Chicago Ride of Silence honored fallen riders with an online memorial ceremony

Ghost bike memorial to fallen cyclist Carla Aiello. Photo: Tom Limon
Ghost bike memorial to fallen cyclist Carla Aiello. Photo: Tom Limon

Update 5/25/20: After the publication of this article, Chicago saw its second cyclist fatality of the year. Andrew Peterson, 37, died Saturday morning after a driver struck him on the Near West Side on Wednesday morning, the Sun-Times reported. Peterson was biking east on Taylor Street about 7:45 a.m. when he was struck by the driver of a northbound Volkswagen as he crossed Jefferson Street, Chicago police said. The driver was cited for failing to reduce his speed.

Due to the pandemic, the annual Chicago Ride of Silence bike ride honoring fallen cyclists took a different route this year, meeting online instead of in person. But that didn’t stop the memorial event from drawing a large crowd on Zoom to remember cyclists killed within the last year and advocate for safer streets, better cycling infrastructure, and increased cyclist visibility — especially as Chicago prepares to reopen in phases and city leaders are beginning to seriously discuss opening streets for safe, socially-distanced transportation and recreation.

The Chicago event, which normally rides in silence to several fatal crash sites and is part of the worldwide Ride of Silence movement, this year brought 34 people together online to remember those lost and take a virtual tour of the white-painted “ghost bike” memorials installed in their honor. 

Chicago Ride of Silence organizer Elizabeth Adamczyk began by noting that the city has seen one fatal bike crash this year, the hit-and-run collision that killed a 61-year-old man riding his bike on February 29 on the 3700 block of West Lake Street in East Garfield Park. The crash was the third bike or pedestrian fatality on a mile-long stretch of Lake Street within about six months. 

The Cook County medical examiner’s office still has not provided the victim’s identity, and there has been no ghost bike installation at the site. But the Chicago Department of Transportation’s Vision Zero crash reduction program has been focusing on West Side communities with high rates of serious and fatal collisions.

Next the Ride of Silence honored the four cyclists killed in 2019: Richard Williams, Vincent Tran, Carla Aiello, and Lee Luellen. While it’s unfortunate that it was impossible to lead a group ride to the crash sites this year, Adamczyk  noted, “Everyone matters and we are not limited by time, space and distance tonight.”

Image: CDOT
2019 Chicago on-street bike fatalities. Image: CDOT

Remembering the fallen cyclists of 2019

Richard Williams, 57: On September 1, 2019, Williams was riding a mountain bike in the 4500 block of West Lake Street, six blocks west of where a hit-and-run driver killed pedestrian Lee Davis on August 27. Unlike most of Lake Street on the West Side, this stretch does not have parking-protected bike lanes but instead has buffered lanes, which provide no physical protection from traffic. Another hit-and-run motorist struck Williams, who was pronounced dead at the scene. 

Vincent Tran, 26: On October 20, at about 2:18 a.m., Tran was cycling at Irving Park and Kimball Avenue when a hit-and-run driver struck him. Police have since suspended their search for the driver. At this intersection, Irving Park is five lanes wide but has no bike lanes. “As we all know, intersections are the worst and some of the most common places for crashes,” Adamczyk said, showing an image of the intersection. 

Carla Aiello, 38: On November 6, Aiello was biking to her job as a school counselor in Wicker Park when a right-turning truck driver ran over her at the intersection of Milwaukee and Kilbourn avenues in the Irving Park neighborhood. That night cyclists lined the faded bike lanes to form a “human-protected bike lane” to protest her death and call on the city to install safer biking infrastructure. Six months after her death, the bike lanes were finally repainted, and flexible plastic posts were later added to delineate the bikeway. Posts and paint were also used to widen the turning radius of the corner. While. tragically, this safety infrastructure was installed too late to save Aiello, it’s a step in the right direction.

Adamczyk noted that CDOT didn’t restripe the bike lanes with thermoplastic until after a citizen “went out in the dark of night and did some tactical urbanism and spray painted a bike lane.” She added that while she’d rather see a hard barrier, like a concrete curb, to protect cyclists, the posts are better than nothing. “It shows cyclists do have a space on the road [and] keeps drivers going slower on those stretches.”

Lee Luellen, 40: In the early morning of November 17, a driver struck Luellen on his bike at 67th and Stony Island avenues. Although there is no ghost bike at the site, people attached with his name to a nearby tree to raise awareness of the crash and remind drivers to be careful. The motorist was ticketed for driving an uninsured vehicle and on a suspended license and for failure to yield.

Stony Island Avenue is an eight-lane-wide boulevard where CDOT has previously proposed converting travel lanes to protected bike lanes. Although Luellen was the second cyclist killed on this stretch of Stony Island in less than a year and a half, local alderman Leslie Hairston  has vetoed the plan, claiming it would cause traffic jams. However, Stony carries an average of 35,000 vehicle trips per day, and the eight lanes are way more capacity than needed, which encourages speeding during non-rush hours.

All of these tragic deaths highlight the need for safer street design, better bikeways, and more responsible behavior from drivers. (Although there has been less driving during the pandemic, speeding and the rate of serious crashes has risen.) We need better cycling infrastructure all over the city, not just on the North Side,” Adamczyk.  

The Ride of Silence is a reminder that, while some progress has been made towards creating a bike-friendly Chicago, there’s still plenty of work to do before this is a truly safe city for cycling. I know that firsthand: Recently a driver struck me on my bike in Logan Square, causing minor injuries and totaling my ride. I wrote an open letter to the motorist who hit me to remind drivers to share the road, be respectful and slow down. 

Adamczyk said cyclists need to be vocal and stand up for more protections, and remember the people whose lives have been lost. “Your voice can be heard. Even riding in silence can make a difference. Their tragedies have made a difference and have made our streets safer.”

In addition to contacting your local elected officials to ask them support better bike policies, education, and infrastructure, you can help by sharing your experiences of riding in our city. Vision Zero and Chicago Ride of Silence are collecting stories to share publicly — you can submit yours here. They can be about a great bike route, streets that need repairs, surviving a bike crash, and more. “We want to hear stories that have defined, influenced, and impacted you,” Vision Zero writes. “The goal is to remind Chicagoans of our shared responsibility to take care of each other, of connections created in public spaces, and how our built environment can reflect our values and culture.” 

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