City Desk

Ghost Bikes Return to Dupont Circle: Alice Swanson Rides Again


Legba Carrefour left for Dupont Circle at 5 a.m. this morning with a borrowed truck full of white bikes. The Columbia Heights resident, 27, didn't know Alice Swanson, the struck-and-killed cyclist whose memorial was removed from the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and 20th and R Streets NW last month.

But Carrefour, who says he's been two-wheeling through the District since he was 6, says he got "really angry" about the ghost bike's removal, and spent weeks Dumpster-diving, as well as wailing on Freecycle and Craigslist, looking for old bikes. The idea, which he's got a blog for: He'd put up 22, one for each year of Swanson's life, all spray-painted white. As of 10:30 a.m., 16 were still there; Carrefour figures people have nicked them while he's been off gathering flowers to stick on them.

Carrefour has a scar on his right arm from a collision with a cab, and a chipped tooth from a run-in with an SUV. He has no plans to trade his Surly Steamroller. "One, I couldn't get around anywhere. It's fun, it's relaxing, and it's easy. Also I can't afford a car."

He looks at the circle, screwing up his face at the newly placed sign warning drivers to yield to bikes. "If they take it down," he says, gesturing to the bike he's placed where Swanson's original memorial was, "I have a bunch more that are already white."

More photos of the bikes after the jump







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  • Will Atwood Mitchell


  • Mr T in DC

    That's a bit too militant for my taste. Why not put the effort and resources into getting a new bike lane, signage or bike rack dedicated in Alice's honor instead of wasting it on obtaining, painting and chaining up 22 bikes? Wouldn't those bikes have been better off refurbished and donated somewhere?

  • inDC

    What an idiot. Shame on him for doing this, especially trying to gain attention while claiming it's to memorialize someone he's never known.

  • inDC

    For more insight into this guy, check out this Post article from a few year back:

    He screams for attention, and is using the unfortunate death of someone to achieve his selfish goal. Pathetic.

  • No more white bikes

    I he spent half as much time working on his career as he wastes looking for junk bikes he would be able to afford a Mercedes.

  • J.

    in DC- why is he an idiot? You can't throw stones without backing up your argument. What happened to freedom of expression? We are not in communist Russia or present day China.

  • Wow

    Wow, inDC, you're really fired up about this. I'd be really helpful if you used your motivation to get the city to release the report on Swanson's death!

  • ironic

    great... more things for cyclists to run into while trying to avoid absent minded pedestrians and motorists. brilliant plan. but he is so hip and counter culture. I think one subtle gesture would have meant a lot more than this.

  • Wow

    Ironic indeed. The original "one subtle gesture" was removed!

  • Regular Biker

    Seeking attention for the sake of attention. Stupid.

  • Mike DeBonis

    As a bicyclist, my biggest concern is that these bikes are occupying lots of parking spots in an area with few of them.

  • Skipper

    Desperate for attention. He's the Lady Gaga of bicyclists.

  • Downtown Rez

    Using a tragic death as an excuse to be self-indulgent. Contemptible.

  • creativemeat

    Any act of expression is inherently selfish. You guys are letting that fact obfuscate the message. A message that any biker commuter knows all too well. Biking is far too dangerous than it ought to be in this city.

  • moo

    Hey Mike, aside from the one that directly replaced the original, all the bikes are unsecured so they can be easily moved.

  • downtown rez

    I am a cyclist. I've not owned a car since the 1980's.
    The issue at hand is not whether cycling is too dangerous. The issue is whether a self-described anarchist should be setting public policy.
    As a cyclist who has both been hit (badley) and seen other people hit (even worse), I don't want some half-baked fool as the face of any community I identify with.

  • Sarah

    This is an amazing act of real activism in DC! Not only will Fenty's office get the message that it is not acceptable to take down a public memorial, there will be more bicycle awareness in DC.

    To the people who think that Legba is being self-righteous for taking on this project, you are ridiculous! The only person who is focusing on him is the person who wrote this article. He did a self-less act by re-memorializing a perfect stranger. Who cares what his personal politics are. Even if you don't agree with him, he did a good thing here and now and that is what matters most. Imagine how Allison Swanson's family felt when their daughter's memorial was taken down. Now imagine how her family is feeling today after having someone put the memorial back up!

    Bicycle riding is dangerous, but it is mostly dangerous because American drivers are do not pay attention to us. I used to live in Amsterdam, where everyone rides a bike, and I never heard of a single accident between a car and a bicycle. Here, it is almost a given that you will be hit at one point or another if you are a frequent urban rider.

    We need more awareness of the drivers to pay attention to what they are doing on the road and better traffic laws and infrastructure for bicyclists in order to prevent terrible accidents like the one that happened to Allison Swanson. Also, we need more respect for people that we do not even know.

  • j-town

    who cares if dupont yuppies don't have parking spots.

    word to sarah, reporters write the story they want to write.

    also, wtf is up with this postmodern obsession with being more concerned with the medium than with the actual substance. Legba could be the king of jerks but thats not the issue, its about reminding folks that people die because of bad policy around roads and biking. Clearly this was also a media stunt, as in part of the goal was to grab attention to the issue, which he succeeded in doing pretty well. Every group in the world does media stunts like this cause you wouldn't hear about them unless they did.

  • lolhipster

    I'm betting this wanker doesn't ride a bike with brakes.

  • claire

    that's awesome! <3 u legba.

  • DrSkinnyTopps

    Not to sound like a dick or anything, but in all honesty, and once again this isn't to be a rude just throwin' out an idea, how do we know it wasn't Alice's fault she got hit? When driving a car, especially in a city, and especially DC, it's pretty hard to speed, there's traffic lights everywhere so you stop every 15 seconds anyway, and most people look where they're going because they say to themselves "I'm in a car, I need to be careful." People on bikes, not so much. I've seen it so many times where cyclists don't stop. They just do not stop. At all; for anything. I wouldn't put it past the notion that Alice might have just not stopped at an intersection and rode right through only to find 2000lbs of steel in her face. People don't realize that when on a bike, you HAVE to follow the rules of the road. You're operating a vehicle, you need to pay attention, people do not stop for you. This guy is wasting his time because it will do no difference to the city, and to agree with someone else who already posted, I forget who, but he just made life that much tougher for people riding bikes in the city because now there are 22 more obstacles in their way to go along with the cars, peds, vendors, etc. The dude is a hipster with nothing else to do so he finds things like such to make his deal. Like most other people have said, kind of pathetic.

    Not to mention, when I die, I am most likely not going to have a memorial for me at my place of death. I know guys that have been shot down and nothing has been put there for them. She doesn't deserve one. The only people that deserve memorials are the ones that make differences in the world, that change lives. I'm not saying Alice wasn't that kind of a person, for all we know she could have been fantastic. And if so, then give her a memorial for that, not for the fact that she died from being hit by a car.

  • DrSkinnyTopps

    Once again, not trying to be rude, just saying.

  • Touched.

    That's beyond presumptuous on your part.

    Maybe try looking at this from her family's point of view? And the general sentiment across the board from those not hiding behind the trolling ways of anonymous comments posts is that this is a GOOD thing. No one had a problem with a small, out of the way, memorial bike.

    As a fairly new cyclist to the city, that bike posed a warning to me as the area being an area to watch out for. Her death did not have to be in vain. Sometimes you can't peg an area for being as dangerous as it is until you have a wake-up call like a woman being killed by a dump trunk on her way to work. And considering that motorists as a whole appear to care very little for the cyclists in the city, please feel free to pass this around -

    (Pedestrians complain about bikes on the sidewalks and Car drivers complain about them being in the streets.)

    Have you noticed how many bike lines lead the person on the bike right into a major intersection without warning before it disappears completely? Or the number of areas that have 'iffy' road signage that does nothing but confuse both the cars and the bikes as to whether or not it's a bike lane or not? Have you been to the location of this incident? Talk about poor planning.

    I spread my time out as a cyclist, pedestrian and a driver. So I have a very broad perspective on it. Car drivers can be vicious enough with each other, and when they spread that road rage to bikes in the city, it's deadly.

  • shebus

    my thoughts.. one bike, save the other 21 for when the city removes the bike and replace it. What is he using to secure them anyways?? I cant tell by the picture. Being someone who has been hit by a car not only as a bicyclist but as a pedestrian I am happy that the bike was replaced.. Plus my roommate who has had his head split open because of people not paying attention. if it was an attention getter I AM GLAD and hope that people see it as a reminder to pay attention.

  • Genevieve

    There are two sides of this story: first, the person, Alice Swanson, and second, a ghost bicycle memorial.

    Who was Alice? She was the most selfless, wonderful, sweet and kind individual that I have ever met. Had her life not been tragically cut short, she would have made a huge contribution to human rights (we used to joke that she would get the Nobel Peace Prize); as is, in her far too brief 22 years, Alice has done everything from working for non-profits (I believe she was working for the International Research and Exchanges Board, which focused on worldwide education), to teaching English to refugees in Cairo. She's more deserving of a lasting memorial than anyone you would ever know.

    This is not a memorial for her humanitarian efforts, however; calling the ghost bike a memorial is a poor choice of words, in fact. The function that the white, painted bicycle plays is that of a visual cue for the local drivers (those most likely to disregard traffic laws due to the familiarity of the road) that the tragic outcome of disobeying regulations is very real. It is a warning for both the motorist and the bicyclist for caution in a way that the yellow sign, pamphlets, and news articles fail to achieve (please see enclosed link for the evidence of yellow caution signage at the site). Alice's friends and family are not angry at the loss of the 'memorial' as a lost place for grieving (who would actually want to visit the place where a good friend was violently killed?) as we all have our own places in which to mourn our lost friend, daughter, niece, sister, cousin, granddaughter, student, coworker; not in death, but in the life we shared with her. It shows true insensitivity and a trivialization of her death, however, in the removal of the bicycle in the first place-- as if it is not a priority of the city and local businesses to promote caution and take preventive action against another such tragedy. Every person Alice graced with her compassion, kindness, and beautifully heartfelt smile would agree that even in death, Alice would want to protect and enrich lives. It is not a 'memorial', but presented 'in memorium' of a young woman to create awareness and provide the stimulus for, if not a safer road, a safer intersection for cyclists.

    As for that intersection, it has a history of being dangerous for bikers. It's not a case of a bicyclist taking illegal turns; it's a case of vehicles (in both cases large trucks) cutting off a bike lane which they have no right to be in. Furthermore, while it may be true that bicyclists you ride with might blow through traffic signs, this is a major intersection; there is no way that a bicyclist would just 'ride through' without abiding by traffic laws.

    Ghost bikes are not memorials to commemorate a death. They are an act of preservation of life and serve a cautionary purpose. This act (the display of 22 bikes) is a beautiful, touching gesture, which Alice is most certainly enjoying. Not only an act of non-violent protest, but a method of educating and protecting the people. Wonderful.

  • Jim

    If Legba was not being self-righteous, he would not have waited around for the media, given his story, and posed for a photograph. In this case, I think, an anonymous protest would have sufficed.

    Wouldn't it have been more sublime and respectable to replace the single bike? Right now they're just obstructing the pedestrian right-of-way.


    The original "ghost bike" was simple, provocative, and even beautiful, in its own way. While it did not solve all the problems that plague D.C. bicyclists, it did serve its purpose: to memorialize Alice and, more importantly (as Genevieve points out above) to give "warning for both the motorist and the bicyclist for caution." After a year on display, it was unceremoniously taken down, replaced by a "YIELD TO BIKES" sign and thousands of people who will remember that solitary, whitewashed bike resting at a busy intersection.

    This new spectacle is a gratuitous display of civil disobedience, washed with a hint of sanctimony. It is more protest art than memorial, and therefore should not invite the same flexibility that the city showed the original. Keep the bikes around for 30 days, as is regulated by law -- -- and then dispose of them. If Legba replaces the bikes I hope he shows the same amount chutzpa as he did this time around and waits around to be placed in handcuffs. By then, it would certainly be a issue of disturbing the peace.

  • Genevieve

    Of course a single bike is a much more poignant display; the multiple ones are more distracting then serve in their cautionary function. However, we must again look at the agency of the object (or in this case, objects) to understand the function they now serve. The 22 ghost bikes are in protest to the City and Dupont businesses' complete and utter lack of regard for the preservation of human life through the desecration of a known visual cautionary aid.

    The fact that the artist has decided to use the objects to display the lack of humanity in the removal of the original ghost bike is commendable. Should they stay up in all perpetuity? I don't think any of Alice's friends or family want anything more than the original ghost bike to be replaced. However, to see an activist rally on our behalf is a very kind act, demonstrating compassion, a respect for human life, and activism; three things Alice absolutely stands for.

  • downtown rez

    @Jim #26
    Well said...

  • Lee

    try that in copenhagen or amsterdam sometime - police report! there are spray-painted bikes all over the place! it must be some kind of protest! we try to remove them, and more keep showing up! hah...

    If the city make the kinds of serious infrastructure changes for bikes that those cities have, then some day the city will look like this protest every day.

    If you see 22 people riding bikes - is that a protest? Today, maybe you'd say yes. In the future, maybe not.

    Today's protest is tomorrow's status-quo.

    100 years ago, there were similar protests for automobile safety. as you can see, it paid off. when you see 22 cars parked at the curb, do you call it a protest? when you see 22 cars driving down the street - is that a protest?

  • Jim Slattery

    As I've said before, the original bike was a pedestrian hazard. Do something constructing to remember Ms. Swanson, not something confrontational and unsafe.

  • Charly

    Being 'unobstructive' and 'poignant' gets far less attention than something of this calibre. Good for Legba. I think everything else that needs to be said has been said, and if you're more concerned about having to take a single step out of the way to avoid a white bike than you are about what it actually represents, you're part of the problem.

    As someone who has to dodge inattentive drivers daily - thank you, Legba.

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  • creativemeat

    @Jim Slattery

    While we're on the subject of pedestrian hazards. Can we do anything about the newspaper stands?

  • northeastgroover

    Someone effectively demonstrates some humanity. Thanks, Legba. Way to be solid for Alice.

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  • IMGoph

    thank you, legba.

  • Matt R

    @DrSkinnyTopps -

    Yes I am sure that all the d-bags in cars on their phones are thinking first and foremost about my safety. If you had red the reports of Swanson's accident you would know that multiple witnesses stated that she was proceeding through the green light on R a trash truck over took her and turned right, into her, striking her and killing her.

    When I ride, which is everyday, I know I have a bullseye on my back, because drivers don't care, I have had, cars, taxis and metro buses nearly run me down both intentionally and unintentionally, for having the audacity to ride my bike on a public road. And why would they care? When the standard punishment for killing a cyclist is a few hundred dollar fine and higher insurance for a few years.

    Get a clue.

  • Matt R

    @No more white bikes -

    Not every one who rides a bike wants and can't afford a Mercedes. I feel sorry for you, trapped day after day, hour after hour, getting fat and ugly in you sad little rolling prison. No matter how resplendent it might be, it is still a trap. Face it, you have been conned.

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  • yawn

    These comments prove yet once again that DC is a tight ass self serving non artistic complacent community with nothing better to do than go to it's federal/nonprofit/foundation/lawyer job and eat out and lay sterile in bed wondering how life got to be so much fun! Get a life that matters and do something even it means riding a bike from your home to get your take-out five blocks away. And have some compassion for people who choose to protest/create with their time. You don't have to be so bitter because your own life is so dull with no thought of protest. There are lots of bad things that happen in this city wether you choose to believe or not. There are a lot of non-transient residents who will fight and create in these passive times. After all we do live in the nations capital!

  • boutermakeghostbikes

    Great shots... Funny, i never saw this story, but heard about it all late. I had never considered that making a memorial would bring so much hate.
    I got inspired when one of our interns told me about ghost bikes. I started asking my friends for bikes to make more memorials, since I am so saddened by 3 recent cyclist deaths. And no, I didn't know any of them. They just make me sad and I express myself visually, so making something appeals to me.
    Now I am ready for angry hateful people to call me stupid, extremist and begging for attention, thank you city paper.


    As a cyclist, I'm insanely torn by the comments. While there's a lot of valid points in the middle of some, there's a lot of ignorance surrounding them. Please get out of yourselves and look at this for what it is. Like it or not, you've all been made aware of the dangers associated with cycling in a city that historically has not been bike-friendly. To that matter how you got to this awareness...I'd say....mission accomplished.

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