While driving through town, one might notice white bicycles on the side of the road. These are ghost bikes, a memorial for a person who died while riding a bike.
The ghost bike program started in 2003 in St. Louis. Since then, ghost bikes have been placed throughout the world. In New Mexico, there are 24 bikes around the state. Jennifer Buntz, president of the Duke City Wheelmen, said when the group brought the program to Albuquerque in 2009, awareness of the program spread throughout the community.
Since the bikes started popping up around town, it might be easy to think that there have been more deaths around the city involving cyclists.
Travis Medina is an avid bike rider. He said he's seen more and more ghost bikes pop up around the area. When he rides, it's a reminder to stay safe and obey the rules of the road.
"I feel like ghost bikes have been increasing on the road quite a lot," Medina said. "I feel like every time I bike past a ghost bike, it's just another reminder that people actually lose their lives doing this (biking)."
But, it doesn't mean more cyclist deaths have occurred in the past years. According to Buntz, the reason it seems like there are more ghost bikes on the road is because families want to put them up for loved ones who have died many years ago. For example, Chris Ore died in 1999 when a driver ran a red light and killed him at the intersection of Las Lomas Road and University Boulevard. Ore received a ghost bike memorial just this year.
Even though the number of cyclist deaths is about the same each year, Buntz said it's still too many. Part of what the Duke City Wheelmen does is educating the community about bike safety for drivers as well as cyclists.
"Some of it (safety) isn't as intuitive as you might think," Buntz said. "They say you never forget how to ride a bike, but there's a lot more to riding safely and with confidence than simply being able to balance. There's skills that people don't even realize that are important, but once you start to think about it (safety) and once you start to get some of those skills down, you start to realize how critical it is."
Although some of the deaths were caused by distracted drivers, some were just tragic accidents. Lee Newsom, owner of the Kickstand bike shop said his friend, Javier, died in a bike accident that was no one's fault.
"Javier was riding home after hanging out with some friends," Newsom said. "He was going fast, came around the corner, he had no brakes, he had no way of slowing down, stop, readjust or lay it down — he just hit the back of a car."
When the ghost bikes first came to Albuquerque, the city would remove them from the site they were placed at. Now, the ghost bikes are treated like descansos, white crosses that serve as a memorial on the side of the road and cannot be removed. Buntz said she's surprised how responsive the community has been to the program.
"Through the simple act of getting a bike and painting it white and placing it, can offer a family and friends a way to remember their loved one that seems to touch them very deeply," Buntz said.