Public Memorial

An anonymous reader asks:

What is your take on the subject of flowers/t-shirts/candles/photos being left at the site of a traffic accident? I’m all for the ‘ghost bikes’ as they make a very pertinent point about public safety on the highways and of course, everyone needs to grieve, but after more than two years on I can’t help feeling tributes would be better suited to a more appropriate memorial venue. I know it’s a highly sensitive subject matter – and I certainly wouldn’t want to offend family & friends, but when does a public highway cease being such and instead become a personal memorial?


Hmm – an interesting question and one that I honestly don’t know my feelings on. I, too, would like to know what people’s opinion is on this most sad of subjects. It’s a painful time for the people who have been directly – or indirectly – affected by the death of cyclists on London’s and, more locally, Greenwich’s roads – and we do have the depressing ‘honour’ of several such memorials.

How long do you think they should stay, though? If they are being constantly refreshed and are clearly being cared for, does that make a difference?

I can’t help feeling that the fact that there hasn’t been a new ghost bike for a while (thank heavens) could be partially due to the ‘reminders’ we have at dangerous junctions (after all, no real change has been made to safety provision in that time at those places). But is there a point when the streets should be refreshed and mourning become a more private affair?

18 Comments to “Public Memorial”

  1. Richard says:

    Tributes belong in cemeteries not the public highway.

  2. scared of chives says:

    The ghost bike at the junction of Vanbrugh Hill/Trafalgar Road has been there a long time and flowers are regularly put there.

    If it reminds just a handful of people to watch out/slow down it serves a purpose I guess. Not that it seems to have any effect on idiot drivers speeding round 20mph zones was children go to school.

  3. Chris says:

    Let them be. They do no harm, but serve as a general reminder of how dangerous roads can be.

    There is a particular place where flowers are left regularly and the accident (in which two children died) happened over 5 years ago.

    I have a remote personal connection with one of the familes of the bereaved (too complicated to go into here) and I know it gives them some solace.

    That’s fine by me.

  4. tintinhaddock says:

    The ‘shrine’ at the top of Shooters Hill – the one that often has ‘warrior’ spelt out in giant flowered letters – has been there for years and is, I feel, inappropriate.

  5. I have no problem with them. To be honest I don’t think they’re intended primarily as tributes but as public reminders.

    As a cyclist I’m very aware that most ghost bikes are in places where I think all drivers need a reminder because they’re corners where cyclists are often overlooked. (ie. under A2 by the East Gr Library, and at Vanbrugh Hill/Trafalgar Road) I know to ride wide of the curb in these spots to be better seen, but some cyclists don’t.

    It doesn’t harm anyone, and if one driver looks and is a bit more careful all the better.

  6. Capability Bowes says:

    People mourn in public and grieve in private. The leaving of candles and flowers and so on is an entirely appropriate and necessary part of the healing process. As for “tributes belong in cemeteries” – try walking past the plaque to WPC Fletcher in North London and thinking that. Flowers and candles are an individual’s way of honouring the spot where their loved one fell and serve both as a public manifestation of grief (which is more or less demanded by society at large and always has been) and as a way of saying “We will not forget you”.

    There is a bench in Well Hall Pleasaunce dedicated to the memory of a young mother and without fail, every year on the day she died there are flowers left on the bench – and it rips my heart out, but I am cheered by the thought that someone cares enough to honour that poor woman’s life and the happy hours she spent in the park. Likewise there is a bunch of flowers tied to a lamp post on Bexley Road every year at the site of a car accident.

    Let the flowers, candles and teddies be and give thanks that you’re not having to put them there.

  7. P & D says:

    I think it will become a moot point come July as I cannot imagine that either memorials or ghost bikes will be left in situ for Olympic dignitaries to pass. Not that I’m poo poo either the olympics or the tributes, I just don’t see them surviving the summer.

  8. Richard says:

    Slightly OT but why do people leave the flowers in the plastic wrapper?

  9. methers says:

    I have no problem with the memorials being there. As long as the families of the victims are willing to tend them they should stay.

    Of course, ideally, there would be far fewer deaths on the roads. Paris had no cycling fatalities last year; London had 16. I am impressed by the Cities Fit for Cycling campaign which was launched last week by The Times, and would urge anyone interested in road safety to sign up:

    Note that The Times has put these pages outside their paywall, so anyone can read them and put their name to the campaign without having to give any money to Mr Murdoch.


  10. Capability Bowes says:

    @ Richard

    I expect the responses on this thread arent going the way you would like.

    People leave the flowers in the wrappers to indicate “Your memory is worth the money it cost me to buy these”

  11. JOF says:

    You’re right about flowers in plastic wrappers, Richard. Without the plastic, you can see the beauty of the blooms and then they wither away like flowers do. In plastic, you can’t see them properly and then they rot as a plastic bag of unsightly brown goo.

  12. Neil says:

    I can’t remember if it was Viz or Private Eye that coined the term ‘cellotaph’ for these memorials.

  13. Capability Bowes says:

    Do we really give a damn, Neil? Whichever it was, its remarkably offensive.

  14. Neil says:

    Apologies if that offended you. I do think there is a point (which I’m not convinced I can articulate adequately) about the long term result of these kind of memorials being maintained indefinitely. If more and more appear across our public spaces, at what point to we decide we have too many?

  15. Capability Bowes says:

    If our roads were safer, and we didnt take our lives in our hands every time we got on a bicycle, then there presumably would be far fewer bunches of flowers wrapped in plastic tied to lamp posts. Which would please you and Richard no end, by the sounds. It would please me too, but probably for reasons other than the aesthetic ones Richard seems to object to.

    I really don’t think the Phant needs any more of this on the site, frankly, so am withdrawing from this exchange, other than to reiterate my belief that it people want to remember their loved ones by putting flowers and candles at the place where someone died, and they keep it tidy and put it where nobody is going to fall over it, then that’s their prerogative to do so in a free society. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to look at it – you can always find another route to your destination and thank your lucky stars that nobody has had to tie a bunch of flowers to a lamp post for one of your friends.

  16. Pedro says:

    These memororials are significant reminders someone died close by. Anything which makes us take stock and value our own mortality is important. However, flowers strapped to a lampost soon wither and decay. Perhaps this act is saying it’s about time the law was changed and any death by car should be first treated as murder before accident. Lets face it we must all be sick and tired of reading how pedestrians, cyclists and other motorist died because of someone elses negligence.

  17. Nick says:

    There is a memorial to a young driver killed not far from where I live. Maybe the police should leave their own posters at these scenes ? Like “Not wearing a seat belt”, or “Driving under the influence of drink/drugs”, or “Driving too fast”, or “No insurance, so you’re picking up the tab for this one” ? All 4 applied at this scene.

  18. saddend Mam says:

    I know most people think that a ghost bike memorial is conterversal but as i know first hand how much horror and devestation a childs death causes. A bike memorial to show everyone to be more aware is a good thing.
    my son died 3 years ago this month and the driver never got punished but he drives past the place he killed my son every day it would serve as a reminder of his careless actions.
    i believe the law should take firmer action with drivers who kill but as yet this is so not the case they get a bann for a year and maybe a £80.00 fine, job done.
    Justice is not always served for those who drive around like nutters.