Three days before the one-year anniversary of Rachel Leek’s death, friends decided the time had come to build a public memorial.
On Wednesday, they used a pink chain to lock an all-white bike to a no-parking sign on a grassy spot along the 1000 block of Tennessee Street. They then adorned the bike with fresh flowers, gold beads and a picture of Leek.
“Right after putting it up, we noticed people slowing down right there,” said Alyssa Montoya, a good friend of Leek’s.
On Oct. 16, 2009, the 20-year-old Kansas University student was killed by a drunken driver as she rode her bike south on Tennessee Street, not far from where the memorial sits.
The bike, the first of its kind in Lawrence, is the cyclist equivalent of white crosses placed along roadways, which memorialize the victim and remind drivers to be careful. Known as ghost bikes, the memorials are in more than 100 cities throughout the country.
“It really stands for a symbol for all cyclists and drivers to be more aware of each other and be safe. So it doesn’t have to happen anymore,” Montoya said.
The idea of a ghost bike began circulating shortly after Leek’s death.
Friend Dylan Medlock asked the city of Lawrence to allow for a painted bike and an awareness plaque at the corner of Ninth and Tennessee streets. The city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee endorsed the plan and expanded it to include putting other ghost bikes throughout town.
Those plans were later shelved at the request of Leek’s family.
But on Wednesday, a couple of Leek’s friends decided the time had come for a memorial. They used a bike that Montoya had found after Leek’s death and decorated it. Montoya said others are welcome to put their own reminders of Leek on it.
“They stay up in other cities and are maintained, and they really do seem to make a positive impact on people. I am hoping the city of Lawrence will be willing to let it stay,” Montoya said.
Chair of the Bicycle Advisory Committee Eric Struckhoff wasn’t aware that a ghost bike had gone up on Wednesday. But he said they are a good way to remind drivers to be cautious of cyclists.
“I have seen them in other cities. And, they do get your attention,” Struckhoff said.