Monday, September 12, 2016


    Danika Tyler Garcia (photo credit: Danika's mom)

I see ghost bikes wherever I ride all across the country - and the world, for that matter. Part of why they are made is to memorialize a person who was killed while riding their bike.

One of those killed - here in San Jose - was a teenager named Danika. While I was volunteering for Good Karma Bikes (which I sadly haven’t been able to do for a few months since keeping my freelance writing hamster wheel spinning has become a full-time job in and of itself) I helped her mom locate an old bicycle that could be turned into a ghost bike. 

She contacted me again last week: twists and turns in life meant the ghost bike couldn’t be put up right away. She decided to put it up this past Friday, which was Danika’s 17th birthday. That means she was born on September 9th, 1999 - 9/9/99. 

As some of you know already, I am miffed at the collective way cyclist deaths are covered in the press. Not just because one can play a macabre Cyclist Death Bingo game and - in terms of the scant information conveyed - get five across every time, but because nobody follows up. 

Well, I did. 

In an email, I asked Danika’s mom how she was and asked her to tell me about her daughter. This is what she wrote me (and she gave me permission to reprint it here):

“Danika was a nerd. A big, gentle nerd.”

“She hated bullies, and stuck up for the outcasts. Her friends were the choir/drama kid, LGBTQ kids, anime kids, the kids that are considered "different". The day after the crash, the students at Del Mar had a memorial for her. It lasted until the next morning. Supervised by Danika's best friends Mom.”

“One boy came up to me, wearing a three piece suit that was 3 inches too small for him. He said, "Danika was the only one to talk to me on my first day at school”.” 

“She was kind. Babies loved her. We have a huge Nicaraguan family and lots of little ones. They all flocked to her. Like the Pied Piper of toddlers.”

“I remember how, when I was a teenager, I would tell my mom (I) hated her. All the time. The thing that comforts me now, is she never, not once, told me she hated me. I'll hold that in my heart until I see her again.”

                                 Danika's Ghost Bike (photo credit: Danika's mom)

I mentioned the last time I wrote about ghost bikes that when I pick one out I just look for the biggest one I can find so it can be seen easily. But all of Danika’s mom’s words? All her grief, all Danika’s friends, family and teachers’ grief? There isn’t enough space on the bike frame to write it. 

When someone takes a ride somewhere, they should get to where they are going without incident. Yes, cyclists need to take ownership over their safety and absolutely, drivers need to slow down (and, as Cyclelicious just showed in his coverage of yet another unnecessary road death, never pass cyclists unless you have plenty of room to do so). But street design is also a ‘person of interest’ when a cyclist or pedestrian is hurt or killed on the road. 

So that’s my plea to the media: not only do I want you to follow up on the grieving done by survivors but also follow up with the ‘person of interest’ in every one of these cases: the road itself. In the time that has passed since the death, has the road been redesigned to encourage slower speeds? Has a road diet been done or complete streets initiatives implemented? Are there adequate warning signs of dangers? When you observe people at the site, do you see them engaging in the same behavior that led to the death? What do elected officials have to say? 

                                 Danika's Ghost Bike (photo credit: Danika's mom)

I know journalists are overworked and underpaid but follow up stories like this are more important than stories about Donald Trump’s hair or any ‘daily tracking poll.’ The kind of stories I’m talking about might encourage safer driving, safer cycling and smarter road design - all things that can save lives and up the chances someone like Danika will live to see another birthday (and, from what her mom described, touch more lives). 

Thank you, Danika’s mom, for talking with me. I am thinking of you and of the empty space at a table in a school cafeteria your daughter should be sitting and the empty spot on the street where she should be biking. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for helping with her Ghost Bike and helping get the word out about SAFETY! (Danika's Mom, Dede)