A white bicycle chained to a telephone pole on Glenridge Drive in Sandy Springs isn’t an abandoned ride — it’s a memorial to a cyclist who died in a crash on that road, one of many such “ghost bikes” around the state.
Felix Mayer, a 57-year-old Dunwoody resident and cyclist, was struck and killed by a driver while riding his bike on April 24. The painted white bicycle is near the scene of the crash to honor Mayer, said David Matthews, founder of the Decatur nonprofit Bike Friendly ATL, who placed the memorial. Matthews said the memorial also demonstrates a continued need to make the streets safer for all people on the road.
Mayer’s ghost bike memorial is one of 83 Matthews has placed, mostly around Georgia, to pay tribute to cyclists killed in crashes on the road. For Matthews, the work is a way to show support for the families of those cyclists and promote street safety and awareness.
“I can let them know that they’re not by themselves and that there are other people that care, that mourn,” said Matthews. “It’s through the ghost bikes that I’m trying to make our roads safer for everybody, and if that helps cyclists and pedestrians also, that’s a good thing.”
Mayer was struck by a truck while riding on Glenridge Drive, north of I-285, according to the Sandy Springs Police Department. The memorial is around 5881 Glenridge Drive, near the intersection of Hammond Drive.
Leonardo Angulo Banos of Norcross, the driver of the white pickup truck that hit him, fled the scene, according to SSPD. He was arrested and charged with first-degree felony vehicular homicide and felony hit-and-run.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused delays in the court system, so Banos is not yet indicted but remains in Fulton County Jail without bond, according to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.
20 years of ghost bikes
Matthews hosted a ceremony on May 30 to place Mayer’s finished ghost bike near the location of the crash. About 50 people attended, said Neil Fleming, a Sandy Springs resident who helped get police presence for the ghost bike dedication.
Fleming, who has also been hit by car while cycling, said he was riding his bike on the same road hours before the crash that killed Mayer.
“I was on a bike on that road right where he was hit,” Fleming said. “It struck home with me.”
Donald Hall, a Dunwoody resident who cycled with Mayer for years in a Dunwoody cycling group, said he was shocked when he heard about the crash, especially since Mayer was a strong cyclist.
“I think it was touching, the number of people that came out to participate in [the memorial],” Hall said. “Any cyclist killed while riding is a horrible thing.”
Mayer’s memorial is one of four ghost bikes placed in Sandy Springs since Matthews started the memorials in 2000.
Matthews hasn’t personally known any of the people for whom he makes the ghost bikes, but he said he still gets emotional about the memorials every time.
“When I get a message that someone has gone down, it hurts,” Matthew said. “It really hurts because it’s something that 98% of the time we as a society avoid talking about.”
Matthews said usually one of his about 6,500 followers of Bike Friendly ATL, who are mostly people in the Southeast, let him know when a cyclist dies in a crash. He also does internet searches for fatal bike crashes.
He uses old, donated bikes then paints them white and adds flowers and a sign with the person’s name. Prepping a bike could take about 20 hours, Matthews said.
Matthews doesn’t coordinate with cities to place the ghost bike memorials but tries to place it in an area near the crash that wouldn’t obstruct pedestrians or landscapers. He said the memorials usually get taken down within a year, but a few have stayed up much longer.
“Most cities don’t want them because from their eyes, their roads are not safe,” Matthews said. “And I’m sorry, but they’re right. They’re not safe, not even close. Don’t even look at the ghost bikes, just look at the fatalities in cars.”
Sandy Springs spokesperson Dan Coffer said the city does not have plans to remove the ghost bike memorial, which was still up as of July 28, and doesn’t know whether it’s on public or private property.
A push for safer streets
Fleming said he has lobbied Sandy Springs to have more education programs, specifically for law enforcement, to make the streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians. He said the streets have gotten safer over the past few years, but he also thinks Sandy Springs could do better.
“In terms of trying to do educational stuff for motorists and cyclists, that just doesn’t seem to be happening,” Fleming said.
Sandy Springs spokesperson Sharon Kraun said the city is working on planning initiatives that include new side paths and trails for cyclists and walkers as part of its Transportation Master Plan.
Fleming said both cyclists and drivers have to follow the road rules, and Sandy Springs roads are usually wide enough to accommodate both types of transportation.
Matthews said no city is doing enough to make the streets safer, and he thinks the federal government should pass a vulnerable road user law, which was passed in Dunwoody in November 2019.
Vulnerable road user laws increase penalties for motorists who violate laws that protect cyclists and pedestrians, such as not stopping for people crossing in crosswalks or giving 3 feet of space while passing cyclists.
Matthews said there needs to be more accountability on the roads for people in cars because of the damage a car can cause to others sharing the road.
“All it takes is everyone slowing down just a little bit,” Matthew said. “Most people are going faster than the speed limit posted, and that amount of time is the time it takes for you to react in a rational or irrational way.”