The summer heat was a little milder today than it has been lately, and with forecasts predicting that temperatures will be increasing to over a hundred degrees within the next few days, I decided to go for my daily bike ride a little early again today, and I made it a long one. For today’s ride I decided to ride around southeast D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. So I took my favorite route, going past Robert F. Kennedy Stadium and through Kingman and Heritage Islands, and started out today’s Anacostia ride on Anacostia Avenue near Benning Road.
Rather than riding on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, I initially chose to ride on Minnesota Avenue, which parallels the trail and the river, so I could ride through residential areas. The trail has been greatly improved over the past few years, as has the quality of the Anacostia River. But the residential areas provide a better flavor of the historic and unique working-class neighborhood. And it was there that I came across a type of memorial that many people don’t even know is a memorial. I found a “ghost bike.”
By definition, “a ghost bike is a bicycle painted white and left as a memorial, usually by other cyclists, at a site where a cyclist was fatally injured by a collision with a motor vehicle.” And as I would come to find out, the ghost bike I saw on this ride, which is located in the 2600 block of Minnesota Avenue, at the corner of Minnesota Avenue and Burns Street (MAP), marks the spot where a 23-year-old cyclist named Jerrell Robert Elliott was killed by a hit and run driver just last month.
A ghost bike carries with it an extremely personal connection because it memorializes someone at the very location where that person was killed. And Elliott lived only a few feet from where he was hit and left to die very early in the morning of July 23rd. He was considered by family and neighbors to be a really good kid with a bright future. As a child, he was a member of The Young Marines, the Fort Dupont Ice Arena’s youth team and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)/D.C. Police Teen Jr. Police Academy. And he remained active as an adult. The 23-year-old loved playing hockey and riding his bike, and is thought to have been on his way home from a local gym when he was hit.
While I was there paying my respects and taking a photo of the ghost bike and memorabilia that had been left at the site, an incredibly nice young woman from the neighborhood named Wanda stopped to talk with me. She was friendly, and caring, and seemed to embody the best qualities of the neighborhood. She told me a little about Elliot. She also told me about how touched his family was by the cyclists who had brought and placed the ghost bike there. Then she told me about two women who had stopped to help him after he was hit, but that no one had since come forward with any information about what had happened. She said she had a bike, and we also talked about the neighborhood, and how the cycling infrastructure is not only inadequate overall, but how it has not kept pace with more affluent areas of the city. Before she left, she stopped to clean up a broken vase and some debris at the base of the ghost bike, further exemplifying to me how thoughtful and welcoming so many people in the Anacostia neighborhood are.
In addition to the personal aspect of a ghost bike memorial, its meaning and appearance also invoke a reminder of the vulnerability of all cyclists. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 726 cyclists were killed in this country in bicycle/motor vehicle crashes in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available. So as I rode back to my office at the end of my ride, I rode with a renewed awareness of the need to always ride defensively on my bike, and to drive cautiously when I’m in a car. I hope all of you reading this will do the same.
NOTE: Police are still searching for the driver of the car that hit Elliott. The suspect was driving a gray colored vehicle, possibly a Volvo, according to a release from the MPD. “We’re looking for anyone who may have seen anything—either leading up to the actual crash or even after the crash,” according to Officer Robert Wilkins. Information can be provided anonymously through The D.C. Crime Solvers Program by calling (202) 727-9099, or you can text your tip to 50411.