3-month ghost bike limit 'too short,' grieving friends say

Friends and family who erected and maintain roadside memorials marking the tragic deaths of loved ones say a proposed three-month limit on such tributes is unreasonable.

'The notion that this is creating a heightened risk for an accident, I think, is unfounded'

A photo of Meg Dussault and a ghost bike in her honour are at the corner of Bank St. and Riverside Dr., where she was hit by a cement truck and killed in July 2013. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Some people who have erected roadside memorials to mark the tragic loss of a friend or loved one say they're disappointed with a city proposal to remove the tributes after three months.

According to a staff report to the city's transportation committee, Ottawa has seen an increase in the appearance of "spontaneous memorials," including white ghost bikes left at the scene of cycling fatalities. Concerns have been raised that such memorials are obstructing vehicular or pedestrian movement, and are a visual distraction for motorists.

But Patrick Dussaultwhose wife Meg died when she was hit by a cement truck while cycling home from a tennis lesson on July 30, 2013, doesn't believe the memorials are hazardous.

What happened here was a terrible, tragic accident – the loss of a beautiful, loving woman.- Patrick Dussault

"The notion that this is creating a heightened risk for an accident, I think, is unfounded," he said. 

Dussault said he visits the white ghost bike that marks the scene of the tragedy at the corner of Bank Street and Riverside Drive every day. He and others maintain the memorial and decorate it for holidays, including Christmas, Easter and St. Patrick's Day. It's currently adorned with several pumpkins.

"I think we maintain this corner quite well," Dussault said. He's aware there have been complaints about the bike, which sits against a concrete barrier and leaves most of the sidewalk clear. But Dussault said motorists and cyclists frequently tell him they appreciate the memorial.

"What happened here was a terrible, tragic accident – the loss of a beautiful, loving woman," he said. "I think it serves as a reminder to vehicle drivers, as well as cyclists, to take care and be careful on what is clearly an extremely busy corner."

3 months not enough

Dussault said he will remove the bike after three months if the policy is approved but others argue the proposed time limit is too strict.

Cat Weaver, whose friend Mario Théoret died while cycling near West Hunt Club Rd. and Merivale Rd., stands with a ghost bike in his memory. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

"Three months is much too short of a time," said Cat Weaver, whose friend Mario Théoret died while cycling near West Hunt Club Road and Merivale Road. "I think that three years would be a more appropriate time."

The ghost bike left in Théoret's memory has been suspended from a pole so it doesn't obstruct snow removal or grass cutting. It's also been professionally painted and rust-prone parts have been removed.

Weaver said she'd like the bike to remain as a permanent memorial to her friend. "I think the people making those decisions don't understand how much grief is involved in a tragic accident, as Mario's was."

Jody Pedersen agreed. Her friend Melissa Richmond was killed by her husband in 2013. An elaborate wooden box with flowers and photos is attached to a guard rail beside the ditch where her body was found, near South Keys Shopping Centre.

Pedersen said the memorial is "immensely important" to those who are mourning her death.

"I just don't think it's something that three months will take care of," Pedersen said. "I'd really hate to see this go at this point, when it's really been a source of inspiration and a source of comfort to people who have had it up and have been maintaining it for this amount of time."

'Balanced and fair'

Coun. David Chernushenko, whose ward contains two ghost bikes, says he believes the proposed policy is a reasonable compromise.

"I really do think this report is very balanced and fair, and sensitive to both the desire of people to grieve and put up memorials in public sometimes, but also other citizens feeling there has to be a time limit, and the use of public space comes with certain restrictions," Chernushenko said.

I really do think this report is very balanced and fair.- Coun . David  Chernushenko

He said those who want a permanent memorial can apply for a plaque, a bench or even a tree that would be installed and maintained by the city.

If approved, the proposed policy would also limit the size of the roadside tributes, ensure they're kept in good repair and forbid them from blocking sight lines or pathways.

Memorials that don't meet the criteria would be removed. Existing memorials would be removed three months after the new policy goes into effect, even if they adhere to the standards set out in the new policy.

According to the report, the proposed policy "is an attempt to balance compassion while ensuring public safety is not compromised."

The city's transportation committee will debate the proposed roadside memorial policy Nov. 4.