Following Up on Jessica' Ghost Bike

On July 5th, 2013 Jessica Hanson was riding her bike and was hit by a car. She passed away.

I’ve struggled to write a follow up story about the experience of coordinating a group of people to care for Jessica’s ghost bike, but it’s time to revisit; the bike was removed this spring and jury selection for her trial began today.

For me it began sixty days after the crash, when I pedaled by the memorial on 28th and Pleasant. It was in need of some love, and I put out a call and found a group of strangers to care for it. We painted the bike, planted flowers, and posted signs asking for continued support in keep the site cared for.

Michelle, a Wells Fargo employee who drove by the bike on her route to work, was the first person to pull over and respond to the sign. Shortly thereafter, I posted the blog, and within a week there was coverage for the next 13 months — through the end of 2014.

We didn’t put up a new bike after we saw that it was gone in May. I had some tense interactions with a homeowner concerned that the bike made it difficult to rent out her home. I had wished the homeowner could tell prospective tenants that the bike was a community response that brought people together. It was actually a good thing because it demonstrated a strong neighborhood. The activity around it showed that people care about what happens here — people want to live here! But above all, she could tell them about Jessica, a person I was learning more about over the months through email interactions from her family and friends — people who care for her deeply and appeared to appreciate these small efforts.

We all know this bike wasn’t going to bring Jessica back, but for a time did some amazing things, and I think there are still things to celebrate, even without the bike:

Changes are coming to the dangerous street near where she died. It’s been well documented that 28th street is dangerous for walkers and bicyclists, and it’s a racetrack for cars. It was on the city’s planning calendar for a repaving job, but due to public safety concerns, Minneapolis is looking at making the street safer, including pedestrian bump-outs and perhaps turning it into a two-way street. This summer I reviewed preliminary designs at a public meeting, and shared my opinion on how to make these streets better.

Jessica’s story spread. A reporter from the Star Tribune read the blog post and wrote a piece that raised the visibility of Jessica (and ghost bikes in general) in February.

Strangers will do amazing things. People I'd never met before responded to the posting, and took time to pause and care and get on board with this. Michelle, Erik, Mike, Jeff, Gabe, Ward, Julie, Rich, Chase, and Rena — thank you.

Pushing through my own doubts. Part of my reticence in writing again on this topic was the interactions with the homeowner. It’s true, none of us knew Jessica. But I’d like to say that it’s possible to care about a person (and a community) without having any familial or financial interest in the matter. And whenever you raise up the name of someone who has passed away you are doing the right thing.

The people who volunteered to care for this memorial were community members, bike advocates, neighbors, and concerned and caring citizens. Jessica was a woman whose life had a great value, and today she is still helping build a stronger community and safer streets.


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