Loved ones of Gerardo Marciales urge the city to fix dangerous DLSD intersections

Gerardo Marciales' loved ones install a ghost bike at the intersection where he was killed. Image: John Greenfield
Gerardo Marciales' loved ones install a ghost bike at the intersection where he was killed. Image: John Greenfield

On February 28 of this year, Gerardo Marciales, 41, was riding a Divvy bicycle across DuSable Lake Shore Drive at Balbo Drive when a lawbreaking driver fatally struck him. Last night his loved ones were joined by over 60 members of the Chicago bike community for the installation of a ghost bike shrine in Gerardo’s memory.

The Chicago Police Department crash report on the case indicated that the northbound driver was in a left-turn lane with green turn arrow at the time, but instead proceeded straight through the red light and struck the cyclist. The motorist was cited for improper lane use.

Chicago Department of Transportation records show that during a February 2018 Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council, an attendee told CDOT that this is a common illegal move on the drive, which endangers people crossing to and from the Lakefront Trail with a walk signal. However, the city took no action to address the problem.

Jamie and Gerardo Marciales.
Jaime Bolognone and Gerardo Marciales.

Last June Gerardo, who worked as a technical consulting engineer for the tech company Cisco, had gotten engaged to Jaime Bolognone. She was was present at the vigil along with Gerardo’s sisters and other family members. It was particularly tragic that Gerardo’s life was cut short before the couple had the opportunity to experience married life together. Speaking before the installation, Jaime described him as a funny, vivacious person who loved deeply.

Gerardo’s older sister, Dubraska Diaz, shared that when she tells people how her brother died, many of them assume that he had done something wrong, such as riding against traffic, or crossing without a walk signal. Many online commenters jumped to the same conclusion, since an initial statement from Police News Affairs said the driver was not ticketed.

Attendees at the ghost bike installation. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers
Attendees at the ghost bike installation. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Diaz recalled her brother telling her a number of times that he didn’t want a car because he felt it was unnecessary in Chicago. She urged city officials to do all that they can to fix the intersection where her brother was killed and said she wants drivers to take their responsibility behind the wheel seriously.

After the remarks, Gerardo’s loved ones, joined by Christina Whitehouse from the bikeway advocacy website Bike Lane Uprising, which helped organize the vigil, chained the white-painted bicycle to a pole in the median of the intersection. The intention was to notify motorists that a person had been killed on a bike there, and urge them to drive safely.

Police blocked car traffic as attendees lined the intersection. Although drivers were delayed for less than a minute, when their light turned green, many of them honked with impatience.

I visited the intersection after most attendees had cleared the area. I observed a few drivers illegally going straight through a turn lane, like the motorist who killed Gerardo.

According to an NBC Chicago report, CDOT plans to add new street markings and bollards to help prevent drivers from misusing the left turn lane. The department did not immediately reply to Streetsblog’s question about whether the bollards will be flimsy plastic posts, which would probably be quickly demolished by motorists, or made of a sturdier material like concrete or metal.

Close up of a metal placard affixed to a white ghost bike. A close-up of the placard hanging on the ghost bike in remembrance of Gerardo Marciales. It reads: "In memory of Gerardo Marciales: Gerardo‘s life was cut short by a driver who ran a red right at this intersection Gerardo sincere love and passionate life are the greatest gift he gave to the world. Gerardo es amado y extrañado todos los días. (Gerardo is loved and missed every day) 10/9/1980-3/2/2022"
The inscription on a metal plaque on the ghost bike reads, “In memory of Gerardo Marciales: Gerardo‘s life was cut short by a driver who ran a red right at this intersection on 2/28/22. Gerardo sincere love and passionate life are the greatest gifts he gave to the world.
Gerardo es amado y extrañado todos los días. (‘Gerardo is loved and missed every day.’) 10/9/1980-3/2/2022.” Photo: Courtney Cobbs

On April 21, Bike Lane Uprising led volunteers in a guerrilla traffic study of the intersection where Gerardo was killed. I went out to observe and record conditions. I was honestly shocked at how common it was to see drivers stationed or moving in the crosswalk during the walk signal, and motorists illegally using the turn lane to proceed through the light, often at high speeds.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

That day I met a downtown tour guide who tweets under the handle Segway Batman. He shared that he’s had a number of close calls during the course of his job showing visitors the sights. He said that in the five hours he was observing drivers during the traffic study, he counted close to 2,000 motorists either running the red on the left-turn phase, or illegally using the turn lane to bypass other through traffic.

During last night’s vigil I took a photo of myself and a few other attendees waiting on the small pedestrian island where Gerardo’s ghost bike was installed, with four traffic lanes on either side. It was a powerful symbol of the lack of regard decision-makers at CDOT and/or the Illinois Department of Transportation (which has jurisdiction over the drive) have for people walking and biking.

Infuriatingly, police reportedly later said the city wouldn’t allow the ghost bike to stay in place overnight. Prematurely removing the shrine would have shown callous indifference to Gerardo’s grieving family and friends.

However, the tour guide reported that the memorial was still in place as of 4 p.m. today.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Gerardo was not the only vulnerable road user killed near this location in recent years. For example, in October 2015 a motorcyclist ran a red and killed Katrin Kutscheidt, a 25-year-old visitor from Germany, as she was walking across the drive at Buckingham Fountain, two blocks north of Balbo.

My hope is that their deaths, and those of countless other Chicago traffic violence victims, will not have been in vain. We must learn from their stories and implement policies and street designs that prioritize human life over convenient driving.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG