They're called ghost bikes.

They seem ghostly — bicycles painted white, adorned with flowers and a cross or maybe a hand-painted sign with the legend "Cyclist Killed Here, Slow Down."

They convey the grim, silent warning that any rider whizzing along without a care one minute can be dead the next.

A new one catches the eye along McEwen Road near Highway 4 in Contra Costa County. It marks the last ride of 24-year-old Mark Pendleton, killed by a hit-and-run driver Nov. 24.

Pendleton was the eighth cyclist to die on East Bay roads this year, and the 23rd in the past three years, according to coroners in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

"We put up a half dozen or so ghost bikes in the last few years," said Robert Raburn, executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. "We put them there to remember and draw attention that a bicyclist became a victim of a crash with a vehicle. I hope the motorists can recognize their behavior can lead to tragedy."

While cycling advocates readily admit that riding deaths also come from bicyclists' errors, they say it is the cyclist who almost always loses.

They also say that relative to many other activities, including driving a car, bicycling is fairly safe.

Even so, one death is too many, they say, and education, attitude changes and better planning on road projects are needed to keep more ghost white bikes from appearing.


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The education would be for improved safety awareness among cyclists; the attitude change would be for vehicle drivers who act as though the road belongs to them alone.

Pendleton's sister-in-law said she is angry that some people seem to think he was responsible for his own death. "It's infuriating when I see some of these blogs talking about his death that say bikers need to obey the rules of the road," said Georgia Guadarrama. She was serving cookies at a memorial bike ride for Pendleton on Nov. 29, five days after his death.

"He was on his side of the road, on the shoulder, and this car went across the double yellow line and hit him in the shoulder of his lane. Mark knew the law and he didn't push the limits."

The person who killed him drove what the Highway Patrol says was a Chevrolet Silverado pickup or a GMC Yukon or Suburban.

There is a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the driver.

Cyclists and motorists may share the burden of safety, but law enforcement and prosecutors need to go after drivers who kill cyclists, said Rick Schiller, an East Bay resident whose brother was killed 21/2 years ago on Skyline Drive in Oakland. Schiller campaigned to charge the motorcycle rider who killed his brother Ed Weiss, but nothing happened.

"I don't think law enforcement is aggressive enough when there is a crash," Schiller said. "If someone runs a red light and hits a bicyclist, and they are not on alcohol or drugs, they just get a ticket. The victim has no recourse. There is so much crime going on, the district attorney will only prosecute if it's a slam dunk that they know they will win."

Schiller said the publicity his brother's death generated brought more police to the Skyline Drive area and slowed traffic, but the road still has a problem with speeding cars and motorcycles.

That may never change.

"If you're riding a bicycle, whether you're right or wrong, cars and motorcyclists can't see you, and if you're going to get hit, you lose," Schiller said. "You have to expect the cars to do stupid things."

Road safety has to be holistic, said Martinez police Chief Tom Simonetti, whose town has seen two bicycle deaths in the past three years, including a 13-year-old boy this year.

"It is paramount that people wear reflective clothing if they are going to ride at night, have reflectors and the obvious one of wearing a helmet," Simonetti said.

"And drivers just need to be aware of cyclists. On streets where there are bike lanes, they need to respect those lanes and steer clear. Cyclists need to respect cars and cars need to respect those lanes and be extremely careful when making right-hand turns."

A Berkeley woman who bikes for her business agrees.

Cyclists and cars have to repeat the mantra of "share the road" until local governments start building bike lanes separate from roads or protected by physical barriers, said Cynthia Powell, who rides 15 to 20 hours a week for her bike courier business, Pedal Express.

"Because we have cars and bicycles on the same roads, it's not an ideal situation, and I don't think we can continue to head in that direction," Powell said. "We need to create a separate space for cyclists the way they do in some places in Europe. It doesn't have to be the way it is now, if we invest in it."

Raburn, of the Bicycle Coalition, said that although the idea is far from current reality, he has seen improvements in making the roads safer for bikes.

Because of work done by the coalition and other advocates, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has allocated $10 million a year for the next five years for safe routes in transit projects, Raburn said.

Bike coalitions also have gotten the MTC to consider bike lanes on road projects as a matter of policy.

"In the last decade, we've begun to see bike lanes," Raburn said. "You didn't see them 10 years ago."

Reach Doug Oakley at doakley@bayareanewsgroup.com

Online
  • Map of fatalities and danger zones: View East Bay fatalities, see where experts say where bike riding can be dangerous, and add your own danger points. Go to ContraCostaTimes.com/maps or InsideBayArea.com/maps.
  • Bike safety tips.

    Dangerous places to ride, according to riders and police
  • Ygnacio Valley Road, Contra Costa County
  • Niles Canyon Road between Fremont and Sunol
  • Vasco Road between Brentwood and Livermore
  • Telegraph Avenue, Broadway and San Pablo Avenue coming into downtown Oakland
  • Webster Street, downtown Oakland
  • Franklin Street, downtown Oakland
  • Fruitvale Avenue between Foothill Boulevard and International Boulevard in Oakland
  • West MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland
  • Intersection of 62nd Street, Florio Street, College Avenue and Claremont Avenue in Oakland
  • San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley
  • Ashby Avenue in Berkeley
  • Sacramento Street in Berkeley