Chuck Gilbreth's Ghost Bike Will Not Be Removed

Chuck Gilbreth's ghost bike sans the violation notice. Photo: Sara Kazemi

While on the road I received a voicemail from Cynthia Harris, Council Representative & Policy Advisor to Councilmember Marti Emerald. This is what she said (in part),

I just want you to know that I spoke with Environmental Services. They’re going to hold off [removing the Chuck Gilbreth ghost bike]; they won’t refer [the complaint] to Street Division. The bike should not be removed. I would not be too concerned; we did speak with them. Part of this was the lack of communication on my part. Apparently there were a couple of complaints from folks who did not realize that it was a memorial that were referred straight to Environmental Services. We just followed up on that and let them know that yes, it is a memorial.

Thank you to everyone who called or emailed Councilmember Emerald's Office. I'd like to echo Randy Van Vleck, the Active Transportation Manager for the City Heights CDC who praised Councilmember Marti Emerald and her staff stating that they "have been huge supporters of livable streets. This is yet another example of her committment to the principles of the Complete Streets Act and supporting efforts thereof; such as this effort to raise awareness about this dangerous road segment."

Protest of the Removal of Chuck Gilbreth's Ghost Bike

Angered that the City of San Diego plans on removing the ghost bike placed to honor Chuck Gilbreth's life, riders and other supporters will be protesting all day tomorrow (July 12) at the location where Gilbreth was killed.

Gilbreth Ghost Bike. Photo: Sara Kazemi

This will be an all-day affair. Please feel free to come earlier or later than the posted time.

Chuck Gilbreth was a cyclist who was tragically killed on Montezuma Dr near Collwood when an impatient motorist decided to pass a city bus on the right, in the bicycle lane, plowing into him and knocking him into the road. In memoriam of Mr. Gilbreth, there is a Ghost Bike chained up to a pole near the site of the incident. The City of San Diego now wants to remove this bike. As the story states, this would not be such a huge slap in the face if the City had taken the steps to make this street safer for cyclists to bike on in light of Gilbreth's death. Please join us in protesting the removal of his bike at the site of the ghost bike (just West of Montezuma and Collwood)

UPDATE: If you are unable to attend please feel free to send this email to Councilmember Marti Emerald at

Dear Councilmember Marti Emerald,

Chuck Gilbreth was tragically killed by a pickup truck on April 18, 2012 while riding his bicycle in the east bound bicycle lane on Montezuma Road. Please ask your City Staff to not remove the ghost bike on Montezuma Road near Collwood Boulevard until the road safety improvements have been made to Montezuma Road.

The city Transportation Department is studying the traffic road conditions relative to bicycle rider safety and should submit a report to you shortly. Please do not remove the ghost bike until bicycle safety improvements have been made to Montezuma Road.
Thank you.

Update 12:00pm: Just got a call from Cynthia Harris at Marti Emerald office. Gilbreth’s memorial will not be removed. Thank you to all who called. More soon

City of San Diego to remove Chuck Gilbreth Ghost Bike

Caltrans isn't the only governmental bureaucracy that dislikes ghost bikes. I just learned that the ghost bike placed by the SDSU bike advocacy group, The Bike Stand, to honor Chuck Gilbreth's life will soon be removed by the City of San Diego. This isn't the first time that the City has removed a ghost bike.

GIlbreth Ghost Bike Take Down Notice. Photo: Sara Kazemi
Gilbreth Ghost Bike. Photo: Sara Kazemi
Grieving Atip Ouypron. Photo:

Almost four years ago, Atip Ouypron was killed when crossing the dangerously wide and bicycle-unfriendly University Avenue and Park Boulevard intersection. Ouypron's death resulted in an outpouring of grief. A ghost bike was placed to honor Ouypron's life and to serve as a reminder of a life taken far too early. The City wasted no time or funds in removing the ghost bike and yet four years later has done very little to improve the intersection that cost Ouypron his life. Neither of the four traffic lights at Park Boulevard and University detect bicycle riders. This lack of detection gives riders three choices: either running the red light to risk a ticket or death, transforming into pedestrian to hit the walk button to trigger the green light or, waiting for a vehicle to come up and trigger the traffic light.

Park Boulevard has recently been resurfaced and striped with parking spaces but has no accommodations for bicyclists at University Avenue. The steep westbound section of University Avenue leading to Park Boulevard has no bike lane which creates an unpleasant riding environment with fast moving vehicles passing slow moving riders who are heading uphill.

It wouldn't be as upsetting to have ghost bikes removed if these agencies worked to improve the area that resulted in the death in the first place. In Venuto's case - a more sturdy barrier could have been installed to replace the chainlink fence separating SR-56 from the bike path. Had that improvement been made in the year since Venuto's death, the notice to remove Venuto's ghost bike wouldn't sting as much.

University Avenue leading up to Park Boulevard could look like this. Photo from

In the four years since Ouypron died, the city could have at the very least lowered the sensitivity on the traffic lights so that lone riders could be assured that they could get a green light before continuing on their journey. Instead both Caltrans and the City have chosen to waste public funds by removing something that should serve as a reminder that our city is still extremely unfriendly to riders. Instead of focusing resources on removing memorials that don't harm anyone, perhaps both the City and Caltrans can work on addressing the issue that these memorials are reminding us all of and work on making the city safer for all its residents and users of our transportation network.


City to Study Ways to Improve Bicycle Safety on Montezuma Road

Charles Gilbreth (June 20, 1948 - April 18, 2012). Photo:

In a city that was built around the automobile, it has taken a recent death and a subsequent memorial ride honoring the dead rider in order to get our elected representatives and the city staff to note that our existing transportation network does not accommodate all San Diegans in a manner that is safe, efficient and comfortable.

In addition to Councilmember Todd Gloria, the latest champion for a more livable San Diego is Councilmember Marti Emerald. In a May 25, 2012 Memorandum to Mayor Jerry Sanders, Councilmember Emerald requested that the City study Montezuma Road to improve bicycle safety in the wake of Charles Gilbreth's death on April 18:

I request that you initiate a study of the roadway design of Montezuma Road between Fairmount Avenue and 55th Street, with regard to bicycle safety. Montezuma Road is a very important link in the City's bicycle network, providing one of the few routes for bicyclists traveling east to west to/from a large area of the City and County of San Diego.

As you may know, a cyclist was killed on this stretch of road on April 18, 2012. While to my knowledge, the preliminary reports on the accident indicate that roadway design was not to blame, I find there is significant evidence and testimony that this area is dangerous for cyclists. I believe this corridor is in need of study to determine if additional measures are warranted to improve bicycle safety.

The use of bicycles for commuter and recreational travel offers public benefits for those who ride and for those who do not. The City needs to do everything it can to protect bicycle riders and thereby encourage more people to ride.

On June 5, Garth K. Sturdevan, Director of the Transportation and Storm Water Department that oversees bicycle projects and issues responded, in part, as follows:

This is in response to your May 25th, 2012 memo regarding bicycle safety on Montezuma Road. As requested, staff will perform an assessment of Montezuma Road between the limits of Fairmount Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard to determine if further measures can be implemented to improve bicycle safety. We will respond within 90 days with the results of our investigation.

Much thanks to Tim Taylor, Council Representative for Councilmember Emerald, for both following up on my initial request and ensuring that this one death would not be forgotten.

I will post subsequent updates as I learn of them.

Our Thoughts on the Investigation Results of Charles Gilbreth's and David Ortiz's Deaths

San Diegans tired of living in a City that is dangerous to vulnerable road users protest and demand a more livable San Diego at the Charles Gilbreth Memorial Ride. Photo: Randy Van Vleck

NBC News published a story on June 4 regarding two vehicle / cyclist collisions, both resulting in the cyclists's death. Charles Gilbreth, a 63-year old grandfather, was killed while cycling home from work in a bike lane on Collwood Avenue. According to the NBC story, investigators have recommended criminal charges against the un-named driver responsible for Mr. Gilbreth's death. As well they should have. That the motorist violated Mr. Gilbreth's right-of-way is not subject to reasonable dispute. Mr. Gilbreth was exactly where he was supposed to be and it is a crime that he was killed.

David Ortiz, 29 and married, was likewise killed on the streets of San Diego, on Balboa Avenue. Unlike Mr. Gilbreth, David Ortiz was on his way to work when he was struck by a Ford Expedition, weighing at least 5,500 lbs. NBC quoted Lt. Rick O'Hanlon, who stated "[b]oth the driver and the cyclist share responsibility for [Ortiz's death]." Investigators, however, have never provided a reasonable explanation how Mr. Ortiz, struck from behind, shares responsibility for his own death. Did the police determine Mr. Ortiz was responsible merely because he was a cyclist on Balboa Avenue, a road designed with no consideration for anything other than multi-ton vehicles, moving at close-to-freeway speeds? Did Mr. Ortiz veer into the path of the Explorer? Was the motorist blinded by the early morning sun?

The police - or our public officials - must explain to the community how they determined David was responsible for causing the collision that resulted in his death. BikeSD attempted to obtain the Ortiz police report, but its request was denied. BikeSD has reached out to Lt. O'Hanlon but, again, has not received a satisfactory explanation. This is the same Lt. O'Hanlon who previously commented to BikeSD that, "to be charged with a crime, there has to be a death.” That is apparently true for Charlie Gilbreth. But what about David Ortiz?


Chris Taylor is an attorney and everyday cyclist, committed to a more livable San Diego.