The phenomenon of ghost bikes reaches worldwide. Even while I was still adjusting my understanding of Spanish to local dialect, the message communicated by the appearance of a ghost bike chained to a telephone pole in Quito’s Parque Carolina resonated fluently: a cyclist was killed here. Most likely, the cyclist was struck by an automobile, either a personal car or one of the high Andean capital’s many blue buses.
In my neighborhood is where I first noticed the blue hearts painted on the sidewalk. From a friend, I later learned that the blue hearts, like ghost bikes, are informal markers of tragically acceptable violence. This corazon azul (“blue heart” in Spanish) marks a spot where a pedestrian was struck and killed by an unaware driver. It is a memorial for family and friends as well as an exercise in traffic safety education.
Ghost bikes and blue hearts serve as daily reminders of the fragility of life, especially when we fashion our lives within the context of so much acceptable risk. A novelty in most towns, they are deliberately eye-catching messages, provocative in their simplicity. The unexplained symbol wedges its look in one’s mind so that only later, when one understands what it stands for, can one appreciate the invasive nature of the symbol. And then the inception is complete, the idea is in your mind, and you see the blue hearts and ghost bikes everywhere. The same as when you take a new liking (or disliking) to a style of clothing, you begin to see that style of clothing in every crowd.