A bicycle, spray-painted white and adorned with daffodils and red tulips that now droop over the handlebars, has been chained to a street sign to memorialize a cyclist and teacher who died in hospital after she was struck crossing East 12th Avenue on Windsor Street in late March.
Who set up the bike is unclear, but with "In memory of Amy Hurn" hand-written in black marker along the crossbar, the startling memorial is what's known as a "ghost bicycle," a tribute and protest found worldwide as a reminder of the vulnerability of cyclists, the importance of traffic infrastructure and the mutual responsibility of all road-users.
Ghost bikes are most often installed by friends and family. Although rare in Vancouver, they are common in Montreal and Toronto and were the subject of a recent documentary film in the U.S. Like roadside crosses marking the scene of a fatal accident, ghost bikes evoke gravestones. For activists they symbolize a continued need for safer roads and improved cycling infrastructure.
"It's not just to commemorate what's happened in the past but indicates that bikes are here to stay and they are a growing phenomenon in our cities," said Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition executive director Erin O'Melinn.
According to O'Melinn, the coalition does not know who installed the bike. "This is symbolic of a part of the lifestyle of that person."
Hurn was a well-liked teacher and head of the science department at Van Tech secondary school. She cycled regularly and was wearing a helmet when she was hit March 27. She was 32. Written on the saddle of the ghost bike: "All teachers will miss you." And along the top crossbar: "May your spirit ride safe and free forever."
According to Harry Hur, who's owned the Best Foods Grocery store for 18 years at the southeast corner of the intersection where Hurn was hit, the two-wheeled memorial appeared a few days after her death on March 31. Hur said many cyclists are cautious as they cross 12th Avenue, even when the traffic light grants them the rightof-way. Cars reach speeds of 70 kilometres an hour, he estimates. He has also seen cyclists inch into the intersection and cross the busy street against the light.
Hurn had been in his store. "She was optimistic," he said. Hur said his wife believes the ghost bike brings a bad omen to an already dangerous intersection, one where the neighbourhood petitioned the city to install a proper traffic light instead of the cyclistand pedestrian-controlled light there now. "Always when I come in the morning, I see this. It makes me feel bad," he said.
The corner store opens at 9 a.m. and Hur wasn't at work when the accident happened before 7: 30 a.m. on a Tuesday. "Maybe this bike doesn't allow closing for her," he said.
Hur said he won't contact the city to remove it. A communications manager with the city said the city does not remove seemingly abandoned bicycles but responds to complaints and may remove bicycles if they are considered hazardous.
A ghost bicycle at the intersection of East Eight Avenue and Quebec Street was installed after Dan Winnick was struck and killed in August 2010. Before Hurn, his was the last reported cycling death in Vancouver.
His friends installed the bike. A spray-painted message stenciled into the cement sidewalk at three corners reads, "You are loved and missed Dan. Wear your bike helmet."
A celebration of life for Amy Hurn runs from 3 to 6 p.m. April 26 at Van Tech at 2600 East Broadway.