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Alderman Burnett Weighs In on Kuivinen Case, Cyclists Honor Fallen Rider

Lisa Kuivinen at a ballroom dancing event.

The case of Lisa Kuivinen, a 20-year-old art student who was fatally struck by an 18-wheel flatbed truck driver while cycling on Milwaukee Avenue yesterday morning, has moved many Chicagoans, from everyday bike riders to city officials.

Around 8:15 a.m. Kuivinen, a Rolling Meadows native who studied animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, was biking southeast in a green-painted stretch the Milwaukee Avenue bike lane in West Town, police say. Driver Anotonio Navarro, 37, veered into the bike lane while making a right turn onto southbound Racine Avenue, striking and dragging the cyclist, according to police.

Kuivinen was taken to in critical condition to Northwestern Hospital, where the cyclist was pronounced dead, according to the police. Navarro, an Algonquin resident, was ticketed for driving in a bike lane and failure to take due care for a bicyclist in the roadway. He has a hearing in traffic court on September 15 at 9 a.m. at the Daley Center.

It appears that Navarro, whose truck is registered with Illinois Brick Co., was on his way to a transit-oriented development construction site at 830 North Milwaukee. The site can be accessed from an alley off of Racine. The southeast-bound bike lane is blocked by fencing for the TOD project, which forces cyclists to merge into the travel lane. However, this may not have been a factor in the collision because the fence is a few hundred feet southeast of the crash site.

There also seems to be an issue with trucks and equipment being parked in the bike lane near the work site. DNAinfo is reporting that, when a woman named Maria stopped this morning to photograph a truck in the bike lane and talk to the driver, she witnessed a male cyclist intentionally smash the windshield of the truck. The man seemed to be frustrated that, even in the wake Kuivinen’s death, truckers were still endangering cyclists at the site by blocking the bike lane. After Maria confronted the man, he fled the scene.

In theory, when construction blocks down sidewalks or bike lanes, the Chicago Department of Transportation requires that safe accommodations must be made for pedestrians and cyclists, although this is often not the case. DNA reports that nearby resident Jeff Miller emailed local alderman Walter Burnett (27th) on August 4 about the bike lane blockage writing, “It’s only a matter of time until someone gets hurt… [There is] literally no space for bicycles to go around that project causing them to also swerve into traffic.”

Memorial to Kuivinen at the crash site. Photo: John Greenfield

According to DNA, city records state that on May 18 Summit Design & Build LLC, the construction company for the TOD project submitted an application to CDOT for "curb lane & bike lane closures at 830 N. Milwaukee for 30 days." The property is located just southeast of Milwaukee’s intersection with Elston Avenue, another street with protected bike lanes. Since Milwaukee runs northwest-southeast, and that stretch of Elston is north-south, the two roadways meet at a 45-degree angle.

Reached by phone this afternoon, Burnett told Streetsblog that a Chicago Department of Transportation official said the department was investigating the bike lane blockage and would have a report by the end of the day. We’ve asked CDOT to share the information once it is released.

"I did drive down there a little while ago,” Burnett said. “I don't know if [Summitt is] exceeding [their permit] in inches or feet how much they can come out in the street -- that's something a little more technical that [CDOT is] going to look at."

"Personally, if traffic was that tight, I don't know what I would have done,” Burnett added. “[The Milwaukee/Elston] intersection is challenging by itself. It's an angular intersection, it's not perpendicular. It's kind of dangerous, period.”

A prayer posted on the pole at the crash site, asking for protection for all cyclists. Photo: John Greenfield

Burnett recommended that flaggers should be stationed at the construction site to help all road users get around the street blockage. The company sometimes uses flaggers when moving heavy equipment on or off the site. Burnett added that if negligence by the construction company or CDOT is found to have been a factor in Kuivinen’s crash, he’s confident that those responsible will be held accountable.

People have left flowers, candles and messages at the crash site as a tribute to the fallen cyclist. Milwaukee is the city’s busiest cycling street, with a constant flow of bike traffic during the warmer months, and notes taped to a pole and left on the ground suggest that many fellow commuters were deeply shaken by Kuivinen’s case.

It was the third time a cyclist was fatally struck by the driver of a large commercial vehicle this summer. On June 15 courier Blaine “Beezy” Klingenberg was run over by a tour bus driver. On July 1 Divvy rider Virginia Murray, like Kuivinen, was fatally truck by a right-turning flatbed truck driver.

A bike commuter named Matt left a note saying he witnesses the aftermath of the crash. “I ride through this intersection every day I bike to the Loop,” he wrote. “20 minutes earlier and it could have been me… If someone who loved you is reading this, they know that I am sending good thoughts to all those who are grieving… You are in the thoughts and prayers of so many.”

RYB stands for the hashtag #RideYoBike or #RideYoBike. Photo: John Greenfield

Another note taped to the pole featured a drawing of a bicycle with angel wings and a prayer asking for protection for all cyclists from hazards, including “trucks and cars whose drivers do not recognize our right to use the road.”

“Lisa, I never met you but my friend Beezy also lost his life recently on his bike,” wrote one person. “Thinking of and mourning for you both.”

“You were another life lost too soon,” wrote another of Klingenberg’s friends to Kuivinen. “A close friend of mine was also hit on his bike and killed by a motorist this year. I hope that your death will be the last unnecessary death caused by a negligent driver. I hope that your death will not be in vain and that it will help show the problems with drivers… I can’t stand to see another one of my friends, my family, another cyclist killed or harmed.”

Read the full texts of these tributes to Kuivinen here. In the bike lane and the travel lane next to the pole, someone had painted “Lisa” and “RYB,” short for the hashtag #RideYourBike or #RideYoBike

Biographical information about Kuivinen and remembrances from family and friends are posted on the Chicago Tribune and DNAinfo websites. The cyclist, who was studying animation at SAIC, was remembered by loved ones, teachers, and colleagues as a vivacious person who loved to make art, play musical instruments, swim, and participate in ballroom dancing competitions. “She was a wonderful person," Kuivinen’s mother told DNA. “There's so much to her life. I loved her so much."

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