I spend a lot of time in Dupont Circle, and seeing the memorial to Alice Swanson had become part of my daily routine. The memorial, pictured, (photo via the Washington City Paper) was a simple, understated reminder that a tragedy had occurred and that all motorists (and cyclists) need to pay attention so everyone stays safe and alive. Over the past year, the memorial had been well kept, often decorated for the various seasons, and generally stocked with fresh flowers. It was never an eye-sore, and never attempted to make any statement about blame in the accident or the politics of cycling in the District.
Friday evening, as I walked up Connecticut Avenue, I noticed the memorial was missing. As the Washington City Paper reports, the District Department of Public Works was responsible for removing the memorial. According to the City Paper, the bicycle was removed as a response to complaints from Dupont Circle businesses. The two nearest businesses, La Tomate and Cosi, were not responsible for the complaints.
Ghost bikes are intended to be left in perpetuity, and have been installed in many cities across the country. The Alice Swanson ghost bike, as I mention, was well maintained, did not block street or pedestrian traffic, and as best as I can tell offended no one.
Swanson's aunt has set up a new memorial, some flowers and a sign asking why Mayor Fenty had the bike removed. This is a good question, and I have posed that question to various District officials. I will report back on what, if any, response is received. However, this is all aside from the main point.
If the city's statement is true, that local businesses had complained, I have to ask the question, which local businesses and why? I know of at least three businesses within visual sight of the memorial that had no problem with it. I find it hard to believe that a well-kept, thought provoking memorial had a negative effect on business. I have to wonder if the trash company, KMG Hauling, had anything to do with this request. Again, for those who did not see the memorial in person, I want to stress it made no statement about who was at fault in the accident.
The city handled this poorly, sending DPW to cut the lock on the bike, then leaving the memorial at Cosi. While it's not the city's job to maintain a memorial left by residents, the status quo for the past year (leaving it alone) seemed to work just fine. I could understand if the memorial had been left unattended, was blocking traffic, or had become a safety hazard. None of those were the case. Someone complained, someone with enough clout with the District government to get it removed quickly.
I'd like to know who these local businesses are. If we're going to start cracking down and "cleaning up" Dupont Circle, I hope to see MPD out enforcing the no sandwich boards on sidewalk laws, and for God's sake I hope Animal Control comes to get the unleashed Corgi that wanders around. Oh I know Georgie is a nice dog, but there are leash laws.
In other cities, Mayor Fenty would already have an angry critical mass of cyclists surrounding both his home and office. Also, any business that "requested" the memorial be removed would be facing a serious boycott. If it's a priority for the District to become more "bicycle friendly" it's a poor move to dismantle such an inoffensive and poignant memorial.