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Ride Your Bike: Remembering Fallen Cyclist Blaine Klingbenberg One Year Later

5:45 PM CDT on June 23, 2017

Blaine Klingenberg. Photo: Jonathan Loïc Rogers

In 2016, Chicago garnered the number one spot in Bicycling Magazine’s 50 Best Bikes Cities. The same year there were six bike fatalities. It seemed like Ghost Bikes memorials were being installed every other week, leaving many in the cycling community wondering just how bike-friendly Chicago streets actually were. One of the six lives lost was Bakersfield, California native Blaine “Beezy” Klingenberg, who was 29 years old.

On the evening of June 15,, 2016, Kingenberg had gotten off of work as a bike messenger for Advanced Messenger Service and rode north up Michigan Avenue to meet up with friends at Oak Street Beach. Tragically, he never made it. As he crossed Oak Street on his Bullit cargo bike, a double-decker tour bus driver ran over him.

Last weekend's memorial ride. Photo: Jean Khut

“He was a loving person, a person who always welcomed everyone in,” his sister Kendal Klingenberg told the Chicago Tribune last year. During a memorial ride and barbecue last weekend on the one-year anniversary of Blaine Klingenberg's death, family friends and colleagues remembered his generous and open-hearted spirit.

Many attendees had the acronym RYB, for "Ride Your Bike" or images of Klingenber's cargo bike emblazoned on their shirts, messenger bags, and bikes. His father Walt showed me his RYB tattoo as well as photos of RYB memorial tattoos on his son’s friends.

The new memorial to Klingenberg at the southwest corner of Oak/Michigan. Photo: Jean Khut
The new memorial to Klingenberg at the southwest corner of Oak and Michigan. Photo: Maja Perez

"Ride Your Bike" was an imperative that Blaine Klingenberg lived by. “Blaine would always say, ‘Bikes saved my life,’” said Maja Perez, who was Klingenberg’s girlfriend. “I think it also ties with it that sense of freedom and independence that he as a strong person loved. [Bikes] were a way for him to express himself.”

During the ride more than 50 riders made their way from Ukrainian Village to downtown, including Klingenberg’s grandfather Lloyd, who says he rides his own Bullit 20-plus miles every day around Bakersfield. We stopped by some of Klingenberg’s favorite places in River North to be on standby between deliveries, then made a pit stop at Oak Street Beach where some riders jumped in the lake to cool off.

Afterwards, everyone gathered at the southeast corner of Michigan and Oak to pay their respects. Last year friends placed mementos Klingenberg on a light pole at the southwest corner, but on two different occasions someone removed the shrines. Streetsblog Chicago has contacted the management of the adjacent building and the the Magnificent Mile Association on multiple occasions trying to find out what happened to the memorials, but we never got a response.

One of the most significant moments of the ride was when most of us stood in silence as Klingenberg’s family and a few close friends walked across the street to install a new shrine. This was the first time some of his family had ever visited the crash site.

In August of last year, the family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Company, which employed the driver who took Klingenberg’s life. “The grief Blaine's family is experiencing is profound," said Brendan Kevenides from Freeman Kevendies Law, the firm representing the family. “Being a very close family, they continue to support and draw strength from each other." Kevenides added that the lawsuit against the bus company is ongoing.  "Blaine's family looks forward to the day when all of the facts surrounding his death may become known.”

Klingenberg's mother Beverly Kline, in jersey, with friends and a friend of Blaine's at one of his favorite standby spots in River North. Photo: Jean Khut
Klingenberg's mother Beverly Kline, in jersey, with friends and a friend of Blaine's at one of his favorite standby spots in River North. Photo: Jean Khut

This month, a few days before the anniversary of Klingenberg’s death, the city of Chicago released its long awaited three-year Vision Zero Action Plan. The city wants to improve 300 intersections to make them safer for pedestrians and other road users. One of the high-crash corridors mentioned in the plan is Michigan from Oak to Roosevelt Road. With the city taking more initiative to prevent pedestrian fatalities from happening, hopefully this will also result in the intersection of Michigan and Oak becoming safer for bikes.

The memorial ride for Klingenberg served as a reminder that Chicago has a long way to go before its streets are truly safe for walking and biking. Billy Brown, a friend of Klingenberg’s, plans to make the ride an annual event and told me Blaine's family is already talking about visiting again next year.

“Not a day goes by that I don't think about him," Brown said. “I think Blaine was sort of a glue that mended some of us scrappy folks in the [messenger] community together. He was always pushing me to put on great bike events… and hosting the ride in his honor for two years now has made me realize I like bringing people together.”

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