Ghosts of Tampa bicyclists linger in mind and metal

TAMPA

Each Friday morning, at the exact minute her bicyclist sister Diane was hit and killed on a Tampa sidewalk, JoAnn Vega stands at the street corner and rings three cowbells. Her sister loved the Rays.

Tuesdays, instead of meeting her daughter Diane for their once-weekly lunches, Amelia Vega visits the corner to tidy the memorial. She rearranges the candles and brings fresh flowers.

The corner belongs to Larry McGrath, an 82-year-old Tampa golf instructor who built the red concrete block house more than half a century ago. But, in a way, it also belongs to the Vegas.

Today, Diane Vega's family will install a white "ghost bike" on the corner of Spruce Street and Himes Avenue. It will point west, the direction Vega was heading Oct. 1 when a sport utility vehicle ran a red light and drove up onto the curb, killing her.

McGrath says he's honored to provide a spot for the bike. He hopes motorists will see it and slow down. Maybe they'll watch out for bicyclists, he said.

"There's been a lot of accidents," he said.

JoAnn Vega, who works for the St. Petersburg Times, hadn't considered putting up a ghost bike to memorialize her sister, an avid biker and public transportation advocate. But when Michelle Calonge approached her with the idea, she said yes.

Calonge's father opened Joe Haskins Bicycle Shop in Tampa in 1953. Diane Vega was a regular at the shop, chatting with the employees and asking that Haskins do the repairs.

"She was more than just a customer," Calonge said.

At least two other ghost bikes memorialize riders in Tampa and Hillsborough County.

One, installed at the southeast corner of Hyde Park Avenue and Brorein Street in August, marks the spot where LeRoy "Roy" Collins Jr., 75, a retired two-star admiral, was hit by another SUV on July 29.

His bike bears 14 small painted stars to recognize Collins' family. Two welded stars pay tribute to his military service

Another bike was erected last month on 30th Street and Pine Drive to mark the spot where a hit-and-run driver killed University of South Florida researcher Kayoko Ishizuka, 30, as she rode home from the lab on Sept. 25.

Hers is a women's bike with elegant curved handles.

Vega's bike will bear a plaque: Diane Marie Vega, December 30, 1956 – Oct. 1, 2010, ride with the angels.

The bikes are personal memorials honoring the dead, but they're also symbols, part of an international movement aimed at reminding motorists to watch out for bicyclists.

Ghost bikes appeared in St. Louis in 2003. The practice spread to Pittsburgh, then New York City.

In St. Petersburg, one went up in November 2008 for Michael "Frankie" Bentley, 20, who died when a Jeep Liberty hit him as he rode along Gandy Boulevard with a friend.

Bicycling advocate Alan Snel said the ghost bikes are useful reminders to share the road, but he hopes Hillsborough won't need more.

It was difficult to see three bikes go up in just two months, he said.

"I hope we can all educate ourselves and create an awareness that the roads are for everyone," he said. "Bicyclists are co-users of the road, just like everybody else."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Ghosts of Tampa bicyclists linger in mind and metal 10/29/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 30, 2010 8:10pm]

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