News / Toronto

Small ghost bike for a young Toronto boy: making a memorial for a cyclist

"This is definitely the youngest child I've ever had to put a memorial up for," Geoffrey Bercarich says, his voice trailing off.

Geoffrey Bercarich poses for a photograph with the ghost bike he painted on roof of his apartment for a five year-old boy who died in a cycling accident in Toronto on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. Bercarich creates ghost bikes for victims who die in bicycles accidents on the street of Toronto. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Geoffrey Bercarich poses for a photograph with the ghost bike he painted on roof of his apartment for a five year-old boy who died in a cycling accident in Toronto on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. Bercarich creates ghost bikes for victims who die in bicycles accidents on the street of Toronto. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO — Geoffrey Bercarich has been making "ghost bikes" for fallen cyclists for more than a decade, but he's never made one this small.

At his Toronto home, he stands beside a child's bike — gleaming white from a fresh paint job — that is dedicated to Xavier Morgan, a five-year-old who crashed his bike on a city trail and fell onto a nearby six-lane roadway where he was killed by a car last week.

"This is definitely the youngest child I've ever had to put a memorial up for," Bercarich says, his voice trailing off. "I don't want this to ever happen again. And this memorial is definitely not good enough, but it's my way to show that every life is sacred."

Ghost bikes — reminders of the risks cyclists face — have cropped up around the country and across the world. In Toronto, Bercarich, along with the group Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists, has been building and maintaining them for years.

On Saturday morning, Bercarich will be among a large group of cyclists expected to ride en masse, slowly, but surely, to the spot where Xavier died on Toronto's Lake Shore Boulevard.

Bercarich will bring his latest ghost bike with him, lock it to a nearby post and give the keys to Xavier's aunt and uncle who are expected to be there, he says. The family can take the bike down if the memorial proves too painful.

Since the boy's death, Bercarich and other cyclists have called for a barrier to be put in place on the portion of the Martin Goodman Trail where Xavier fell onto the busy road. On Friday afternoon, city staff announced plans to erect fencing along that section of the trail.

Xavier is so far the only cyclist to die this year in Toronto. Last year, one person died. There were four deaths in 2015, three in 2014 and four in 2013, according to Toronto police.

Bercarich, 33, says he gets a call every time a cyclist is killed in the city.

The latest case was no different. A friend called, sobbing, he says, repeating the words "tragedy" over and over before hanging up.

"Then I got word that it was a five-year-old cyclist that went down," he says. "Then I heard the five-year-old cyclist went to the same school I went to. Then I heard it was on the same trail that I learned to ride a bike on. And it hit really close to home — my home."

So Bercarich — who fixes bikes in his spare time and gives them away for free to those in need — got to work.

He knew exactly which bike, among the dozens he has at his home, to paint for Xavier. It was his friend's first bike, one she learned to ride on. She donated it to him a while ago and wanted something special done with it.

It took him about two hours, using three cans of spray paint, to finish Xavier's bike. First he laid on two coats of flat white paint.

"The final coat is gloss, the overcoat, which creates a reflective surface so cars, when they fly by it, they'll be able to see it better," he says.

After Xavier died, Toronto Mayor John Tory demanded a review of the safety of the city's bike trails.

"It is past time for us to have a hard look at safety on these trails," he said.

Bercarich, however, has little time for politicians' words. He's been hearing the same thing for years, he says.

Between Jan. 1 and May 18, there have been 174 collisions between cyclists and motor vehicles, according to Toronto police data. There were 206 such incidents over the same time period last year. And those numbers don't include doorings, cyclist versus cyclist, or cyclist versus pedestrian crashes.

Bercarich says he wants Xavier's family to know the little boy will be thought of for a very long time to come.

"There are a lot of people who will not rest until some sort of consequences have been made because of his death," he says. "We're going to push really hard for a long time so his death doesn't go unmarked by city councillors and planners."

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