After a Tragic Dooring Crash in Pilsen, A Ride to Raise Traffic Safety Awareness
On Monday evening community members and bike advocates gathered in front of La Catrina Cafe in Pilsen for a bike ride to raise awareness of the need for safer streets in the wake of a tragic bike crash in the neighborhood. The event was organized by 25th Ward aldermanic candidate Hilario Dominguez and Back to Print, an independent publishing house established in 2010 that designed the EVERYWHERE traffic safety poster campaign.
On the evening of September 5, a car passenger opened their door on architecture student Thomas Ferrer, 25, as he biked on the 1100 block of West 18th Street, throwing him into the street, where an SUV driver struck him, causing a traumatic brain injury. A few Pilsen residents on the bike ride knew him personally.
Before we departed on the ride, Dominguez addressed the crowd, stressing the importance of raising awareness of the need for raising awareness of traffic safety issues in the ward. The goal of the ride was to have a visible presence of cyclists along main thoroughfares in Pilsen and other neighborhoods, as well as to put up posters to encourage everyone to be aware of other road users.
Elizabeth S. Tieri of Back to Print also talked about the idea behind the posters, for which she designed the language and layout. The artwork is by local artist Joann Harling.
“We’re calling this the EVERYWHERE campaign because we want to remind people everywhere — drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians alike — to pay attention to the traffic around them,” she said. “Because, as Hilario said, so many of these [crashes] are easily avoidable if people paid more attention.”
Tieri said this is the first of a series of posters. The first one is titled “HEADS UP!” Other posters will address traffic issues such as yielding the right of way, and using turn signals. Back to Print also wants use posters to promote safety strategies like the Dutch Reach anti-dooring technique.
After the remarks, we mounted our bikes and headed west on 18th with ride leaders in the front and back. As we rode, we encountered several cars in bike lanes, which led to some fiery remarks from one of the ride participants. What makes 18th particularly dangerous is the narrowness of the road combined with high parking turnover. A car parked or standing in the bike lane can significantly increase your chances of getting into a crash because it forces you to merge into traffic.
As we rode together, we would yell “slowing,” “stopping,” and “rolling” to communicate our actions to each other. Despite the hectic nature of the street, riding within a group made me feel safe biking on a street where I usually feel on edge.
We continued riding west until we took a break at Harrison Park, near 18th and Wood Street. Tieri distributed “HEADS UP!” stickers for us to post. We also discussed our experiences on the first part of our ride, discussing the issue of the blocked bike lanes and the relationship between drivers and cyclists on the road. Dominguez highlighted the need for residents to come together to push for safer streets. “We have to have a unified voice,” he said.
Ride participant Kahari Black argued that safety is a two-way street. “It takes both cyclist and motorist being aware, in tune, and in anticipation of one another to share the road with one another,” he said. “On both sides, I think it helps to prevent [crashes] and or the adversarial relationship that can exist between us.”
One rider mentioned that Ferrer, who’s currently in a coma, is their neighbor. Another participant said he had never felt so alert on a street before, referring to how dangerous 18th can feel.
With those reflections in mind, we pedaled east again until reaching 18th and Loomis Street. Here we split up into small groups to ask local businesses to put up the EVERYWHERE campaign posters. Riders were able to hang posters at La Michoacana, Jumping Bean Café, and Taqueria Casa Del Pueblo.
Soon it grew dark and we all turned our bike lights on. We headed north on Loomis, then east on Taylor Street towards University Village. There we once again split up and put up signs around the area, including at Al’s Beef on Taylor at Aberdeen Street. I was happily surprised at how receptive business owners seemed to be about the signs. You rarely see advertisements about traffic safety, but perhaps there is a shift happening.
For our final stop, we rode east on Taylor Street and turned south on Halsted. As we rode, participants pointed out flaws in the streetscape and provided tips on how to avoid dangers on certain streets. Riding together was a good way to learn new safety strategies.
We ended our ride at the corner of Halsted and Cermak Road. Dominguez’s parents got ready for their long ride back to their home near 63rd Street and Kedzie Avenue in the Chicago Lawn community area – props to them for riding all the way north to join us. Some riders put up stickers along the intersection and others made their way inside the nearby Skylark bar to debrief.
Dominguez’s campaign plans to continue to raise awareness about cycling safety by holding other events for local residents to come learn with each other. In the coming month they plan to hold a clinic where people can learn basic bike info, such as how to fit a helmet, check your brakes, and fix a flat tire. Dominguez said he hopes cycling safety becomes a bigger topic of conversation, and he want to look into ideas like adding new buffered bike lanes on Taylor and Halsted.