult, he had a straight nose.

    Then she goes into Britney Spears - Sally must be a suburban housewife, a rock-ribbed racist Republican who reads People magazine each week from cover to cover, so I'm not wasting any more time on her.

    As for the First Amendment, if stripping can be considered speech, then Ghost Bikes are speech. If Ghost Bikes are used to deliver a political message, then there is even more protection than with regular speech. I'd use the First Amendment argument over the memorial argument, b/c the memorial argument will eventually lose.

  • I suppose they could pee on her grave too while they’re at it?

    The city has other problems with respecting memorials to the dead. The memorials that have gone up in honor of children who have been killed (typically stuffed animals wrapped around a utility pole) get torn down by city government all the time. It's infuriating.

    @Sally, if the removal of the bicycle got this much of a reaction from the public, obviously people noticed, so your point is already dealt with.

  • Angry Al’s Mother

    I so regret not exercising my right to choose.

  • Dave

    So everyone who dies on the street in DC is entitled to a permanent sidewalk memorial? The memorial was up for more than a year. The city definitely could have handled the removal better (offering the bike to the family, a chance to be there and say a few final words, etc.), but's time to clear it out and move on. Every death is sad, but to have a memorial placed forever everytime someone dies an unfortunate early death is rediculous.

  • J

    Dave - you sound as insensitive as Sally. You must both work for Mayor Fenty.

  • dave

    J - Nope. Not even close. Just practical. And you're so sensitive and smart that you feel the need to judge me because I don't agree with keeping a crappy old bike chained to a post for someone who had an unfortunate accident like so many thousands of people every year all over the country? Well aren't you special. I'm guessing you're still mourning over the loss of your goldfish from when you were 3 years old. Grow up and learn to move on. What happened to her was an accident....nothing more.

  • R.

    @ Dave — 1. The point of the memorial is not only to memorialize Alice Swanson, but also to remind people how easy it is for such accidents to occur, and to *be careful* on the public roads — that is, be mindful of cyclists when you drive. The object is to prevent deaths by promoting awareness as well as to remember Alice Swanson.

    2. However you feel about the ghost bike, implying that an accident that resulted in a *person's* death should be forgotten like your childhood pet goldfish betrays an incredible lack of empathy. I'd like to point out that just because many people die in traffic accidents, it does *not* mean that their individual stories should be subsumed into a large, faceless statistic.

    3. Maybe what happened to Alice Swanson was an accident and nothing more. But if this is the case, it was almost certainly a preventable accident, either by the installation of a camera on the garbage truck (to mitigate the passenger-side blind spot) or retraining garbage truck drivers not to whip around right-handers AND giving them a less frenetic itinerary.

    4. I believe the ghost bike should remain. You clearly do not. That is fair. What is unfair, even misanthropic, is the reasoning you use to justify your view.

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  • dave

    Or maybe we should trian bike riders to watch out for driver's blind spots and for drivers who have their right turn signal on that are then passed on the right in the bike lane by bicyclists. To say that the accident was only preventable by the truck driver is very one sided. And before anyone jumps on me about it...yes....I ride a bike (and a motorcycle) around the city all the time.

    So every time someone dies on the street, we need a reminder of something that killed them? Why not reuire warnings to appear on the dahsboard every time someone starts a car of every way that someone has died due to a car/truck accident? Once again....that is a rediculous idea.

    If you want to put up a perpetual shrine to her, by all means....feel free. Just keep it off of the public sidewalk. If we are all going to get memorials, let me know so I can design my own....with lots of lights and bells....that would be the one I want (please note this in case I meet an early demise due to accident).

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  • eliot

    Sally, ghost bikes are pretty well known and their meaning is pretty self-evident. You shouldn't project your own ignorance onto the public at large.

  • Dave

    So anyone who doesn't know what a ghost bike is, is ignorant? I didn't know what it was before this incident last year and I've never seen one anywhere else. I know they're in other cities, but I've never seen one in my travels. This is a recent activity ; 7 or 8 years in the US with the first one in NYC in 2005 and the first one in Baltimore just this the vast majority of the population must be ignorant. Only an idiot would say Eliot, must be an idiot.

  • Jamie

    "Ghost bikes are supposed to remain in place in perpetuity."

    If this were the case, wouldn't we run out of sidewalk space to erect ghost bikes at some point?

    I can't say that the apparent handling of the removal by the city was classy, but a couple hundred people die in this city every year in tragic circumstances Every one of those people left behind friends and loved ones. This memorial stood for a year, which is longer than most, isn't that long enough? If a permanent memorial is desired, then the process to have such a thing erected should be dealt with appropriately. I am sure everyone sympathies with the loss of Alice Swanson but there is a practical reality, which is that life must go on and it is not possible for everyone to keep a memorial in public space.

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  • DC cyclist

    Ghost bikes are a world-wide phenomenon. so if they reinstate it, not only would the ghost bike for Alice Swanson be a memorial for her and her family and a reminder about public safety and sharing the road, but also to educate people on this type of public work in the first place, so maybe if they go to another place and see another ghost bike, they would recognize it for what it is, and not an abandoned bike that happened to have flowers and memorial writing around it (if that wasn't obvious enough.) I have never heard of anyone complaining of a memorial or ghost bike as an eyesore and one clearly has a lack of empathy and a need to re-adjust their priorities if this is so. Additionally, I feel it's generalizing the fact that there are terrible accidents and tragedies that occur far too frequently in our city, and maybe some do deserve memorials. A type of memorial that is known internationally and can be recognized fairly easily is a good idea, especially if it's rare that a cyclist dies in DC and it serves a specific purpose. It's not like there are enough road accidents in DC (thankfully) where all the streets would be littered with ghost bikes. That's kinda the point, to prevent future vehicle on bike deathes.

    And Sally, maybe you aren't, but dismissing "hood" memorials and delegitimizing a community's loss, regardless of where in the city or from what community, sounds and certainly comes across as pretty racist and classist to me, besides being extremely insensitive and callous.

    If you would like something a little more snazzy and permanent, please by all means, feel free to donate to the Washington Area Bike Association to help keep up maintenance of the ghost bike or create a more "classy" memorial.

  • Dave

    I would like to initiate a "Ghost Gun" memorial. We can paint a water-gun white and chain it to a pole where people get shot. And I want a "Ghost Pill Bottle" in front of a house or hotel for everyone who OD's on pills. Oh....and a "Ghost Car" for every traffic accident where someone dies. Or a "Ghost Cheesburger" for every person who dies of heart disease. A "Ghost Twinkie" for everyone who dies of complications brought on by diabetes. See where I'm going? Oh's too bad we couldn't have had to erect a "Ghost Pretzel" for Bush when he choked on one back in 2001!!!

  • Truth Hurts

    People, let's try to maintain some dignity here. The family likely reads these posts. Why don't we give it a short rest and see whether Fenty and the Swanson family work out something in the interim? I'm hopeful.

  • gwadzilla
  • Downtown Rez

    Good words, Truth Hurts. The mayor is a huge supporter of both public safety and cycling- anyone who stops for a moment to think about it would agree. I'm sure it'll be worked out.

  • Mike B

    I was eating at LaTomate today and witnessed some of their management go outside and rip down what appeared to be part of the memorial on the lamp post. I took pictures of them doing it.

  • R.

    @ Dave

    Let me start by saying that I agree about training cyclists to watch for vehicles' blind spots and to look for vehicles to make turns notwithstanding their use of turn signals. Addressing safety problems from only one direction is not what I meant to propose.

    But I find your argument that leaving Alice Swanson's memorial up will automatically result in all DC-area deaths getting memorials to be unpersuasive. What we are discussing is the appropriateness of the removal of a particularized memorial, not whether we should allow permanent memorials going forward. The consequences you posit do not logically follow from whether or not we put this ghost bike back where it was.

    Anyway, I wrote a nice, polite, reasonable note to Mayor Fenty expressing my hope that he and the Swansons can work together to restore the ghost bike to its prior location.

    And what's up with LaTomate tearing down part of the memorial? Sheesh. I believe that lamp post belongs to the District -- not to a tomato. I'd appreciate a link to those photos, Mike.

  • MR

    I think there are a few things we can all agree on.

    1. Yes, it's important to remember a tragic event like Alice's accident. It's important because we want to remember the person and we want to prevent the same tragedy from happening again.

    2. On the other hand, there are appropriate and inappropriate ways of remembrance. I agree that the Ghost Bike was not intrusive and certainly served as a reminder (at least for the many familiar with Ghost Bikes). But the "does everyone deserve a memorial?" question is a real one. Therefore, the best approach is asking for permission or working with the City to design a memorial that can serve everyone's interests. Moreover, that approach ensures the memorial will reserve the regular maintenance that it needs (which seemed to be lacking sometimes with the ghost bike).

    3. References to the First Amendment won't get us anywhere. For the most part, cities are free to enact reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on "speech." Even if the ghost bike was "speech," it certainly seems (legally) reasonable for the city to bar permanent installations on its sidewalks.

    4. The Fenty administration could have handled it better, particularly if they did not contact the family. However, they should also receive some credit for allowing it to stay up for a year, while some other cities would drag it off to the dumpster immediately.

    5. LaTomate sucks. But everyone already knew that.

  • Dave

    R ~ Of course the issue of whether everyone who meets an unfortunate end in DC is entitled to a memorial is relevant! How on Earth is it NOT relevant? If every person who has an early departure via a preventable event like Ms. Swanson, what if every one (or even half) have family/friends/coworkers who decide to erect a memorial on the city sidealk? Will all of them be allowed to stay forever? If not.....why? If yes....why? To suggest that this one can stay....but others can't....good luck explaining that.

  • Jim

    It's amazing that people don't see the connection between the ghost bike and other memorials that the city takes down on a regular basis. I realize that the ghost bike is important to a lot of people. All the homemade memorials are. But Swanson's death, as tragic as it was, is not more important than any other death in D.C.

  • Jim

    Also, MR is absolutely right about this having nothing to do with the First Amendment, but anyone with even an elementary understanding of it understands that. Sorry, Angry Al. Does that make me racist, too?

  • The Advoc8te

    @ Jim. I agree 100%. The law says the memorials come down they come down. If this was am unsightly teddy bear memorial surrounded by liquor bottles and candles for a gun shot victim you would be petioning the Mayor's Office for it's removal.

    I have no problem with DPW removing the memorial. The general process is to give the family 30 days and then inform them of the memorials removal. The fact that this memorial was allowed to stay up for a year does not excuse the fact that it was illegal. Perhaps the alternative is to not even give the 30 day grace period and remove the memorials as soon as they go up?

    This death was tragic but no more so than all the other unfortunate deaths that occur in the city. If all these memorials were allowed to stay up this would be one crowded city.

    On this point I give kudos to the city for doing what was right even at the risk of angering some folks. The law is for everyone.

  • The Advoc8te

    By the way I'm black, a liberal and I live in Ward 8 and everytime I see a memorial on the sidewalk I call DPW to enforce the law. I have no qualms about it. This is not a "white, republican, yuppie" issue.

  • Nyc Labrets

    The Ghost Bike that was removed by Mayor Fenty's Office from DuPont Circle has as of last night been replaced by 22 Ghost Bikes, one for each year of Alice Swanson's life, as of early this morning:

    They should be up there right now.

  • Nyc Labrets


    Andrew, my connection to this story is that I was a DC Bike Courier for about 3 years and The City Paper was one of my regular clients.

    You probably don't remember me, but I was one of the guys on bike that delivered your Payroll Paychex in all sorts of DC weather.

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  • don y

    some of the replacement bikes are so poorly done that they do a disservice to the ghost bike notion.
    ideally, a ghost bike would solidly and permanently white, not some half baked house/spray paint which doesn't stay on. the new sign put up by DC DoT is a plus, but a well done ghost bike mounted on the post above the sign, not just randomly chained to the post, would be a poignant reminder of the bad outcome of failing to observe. most ghost bikes i've seen have been intact and good condition, to joe q public wouldn't the actual (or other) car-mangled bike ghosted be a more obvious point though? or is that too raw a reminder to f&f of the deceased?

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  • Belinda Gomez

    Considering she was killed by a city garbage truck, why not have a white trash truck? HEre in LA, a ghost bike wouldn't last 5 minutes.

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