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Jose Velásquez, 16, fatally struck by trucker, remembered at gathering on The 606

The memorial in the Damen Avenue plaza of the Bloomingdale Trail. Photo: Sharon Hoyer

Last Saturday as the sun set, cyclists of all ages gathered at the Damen Avenue Plaza on the Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway, aka The 606, to honor the life of Jose Velásquez, a 16-year-old who was struck and killed on December 10 on his bike by a right-turning semi-truck driver who failed to yield. Velasquez was part of a community of young fixed-gear bike riders who regularly hang out at the plaza, so the concrete expanse overlooking the heart of Wicker Park was a natural site for his wake.

Jose Velásquez
Jose Velásquez
Jose Velásquez

About a hundred attendees stopped by to pay their respects, the majority of whom were teens and young adults, perched on the bleacher-like seats at the west end of the plaza, their fixies parked three deep at their feet. Other members of the cycling community turned out, including some who knew Velásquez, and some who didn’t but wanted to show solidarity with the loved ones of the fallen cyclist. Members of the Half Acre cycling team, who tragically lost teammate Adé Hogue, 32, last month when he was fatally struck by a driver near Navy Pier, attended in their jerseys. 

Catholic saint prayer candles and paper bag luminaries spelling out “Jose” were arranged at the base of the recently installed arrow sculpture by Tony Tasset, giving the public art installation a new and unfortunate purpose as altar. Mourners left bouquets and balloons. One young man taped a photo of Velásquez where the upward and downward pointing arrows meet.

The informal gathering was organized by friends of Velásquez. No formal remarks were made – Christina Whitehouse of bicycle advocacy group Bike Lane Uprising told me the evening was intentionally low-profile to protect the privacy of the many minors in attendance – but several dozen people lingered in the plaza, sharing memories and kind words, and admiring one other’s bike gear. 

Velásquez, a student at Benito Juarez Community Academy, had been riding home from school on the 4000 block of South Ashland Avenue when a truck driver making a right turn into a driveway fatally struck him. According to police, Velasquez had been riding on the sidewalk. While that's illegal for anyone over the age of 12 in Chicago, it's an understandable choice on four-lane road like Ashland with fast-moving traffic and no bike lanes. The closest parallel street with bike lanes is Halsted, one mile east.

IMG_1593
The shrine to Velásquez. Photo: Sharon Hoyer

“We need protected bike lanes, not painted gutters,” David Deyhle, who rides with several bike groups including Critical Mass and Monday Night Ride, told me. Deyhle said he didn’t personally know Velásquez but wanted to come by and pay his respects. “We all know this could be any one of us.”

“You meet a lot of people riding, especially up here,” said Guillermo, a friend of Velásquez and fellow fixed-gear rider. “We all gather here, so we meet a lot of people in the biking community. Jose was just a kid, you know? This was just one of the hobbies he liked doing and he shouldn’t have died doing it. Especially given how he was on the sidewalk. He was a good kid. We didn’t need to lose him.”

A GoFundMe page has been launched to cover expenses for Jose Velásquez’s family.

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