The Ride of Silence Honors Cyclists Killed and Injured by Motorists

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Ghost bike memorial to Jacqueline Michon at Wacker and Wabash. Photo by John Greenfield.

Cruising the city streets with hundreds of fellow bicyclists is usually a noisy, joyous occasion, but Wednesday’s Ride of Silence had a somber, meditative atmosphere. The silent bike procession takes place in cities across the country to pay tribute to those who have been killed and injured while cycling, and to draw attention to the need for safer streets. Participants wear black armbands in memory of those who have been killed, or red bands to show that they have been injured by a car while riding. Chicago’s ten-mile route visited six “ghost bike” memorials, white-painted cycles installed at the sites of fatal crashes.

As the group assembled in Daley Plaza, I asked a few people why they were participating. “I’ve been lucky so far that I haven’t been hurt or known anybody who has, but I go by ghost bikes all the time on my route to work,” said Angie Rickwalt. “I thought this would be a good way to raise drivers’ awareness of safety issues and honor the memory of those who were killed.”

“It appeals to me because I work as a messenger here in Chicago and sometimes, unfortunately, a messenger gets hit and he may get injured or lose his life,” said Paul Nelson. “One thing messengers often do, whenever there’s a death, they go to that intersection and lift their bikes up to give the fallen bicyclist a salute. This is kind of similar to that.”

“I am just comforted to see all of the people that support everyone that has been injured or passed away while biking,” said Lindsey Volker. “It just makes me feel more confident biking out, and I’m sure it will for everyone else.”

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Elizabeth Adamczyk, front right, addresses the crowd. Photo by John Greenfield.

Chicago organizer Elizabeth Adamczyk addressed the crowd. “There’s been some good news and some bad news this past week,” she said, referring to the proposed Bike Safety Ordinance that would double the fines for dooring cyclists, as well as three recent cycling deaths in the city and suburbs. She then read a passage from Brent Cohr’s blog Easy As Riding A Bike that called the ride Bike Month’s most significant event:

The Ride of Silence pays pay tribute to all those cyclists who are no longer with us. Those honored are the victims of unfortunate bicycling accidents – usually at the hands of motorists. Like each of us, they were once “just riding along,” enjoying everything that bicycling represented to each of them. But now they’re gone…

“It’s very sobering for all of us to think about that,” Adamczyk said. “This Ride of Silence is a reminder to the public that cyclists are people too. We are people worthy of respect on the roads.”

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The Ride of Silence rolls north on State Street. Photo by John Greenfield.

The silence was eerie as the large mass of riders left the plaza and pedaled north to Wabash and Wacker to visit a newly installed ghost bike honoring Jacqueline Michon, who was killed by a truck driver while riding home from Lollapalooza in 2011. We pedaled to the near South Side to new memorials to cyclists Ryan Boudreau and Frederick Kobrick, as well as a shrine to Martha Gonzalez, a pedestrian who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2009 at 18th and Halsted.

From Pilsen, the procession wordlessly rolled back north to the Near North Side, visiting a new ghost bike for Patrick Thomas Stark, as well as existing memorials to Clinton Miceli and Neill Townsend, both recent victims of doorings. At some of the shrines, family and friends of the deceased embraced and wept, placed fresh flowers on the white bikes and lit candles as the crowd maintained a respectful hush. Perhaps this show of support from hundreds of strangers brought them some solace as they remembered their loved ones, and hopefully the silent ride, and the ongoing presence of the ghost bikes, will remind others of the consequences of reckless driving.