Montreal 'ghost bike' honoring dead cyclist to be displayed in museum

·2 min read

MONTREAL — The dangerous stretch of Montreal underpass where Mathilde Blais died while cycling to work now has a bike path, with a concrete median to separate the riders from traffic passing by.

And on Sunday, the white commemorative "ghost" bike installed to honour the 33-year-old woman's death was taken down to be sent to a museum, where it will highlight both the dangers of cycling and the progress made to make cities safer.

Groups in several Canadian cities have installed the white-painted bicycles at intersections where cyclists are killed, both as a memorial and a call to action for better infrastructure.

A ceremony was held to remove the bicycle honouring 33-year-old Blais, who died after being struck in the underpass seven years ago.

A coroner's report found her death was avoidable, and urged governments at all three levels to work to improve road safety for cyclists.

Blais' mother was on hand as the white bicycle, which was decorated with flowers, was taken down and handed to the president of Quebec City's Museum of Civilization.

Advocates said the ceremony was held to highlight the ongoing risk cyclists face, but also to recognize the progress that has been made.

They said Blais' death spurred efforts to build the protected bicycle path that now runs past the site of her death.

"Had this been in place seven years ago, Mathilde would not have died," said Séverine Le Page of Vélo Fantôme, the group that organizes the ghost bicycles in the city.

Le Page said the creation of the bicycle path, called the Réseau express vélo or REV, means the Blais' commemorative bicycle can finally be taken down and replaced with a plaque, with the permission of her family.

But she says other ghost bikes will remain in place throughout Montreal because the infrastructure is not yet in place to protect cyclists.

Quebec's automobile association says between 8 and 11 cyclists die on the province's roads each year.

Genevieve Laborde, Blais' mother, described her daughter as someone who always wanted to help others, whether it was through her work as a speech pathologist or by helping the homeless.

"I'm happy to know you can ride safely, because seven years ago it was a very dangerous place," she said of city cyclists.

Museum President Stéphan La Roche said the bicycle would be put on display as a "tangible witness to our social evolution."

He said it was a symbol of grief but also of increasing awareness of the need for safe urban infrastructure to protect cyclists and pedestrians from cars.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2021

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press