Ghostly displays of dangerous DC streets are on the rise

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In red block letters, two words appeared at the top of an online flyer: UPDATED AGAIN.

If this leaflet was talking about a community concert, a garage sale or a demonstration, this sentence would not have been of concern. But that was not the case.

He recounted lives lost on DC roads over the past few weeks.

It told the story of a community that had planned to commemorate three deaths, but was suddenly planning a fourth.

The first version of the leaflet, which was shared online on Tuesday, contained information about two cyclists and a pedestrian who were fatally struck by motor vehicles in two separate incidents this month. On it were their names – Michael Hawkins Randall, Charles Jackson and Michael Gordon – and details of the public memorials that were planned for them.

On Thursday, the updated flyer which was shared online contained another name – Shawn O’Donnell. The State Department worker who celebrated her 40th birthday by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was fatally hit by a Mack truck on Wednesday morning as she was cycling to work. A public memorial is now also planned for her.

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These commemorations were to take place between last Friday and next Monday.

Each was to occur in a different part of town, but all were to end the same way: with a haunting reminder left behind to let people know that a life had been lost there. Three ghost bikes and a pair of ghost shoes will remain at these sites.

I spoke to Monica Morin, who created these white painted items, and she told me that when she volunteered for the effort a few weeks ago, she expected to only make only one ghost bike. Then came another death. And then another.

“As of yesterday I am now working on three bikes when I thought there would only be one, she said. “I’m so heartbroken.”

I have written before about the need for city authorities to step up their efforts to make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians. I told you about Allison Hart, who was 5 years old and on her bike in a city crosswalk when she was hit and killed by the driver of a van. I told you about two young children who were hit and injured on their way to school on National Walk to School Day. I told you how community members saw vehicles speeding past memorials and shared stories of their own close encounters.

At age 5, she was killed while riding her bicycle in a crosswalk. His legacy should be safer streets.

That the title of a leaflet has been changed is not particularly newsworthy. But in a city that has a “Vision Zero” goal of ending road deaths by 2024 but continues to see people die on its roads, it’s telling. This updated leaflet shows why residents and campaigners have implored city authorities to do more, and faster, to make roads safer. This shows the unnecessary and growing toll they have witnessed.

“The costs that our families and our victims have to pay are too high,” said Allison Hart’s mother, Jessica Hart. tweeted after O’Donnell’s death. “No one should endure this.”

“His bike looked like someone took some tin foil and just crumbled it,” O’Donnell’s mother, Mary O’Donnell, told my colleague Jasmine Hilton about the footage that she views the stage. “It’s on my mind now, I always wonder: Did my daughter know she was dying?”

Morin said she first worked on a ghost bike in 2018. It was for cyclist Jeffrey Hammond Long. While setting up the bike, Morin was sitting next to it when she ran into another rider, Dave Salovesh.

“And within a year we were making a ghost bike for him,” she said. She repeated that thought. “I met Dave Salovesh on a ghost bike, then we made a ghost bike for him.”

Salovesh was a well-known advocate for the DC cycling community before he was hit by a stolen van. The driver was sentenced to 8 and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to intentional homicide.

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“When someone gets hit, we use this terrible word – ‘accident’ – and then nothing changes,” Morin said. “The intersection does not change. The only change at the intersection is the erected memorial. It takes weeks, months, years, blood. It takes blood to bring about change.

On July 27, she and others plan to hold an event at the Wilson Building, across from Freedom Plaza.

“Mayor Muriel Bowser Presents: Blood on Hands,” reads an online description of the rally. “Everyone deserves to travel to DC without fear of serious injury or death. It’s time to make Vision Zero Real. Join us in demanding action.

Morin said making ghost bikes can be emotionally draining. Different people volunteer to create them so the task doesn’t fall to the same person every time. When she noticed that as of July 10 no one had started making a bike for Randall, who was 70 when he was killed on July 2, she offered to do it.

Randall was hit by a van in northeastern Washington which then hit Jackson, 64, while working at a fireworks stand.

Five days after Morin began working on Randall’s bike, she learned that another rider had been killed. Gordon, who was 65, was hit by a dump truck in northwest Washington.

Morin said she has since spoken with Gordon’s family and learned that he was the grandfather of many.

“He called his bike his Cadillac,” she said. “I call my bike my Cadillac.”

One recent night, Morin pulled the ghost bike she was making for him down an alley so she could add a coat of white paint to it. Several drivers slowed down when they saw it, but not because they knew what it was.

They told Morin that they admired his works. She let them know it wasn’t art. There was nothing beautiful about these bikes.

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