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Critical Mass and Klingenberg Ride Honor Fallen Cyclists, Crash Survivors

Hundreds of Critical Mass riders raised their bikes in a salute to fallen courier Blaine Klingenberg last Friday at Michigan and Oak. Photo: Juley-Ann Perez

There have been far too many bicycle crashes with injuries or fatalities in northeast Illinois in recent months, especially during the past three weeks. With all of the tragic news, one bright spot has been that recent events have inspired bike riders from different walks of life to unite to honor fallen cyclists and survivors of traffic violence.

Last Friday, Chicago’s monthly Critical Mass ride paid a visit to Scott Jacobson, who was recently released from the hospital, almost two months after being struck and dragged hundreds of feet by a hit-and-run driver in Bridgeport. The ride also stopped at Michigan and Oak to pay tribute to courier Blaine Klingenberg, who was run over and killed by a tour bus driver at the intersection two weeks ago.

Family, friends, and colleagues of the messenger have also announced “RYB Fest: Blaine ‘Beezy’ Klingenberg Memorial Day,” a bike ride and barbecue to which they’re inviting the entire cycling community, named for the hashtag #RideYoBike. The Facebook event describes the event as a “day of remembrance and celebration, and to remind all that bicyclists should also be viewed as equals when riding on the road.” Here’s the basic info on the memorial ride:

RYB Fest: Blaine ‘Beezy’ Klingenberg Memorial Day
Saturday, July 2, 12:30 p.m.
Humboldt Park Formal Garden, northwest corner of Division and Humboldt
Ride ends with a barbecue at Richard Clark Park, 3400 North Rockwell

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The route map for RYB Fest. Image: Chicago Bike Messenger Association

Jacobson, 47, was riding home after biking with his two sons to wrestling practice on Monday, May 2. Near the intersection of 35th and Lowe in Bridgeport, SUV driver Joshua Thomas, 26, made a U-turn and struck him, according to police.

Jacobson was dragged hundreds of feet until bystanders ran to stop the vehicle. The cyclist’s pelvis was fractured in three places, including the ball of the upper femur, which fits in the hip socket. He suffered severe road rash over much of his body, with muscle and bone visible in places.

Inexplicably, Thomas was initially only charged with misdemeanors. It remains to be seen whether the Cook County state’s attorney’s office will level more serious charges against the motorist. While Jacobson came home from the hospital last week, it will take several more months and multiple surgeries before he can resume work. A GoFundMe page has been established to help support the family until Jacobson is back on his feet.

Klingenberg, 29, moved to Chicago 13 months ago from his hometown of Bakersfield, California, to join buddies who already lived here and pursue his dream of becoming a big-city bike courier, according to his girlfriend Maja Perez, 28, who followed him soon afterwards.

On Wednesday, June 15, at about 5:30 p.m., Klingenberg was riding northbound on Michgian to Oak Street Beach to meet up with friends after work. When he reached Oak Street, he was fatally struck and dragged by double-decker tour bus driver Charla A. Harris, 51, an employee of Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co.

Blaine Klingenberg. Photo: Facebook

The police crash report stated that "The victim disregarded the light at Oak and turned into the bus, causing the collision." However, some witnesses say the westbound driver also ran a red, because southbound traffic from Lake Shore Drive had a left-turn signal at the time. The bike-focused firm FK Law (a Streetsblog Sponsor) plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit this week against the driver and her company on behalf of the courier’s father, Walter Klingenberg.

Today one of Blaine Klingenberg’s coworkers at Advanced Messenger Service contacted me to vouch for the courier as a safety-minded employee. “He was a top-notch rider and safety was always his first concern," the colleague said. “Whenever he was given work, he’d say, ‘I’ll deliver it as soon as I can, as long as it’s safe.”

Klingenberg was known for carrying heavy payloads on his yellow Danish-style cargo bike. “But if something was too big to carry, or if he didn’t have room, he’d turn it down,” the coworker said. “He was the kind of guy who wanted to make money, so if he couldn’t carry something it would upset him, but he also knew that safety was important. He might say, ‘Let me go run this off, and then I’ll come back for that.’”

“Blaine was a good kid,” the employee said. “He at least deserves the benefit of the doubt.” Friends have launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for Klingenberg’s funeral expenses.

In addition to honoring Klingenberg and Jacobson, Friday’s Critical Mass also visited ghost bike memorials to fallen cyclists Clinton Miceli, Neill Townshend, Bobby Cann, Patrick Thomas Stack, Ryan Boudreau, and Jacqueline Michon.

The original plan for the ride was to pass by Stroger Hospital, where Jacobson had been healing. However, his wife Rachel sent word that Scott was already released, and asked that the ride stop by their McKinley Park home instead.

The route map from Friday's Critical Mass. Image: Steven Lane

“It was an awesome sight when about 1,500 rider rolled up on Scott's home,” recalled Steven Lane, who created the route map. “It looked like the whole family was out in lawn chairs with friends and neighbors hanging out. Scott was sitting up in a chair smiling and he lifted his arm to waive as the front of the Mass approached. I made eye contact with him and called out over my megaphone, ‘Who's the man? You ARE!’” The family and their friends gave out bottles of water and Gatorade to the riders.

Things were more somber when about a thousand riders returned to the Loop and headed north on Michigan, arriving at the recent crash site around 10 p.m., according to Lane. “It was the very end of twilight, and northbound traffic was pretty much gone,” he said. He used the megaphone to explain what had happened to the courier, and asked riders to hold their bikes up in the air in a salute – hundreds did. The ride concluded at Oak Street Beach, the courier’s intended destination.

Last week Klingenberg’s girlfriend Perez, who works at nonprofit community bike shops, told me she was planning this Saturday’s memorial ride. “His dad wishes to do one last ride with Blaine,” she said.

Perez hoped the messenger’s cargo bike could be repaired so that it could be used to carry a container of his ashes on the front of the bike along with photos of the deceased, and perhaps scatter some of the ashes into Lake Michigan from Oak Street Beach. She recovered the bike from the 18th District police headquarters on Friday, although it’s not clear if the cycle can be ridden this weekend. The family may scatter the rest of the ashes at Klingenberg’s favorite mountain biking spot in Bakersfield, “The Foothills.”

In a press release, the Chicago Bike Messenger Association, which is helping to organize RYB Fest, invited members of the local cycling community to join the fallen courier’s family, friends, and colleagues “in solidarity to celebrate the life and love of Blaine Klingenberg.”

“We intend to raise awareness of insecurities in bike infrastructure, the presence and vulnerability of cyclists on the streets and celebrate the life that Beezy brought to all of us,” the release states.

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