The reaction in the community to a dozen or so white bikes that have been installed around northeast Portland has been strong and swift. Ever since our first story about them, people have reached out to share how the bikes trigger sadness because they look like ghost bikes. The bikes evoke even stronger emotions because they are small bikes and many people assume a child was hit and killed in a traffic collision whenever they see one.
Since our story yesterday that uncovered the mystery of who’s behind the bikes — an artist who goes by Dr. Nik (that’s his stage name, his real name is William Pearson) who just moved to Portland in September — we’ve been deluged with hundreds of comments both on here and on Instagram. The vast majority of the responses to Dr. Nik’s peace project have been negative. Many people expressed anger that he knows what ghost bikes are, yet still decided to continue with his project. Others accuse him of appropriating a piece of bike culture for his own pet project. Some people have threatened to remove the bikes altogether.
Here’s a sampling of the comments:
Dear new Portlander, please respect symbols we find sacred, cease immediately and take down the ones you’ve put up
Don’t occupy bike parking indefinitely, mimic ghost bikes, then call it art. If peace is your goal, read the room and try a different approach.
I sincerely thought a child cyclist died near moda center, this is so disrespectful to the real ghost bikes honoring folx whose lives have been lost while biking. I hope these are removed.
First time I saw one was in front of Boise elementary and I found it incredibly alarming. I thought I’d somehow missed a child being killed on a bike in my own neighborhood. Pretty quickly figured out it wasn’t the case and was relieved.
“I’m an artist. Don’t tell me how to paint my pictures.” Plenty of artists steer away from plenty of mediums out of respect, it doesn’t make sense to knowingly abuse the concept of ghost bikes like this
Yeah, this isn’t love. This is ignorance. Ignorance to trauma, pain, and the overwhelming amount of death vulnerable roadway users face.
I spoke to Dr. Nik again today to make sure he was aware of the strong reactions to our story (he wasn’t, he hadn’t been online at all yesterday). When I explained how his work and his comments were being received by many people in our community, he became concerned.
“Would you consider changing the color?” I asked. “Yes, I will consider it,” he replied.
“The last thing I want is somebody to get angry. I don’t want that. It wasn’t my purpose to create anger… I never anticipated negativity from this until now. And I definitely don’t want that,” he continued.
Dr. Nik said he’d welcome anyone who wants to repaint the existing bikes. He plans to continue his project and install many more bikes around town in the coming weeks and months; but from now on he’ll decorate them similar to how he did them in his former hometown of Sarasota, Florida. When I came across his bikes in that city they were painted bright colors like neon green and pink.
He said the next bike he paints will be polka dot.
I believe Dr. Nik means well, but perhaps didn’t fully appreciate the cultural and cycling dynamics that exist in Portland. He’s new to town and seems to really loves bikes and creative activism just like many of us do. Hopefully folks are willing to give him another chance! Learn more about Dr. Nik in this September 2022 news profile from a Sarasota TV station (where he says, “Portland doesn’t know what they’re in for”), on his personal website, or in the video below: