Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bicycles and Cemeteries: Making Cemeteries Relevant, Part 3

March 4, 2010
The relationship between bicyclists and cemeteries is a varied and often contentious one. On one extreme, bicycling is prohibited in National Cemeteries. This restriction has prompted protests from both visitors and commuters, but is supported by many people as well. On the other end of the spectrum, Sunset Hill Cemetery in Eugene, Oregon offers the use of a bicycle hearse, allowing for meaningful and carbon free transportation of the deceased to their place of rest.

cemetery bicycle lane green
An Evening Ride in the Cemetery from the Lovely Bicycle! blog

The recreational nature of bicycling is considered to be disrespectful to the solemnity of the cemetery, military rites, committal services and grieving families by the Veterans Administration. Also prohibited at National Cemeteries are jogging and picnicking. Along with automobiles, bicycles are often prohibited from using National Cemetery roads for transit. The VA states that in order to accommodate the high volume of funeral processions, all vehicles not involved in processions must be parked at the cemetery entrance. This restriction has rankled bicyclists from Arlington to Santa Monica who wish to bike in and through National Cemeteries for recreational use, and for safety in commuting.
The concern for supporters of this restriction is that the specialness of the cemetery will be lost. That National Cemeteries will become no different from National Parks, with barbecues and Frisbee games taking place among the headstones. Proponents of the restrictions fear a slippery slope leading to highways running through sacred ground, disrupting the respectful rites and deeply emotional services which are the purpose of the cemetery.

cemetery bicycle lane

At the other side of the continuum, many cemeteries not only allow, but encourage bicycle traffic. The administrators of these cemeteries argue that the more a community is involved in its cemetery, the more they appreciate the beauty and historical significance of the space. As communities become involved, they develop a sense of 'ownership', a desire to keep up and protect the space, and are more likely to choose interment there for themselves and their family members. Not only are bicycle paths encouraged; bird watching is facilitated, religious and ethnic festivals are held and tours, film festivals, and concerts are taking place in cemeteries all over North America.

At issue is the question of who and what a cemetery is for, and what use is appropriate within its walls. Should we respect the dead with solemn silence, focusing only on their passing and the sadness of their loss, or should other emotions and activities be allowed to play a part in our interaction? (In previous posts, I have explored this topic along with the challenges that cemeteries face in remaining relevant; the idea of the cemetery as Sanctuary, and dwelling place; and the limits of Freedom of Speech in Cemeteries.)

Unfortunately, in recent years cemeteries have lost much of the relevance they once had. Cemeteries are more and more often seen as a waste of space, or a gloomy reminder of our inconvenient mortality. For many, they are not a desirable place to visit, much less rest forever. People choose to cremate and scatter in a place that reminds them of life and the spirit of the deceased, rather than bury in a cemetery. Often the unintended consequence of scattering is that mourners have no special place to visit their loved ones; no place to go to share an achievement or setback with their loved one, no place to go to include their loved one in holiday traditions, to continue a very real and important relationship.

Some cemeteries have made great strides to change their environments and burial options to suit these changing tastes, but many traditional cemeteries already have wonderful and desirable features to enjoy - if only the public would take the time to explore them. This is why cemeteries must allow the activities of life to have a place among the dead.

cemetery bicycle lane funeral
Riding a bike through a Provincetown, Mass Cemetery from A Lovely Bicycle!
Here is an excerpt from this wonderful blog
... I present you also with this photo of me and Marianne cycling through Provincetown Cemetery at dusk. I spent part of my childhood in a small New England town, where we lived down the street from a very old graveyard. Its presence seemed entirely normal; my friends and I would even take walks there after dark. Only later did I discover that graveyards freaked other people out. That and old Victorian houses with floorboards that creak even when no one is walking on them. Go figure!
cemetery bicycle lane memorial art

Ryerson University Design Student Katy Alter wins First Prize in a Bicycle Rack Design Contest sponsored by innovative Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto
Here is an example of bringing the life of a community into the cemetery, and enriching both in the process. The following is an excerpt from an article by Antoinette Mercurio from the Ryerson University Website

Third-year interior design student Katy Alter won first place, with her partner Jeff Cogliati, master of architecture, in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery bike rack competition. Students were asked to create specially-designed bicycle racks for Toronto's historic Mount Pleasant Cemetery. The idea is that the racks will enhance the bicycle-friendly environment that exists within the Mount Pleasant grounds. Andrew Furman selected seven third- and fourth-year students in his interior design course to take on the challenge, letting them choose teammates from any discipline across the university. The first place prize of $3,000 went to Katy Alter, third-year interior design, and her partner Jeff Cogliati, master of architecture.
Alter and Cogliati designed "The Lotus," a dynamic, functional and sculptured bike rack that's practical in purpose but artistic in vision as well. They chose the lotus flower because it symbolizes regeneration and the continuing cycle of life.
"We wanted to create something that blended in with the cemetery and was sensitive to the surroundings," Alter said.
The design jury was chaired by Ryerson alumna and renowned landscape architect Janet Rosenberg and included Daniel Doz, dean, Faculty of Communication & Design; Andy Barrie, host of Metro Morning, CBC Radio; Christopher Hume, urban issues and architecture columnist, Toronto Star; and Glenn McClary, President and CEO, Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries.
"When Mount Pleasant approached us about this unique challenge for our students, we were thrilled to be part of this opportunity," Doz said. "This kind of joint initiative speaks to so many aspects of what Ryerson is about - in particular, challenging our students with unique experiential learning opportunities in engaging with our community." The winning team will begin to produce their prototype in April.
For the full article visit Ryerson.ca
bicycle hearse cycling memorial

This photo from GroovyGreen.com shows Wade Lind, the owner of Sunset Hills Cemetery in Eugene Oregon with his Bicycle Hearse. Inside the hearse is a 'green casket' made of renewable. biodegradable and lightweight materials. This hearse would conceivably be allowed within National Cemeteries as it serves a very real, as well as symbolic purpose in the funeral rites and procession!

Activities in cemeteries need to be circumscribed out of respect to their residents, and to remain special and peaceful places for communion and contemplation. However, there is a danger in restricting too much of life's activities within the cemetery walls. Only by opening them up to life, will cemeteries be appreciated, valued and relevant to the needs of the communities they serve. It is my hope that cemeterians will continue to find innovative ways to welcome the life of the community into the cemetery, and that our communities will once again realize how much cemeteries have to offer.

Please visit my post on Ghost Bikes: Memorial and Protest
Please visit these posts highlighting innovation in funerals and cemeteries:


Charles Cowling said...

This is a really difficult one, isn't it? There are so many factors to take into consideration. We don't want cemeteries to be shunned and forlorn. We want them to be integrated into their communities and, therefore, to be full of life. But where do you draw lines? Football and frisbee are out. But a gentle game of catch? Hurtling, singleminded cyclists are out, but those who proceed slowly and circumspectly? I guess it's all about people adjusting their behaviour, their pace, their tone and volume of voice, respectfully. Is this a matter of prescription or education? And then: who is to decide when all cannot agree?

Fraught, Pat. Active, constant commemoration of our dead means that their resting place must be part of the community, and not in the sense of being a short cut or a pollution-free commute.

I want what I think you want. But I'm racking my brain to find a way. And that makes my comment not really a comment at all!

Rainey J. Dillon said...

Such a pretty idea!the bike the flowers and the basket coffin is reminiscent of a picnic to a degree!

Anonymous said...

I will take the bike riders over the dog walkers...sad but I have seen it in many places along the East Coast from the Common Burying Ground in Newport RI to the Catholic Cemetery in Alexandria VA. (people ignore the signs, if they exist, beyond that they are simply not thinking beyond themselves and their dogs toilet time) There is also a group of dog walkers that pays to use one of the major Historic DC Cemeteries...I cannot find a way to make this acceptable in any context. It speaks volumes about modern attitudes and the disconnect from death, funerals, cemeteries and showing respect for those past and present.

Kevin Planck said...

This discussion just took place at our Cemetery Board of Regents meeting tonight. I have been pondering it ever since I left. I am forced to imagine myself at the side of my loved one's grave as they are being buried and wondering how I will react when a group of professional bikers zoom past me...I have to admit I would be unsettled if this were to happen. On the other hand, if it were me being placed into my grave I would be comforted to see the bikers, and others that may ride past my grave and remind me of the life I lived.

BikeMike said...

My brother and Parents are buried
at Quantico National Cemetery. I
would ride my bicycle there to pay my respects. Than the signage
showed up "no bicycles" I went in
anyway. I got hassled by the staff all the time. They let me alone when I explained I had family interred there, But got tired of the constant hassle and went to the superintendent, who gave me a disability waver, because I have heart disease and ride for exercise. It was decent of him to find a loophole for me. He also explained that it was the Motorcycle veterans who made the loudest stink about bicycles in the National Cemeteries. I remember my serene visits being
invaded by loud motorcycle engines many times. Imagine that. They get my bike banned, but they can ride right on in and invade my peace, and get me banned. I respect veterans, even motorcycle riding veterans. But my respect ends at their hypocrisy and disrespect and disregard for me. I saw joggers and cyclist all the time. I never felt disrespected at anybody quietly using the cemetery for recreation. The key being quiet, respectful use and recreation. Motorcycles are the worst at quiet, respectful use.

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization. dailyundertaker@gmail.com