Durham could remove ghost bikes and roadside memorials | Durham County | Indy Week
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Durham could remove ghost bikes and roadside memorials 

A ghost bike memorializes Joshua Johnson, who died in August 2013 when his scooter was hit by a car at University Drive and Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard.

Photo by Lisa Sorg

A ghost bike memorializes Joshua Johnson, who died in August 2013 when his scooter was hit by a car at University Drive and Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard.

Roadside flowers and altars, mementos and ghost bicycles: These remembrances, which signify where a fatal traffic accident has happened, can remain in the public rights-of-way for years.

As the INDY reported last week, the city of Durham wants to regulate roadside memorials, permitting workers to remove them if officials deem them a safety hazard or as interfering with "the public use or enjoyment of the property."

The Durham Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Commission voted 9–1 in support of the city's Memorials on City Property policy with one important exception. The commission suggested revising the wording to say that the 30-day period for memorial removal "would be triggered only if the City receives a complaint from someone who says that they live or work in Durham."

Durham City Council would have to approve the policy for it to go into effect. Council could discuss the policy next month.

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

"While it is important to respect the solemn purpose of these installations, the City must balance that respect with its responsibility to manage the right-of-way to protect public safety."

It appears Durham won't take such a hardline approach. According to a proposed city resolution, if the memorial does not 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.

According to a written note to the Commission, Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson had previously told the commission that the Jesus Huerta memorial erected at Durham Police headquarters—not ghost bikes—prompted the policy.

"I will state (and would ask you to share freely) that the ghost bikes were not what started this conversation or prompted us to develop a policy. Rather, circumstances surrounding the removal of the Jesus Huerta memorial from police headquarters brought to light the fact that we had no consistent or transparent policy about how memorials were treated. Nonetheless, we acknowledged early on that any policy we develop would be applicable to and have an impact on the ghost bikes, as they are one of the more visible and consistent memorials that show up in our rights-of-way. This policy is a result of our effort to address that question."

Last year, according to police and an independent investigation, Huerta fatally shot himself in the back of a Durham Police car while he was handcuffed. The independent investigation concluded the DPD officer had not adequately frisked Huerta before cuffing him; the officer was disciplined but not fired. No criminal charges were filed against him.

Huerta's death, and several officer-involved shootings, sparked protests, including one in which DPD officers fired tear gas into the crowd. Huerta supporters erected a memorial to him in a grassy area near the DPD parking lot, where Huerta died.

This article appeared in print with the headline "In the name of Chuy"

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