Caltrans Dislikes Ghost Bike Memorials that Honor Bicyclist’s Lives

Nick Venuto Ghost Bike Memorial.To be removed by Caltrans on 7/20/2012. Photo: Shane Schaetz

Last May, Nick Venuto was killed when riding on the bike path that parallels State Route 56 when a driver lost control of her SUV while speeding and flipped over and onto the bike path instantly killing Venuto who was riding by at that moment. As is the custom around the country, riders wishing to honor a dead rider’s life and memorialize it placed a ghost bike on the flimsy chainlink fence that separates the bike path from SR-56 – the fence that did nothing to save Venuto‘s life.

Now, I just learned that Caltrans is forbidding any memorials being placed on the flimsy fence separating the bike path from State Route 56.

Caltrans Take Down Notice. Photo: Shane Schaetz

The note states:

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) sympathizes with your loss and understands your efforts to remember your loved one with this roadside memorial, but the state law prohibits such monuments to be placed alongside the roadway for the safety of other motorists and pedestrians. Please contact the Caltrans Public Information Office at 619-688-6670 as soon as possible to make arrangements for the removal of this memorial. If no contact is made with the office by 7-20-12, we will remove the items and store them for up to 30 days at one of our maintenance offices for your pick up.

I have contacted Seth Cutter, our bike/ped coordinator to ask for some clarification on this notice and will post an update when I hear back from him.

UPDATE (7/10): Cutter responded as follows,

Being a member of the bicycling community, I understand that there is a significant meaning behind the ghost bike that memorializes any fallen cyclist. It is however Caltrans policy to look out for the safety of all users of the State Highway System.

Please understand that Caltrans is sensitive to the efforts made by family members and friends to memorialize the loss of a loved one, but state law prohibits monuments to be placed on any State Right-of-Way for the safety of other motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. The memorial on the bike path fence falls within the state Right-of-Way and so is treated the same way as a highway roadside memorial.

In consideration of family members, the memorial is tagged to give them an opportunity to remove sentimental items beforehand.  Memorial items left in place after the due date will be respectfully removed and stored for 30 days for pick up. It is important to note that Caltrans treats memorials on state Right-of-Way the same regardless of specific location.  

If you have any further questions about removal of memorials, please contact our District’s Public Information Officer Cathryne Bruce-Johnson at (619) 688-6670.