Roadside Distractions: ACHD Memorial Plan Turns Heads 

"We think they're an effective way of memorializing the people and saying, 'Hey, people are dying on the streets.'"

The ghost bike memorializing Victor Haskell has stood for almost two years near where he was struck and killed by an SUV in September 2013. The case against the motorist ended in a hung jury June 5.

Harrison Berry

The ghost bike memorializing Victor Haskell has stood for almost two years near where he was struck and killed by an SUV in September 2013. The case against the motorist ended in a hung jury June 5.

On a rainy early morning in September 2013, Gavin Haley struck and killed bicyclist Victor Haskell with his SUV near the corner of State and 30th streets, which was under construction at the time. Haley's lawyer told jurors at his trial that he heard something hit his SUV but when he stopped his car and looked around, he couldn't see Haskell in the dark and rainy conditions. His trial ended June 5 with a hung jury, unable to decide if Haley illegally left the scene of an accident or failed to call for help after hitting Haskell, who was found hours later in the construction zone.

The scene looks different today. The construction has been replaced with a sidewalk and traffic signal. Two monuments stand as reminders that a tragedy took place there: a cross bearing Haskell's name that has been attached to the signal pole, and a ghost bike installed by a coalition of Boise cycling groups. For Boise Bicycle Project Founder Jimmy Hallyburton, sites like these are part of a broader community discussion about the relationship between Boise's motorists and bicyclists.

"We [at BBP] think they're an effective way of memorializing the people and saying, 'Hey, people are dying on the streets,'" he said.

A proposed rule change that will go before the Ada County Highway Commission Wednesday, July 8 would put memorial sites under the purview of ACHD. According to the proposal, which could be voted on as early as Wednesday, July 22, all roadside memorials within ACHD's jurisdiction would be regulated by a licensure program that would distinguish between temporary memorials—which would be allowed to stand for a year and then removed—and permanent memorials erected by the deceased's family members. As an alternative, memorialists could also ask ACHD for a pre-approved sign which would mark the spot where someone has died.

Area cycling organizations have said that the proposed rule would remove memorials that have broad community significance, but ACHD told Boise Weekly that it would establish standards for roadside memorials that protect rights of way.

"It will formalize a lot of what we're doing now on an informal basis," said ACHD spokesman Craig Quintana. "Now, we're adding some more structure to that."

According to Quintana, the proposed rule originated when ACHD crews removed a roadside memorial dedicated to Olivia Schnacker, a 13-year-old girl who died two days after being struck by a car near the intersection of Ustick Road and Jullion Street in April 2014. Her memorial was elaborately maintained until its removal. Her parents decorated it with flowers and other embellishments to mark special occasions. At one point, the family added large red bows to the memorial, which ACHD determined were too close to a traffic signal for comfort.

"That was a safety issue, and we'd worked with the family to make modifications, but there were complaints from the neighborhood," Quintana said. "We took stuff out, but we failed to contact the Schnacker family, which caused a lot of heartache."

ACHD enlisted the Schnackers in a working group to help draft the roadside memorial rule, though members of the Schnacker family could not be reached for comment on this story. Quintana described the rule as "trying to hit the sweet spot between safety and sensitivity," still, there are road users who dislike all roadside memorials.

"If one of these things is done right, it's a distraction," said Julian Jenkins, who called ACHD during the public comment period on the rule. Jenkins lives near the intersection of Locust Grove Road and Pine Street, where there's a roadside memorial he calls "an eyesore."

"I don't think the side of the road is a place for a permanent memorial," he said.

Brenda Wood, office manager for Family Advocates, has a similar opinion. Family Advocates is located on State Street yards from Haskell's ghost bike. Wood said she's perplexed by the memorial.

"I understand why they put them up, but what's the meaning of it? There's no real message of the ghost bikes that I see," Wood said. "[The ghost bike] has outlasted its purpose."

The proposed rule comes at a sensitive moment in the relationship between ACHD and Boise's bicycling community. On June 15, Boise received a "silver" bicycle-friendliness rating from the League of American Bicyclists. Boise Mayor Dave Bieter has publicly said he believes the city deserves a "gold" rating, but Hallyburton said that Boise may have received a lower rating because of bicycle accidents and deaths. On June 18, Boise State University public affairs journal The Blue Review tallied 1,195 bicycle crashes in Ada County reported to the Idaho Transportation Department since 2007, including 11 fatalities.

Some bike advocates are suspicious of the proposal. For one thing, memorials must be able to fit into a 36-inch by 36-inch by 36-inch cube—too small for many ghost bikes. For another, the proposed rule specifically identifies ghost bikes as "temporary" memorials that would ultimately be removed. Members of bicycling organizations, meanwhile, see the bikes as permanent.

Lisa Brady, a member of both the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance board and ACHD's Bicycle Advisory Committee, has planned rides of silence for cyclists killed on the roads and helped install their ghost bikes. She said the plan to regulate roadside memorials is an affront.

"I knew the policy was coming but I was surprised at how restrictive it was," she said. "What hit me personally was that it could only be put up by the family of the victim."

For Brady, ghost bikes reflect the sometimes deadly relationship between motorists and cyclists. The rule, she said, renders cyclists' side of that relationship invisible. Her qualm is that families aren't always cognizant of the symbolic value of ghost bikes.

Brady said if she were to suffer a fatal bike accident,"I would hope that my community would stand up and [memorialize me]. The family might not know to do it."

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