Every day, thousands of cars pass Seth Vidal’s white ghost bike along Hillandale Road, a reminder of the well-known cyclist who died in a hit-and-run accident two years ago.

Thousands more pass the ghost bike of Joshua Johnson, which marks the spot at University Drive and Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, where the 33-year-old died after being hit on his scooter in August 2013.

Like roadside flowers, altars and mementoes, these white bicycles signify where a tragedy has happened. They can remain in the public right-of-ways for years.

Now the city wants to regulate memorials posted in the right-of-way, allowing workers to remove them if officials deem they pose a safety hazard or interfere with “the public use or enjoyment of the property.”

Currently, there are no guidelines to direct city staff on how to handle these memorials. Most cities in the U.S., a staff memo reads, have no guidelines about memorials. “Frequently these governments default to a zero-tolerance policy … and when they are found they are immediately removed.”

The Durham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission will discuss the issue at tonight’s meeting at 7, in the second-floor conference room at City Hall. It will forward its recommendations to City Council, which would have to approve the resolution for it go into effect.

“While it is important to respect the solemn purpose of these installations,” the staff memo reads, “the City must balance that respect with its responsibility to manage the right -ofway to protect public safety …”


It appears Durham won’t take such a hardline approach. According to a proposed city resolution, if the memorial doesn’t interfere with safety or use of the property, it can stay there for 30 days from the time city staff has noticed it. When the city removes the memorial, the resolution says, workers will try to identify and contact the people who placed it so it can be returned. General Services will store the materials for 30 days, and if they are unclaimed, the memorials will be disposed of.