At huge rally, demands for safe streets: “Let two beautiful souls, Rafi and Lily, guide us.”

The crowd at Rafi Cardenas' crash sit. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers
The crowd at Rafi Cardenas' crash sit. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Update: Hours after today’s Walk + Roll for Safe Streets took place in the 46th and 47th wards, yet another vulnerable road user was lost to traffic violence in the 47th Ward. This evening local alderperson Matt Martin, who spoke at the demonstration, tweeted in a thread that a man was fatally struck by a driver that afternoon at Irving Park Road and Hoyne Avenue, a mile south of the Rafi Cardenas crash site, shortly after the man left an early voting rally Martin also attended.

“Tragically, this man’s death comes only hours after hundreds of neighbors came together to mourn two young children who, in the last two weeks, were also killed by drivers in Lincoln Square and Uptown, respectively,” Martin said. “Like so many of you, I am distraught by these deaths: I know first-hand how dangerous it can feel to cross Irving Park on foot, and I know how anxious it can feel to have your young child scoot or bike on side streets. My office will continue working to ensure that future improvements to pedestrian, bike, and public transportation infrastructure —not just throughout our Ward but throughout all of Chicago—are holistic, systemic, and better designed to ensure safe streets for all.”

Irving Park is a dangerous, crash-prone 5-lane street. Less than a month ago on May 22, a drunk motorcyclist fatally struck Timothy Kast, 46, as he crossed the 5300 block of West Irving Park Road in Portage Park, four miles west of today’s crash site. We’re asking police for details on today’s fatality and will have a full report on Streetsblog Monday.

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Rafi Cardenas and Lily Shambrook

Earlier today hundreds of Chicagoans gathered for the Walk + Roll for Safe Streets. The purpose of this family-friendly event was to honor Raphael “Rafi” Cardenas, 2, and Elizabeth “Lily” Grace Shambrook, two toddlers recently killed by drivers, and to demand that city and state officials take action to address the traffic violence epidemic. The rally was organized by Rebecca Resman of Chicago Family Biking, safe streets advocate Sz (pronounced “Suzy”) Donnelly, and the advocacy organization Better Streets Chicago, of which I am a cofounder. 

The Walk + Roll gathered at 10:15 this morning at Eastwood Avenue and Leavitt Street in Lincoln Square, where an SUV driver fatally struck Rafi on June 2 after he rode a mini scooter off the sidewalk into the intersection. The procession headed 1.4 miles to Leland and Winthrop avenues in Uptown, where a semi driver struck and killed Lily, who was riding in a child seat on the back of her mother’s bike, on June 9.

When I arrived, it was inspiring to see that hundreds of people had turned out for the event. Attendees were encouraged to use an online form to RSVP and stay connected to future actions regarding safe streets. A GoFundMe page has been established to support Rafi’s family, which has raised more than $41,000. Several attendees asked whether a fundraiser has set up to help cover expenses for Lily’s family, and if one is launched, Streetsblog will share that information. 

Before the rally, children draw on the street at the intersection where Rafi Cardenas was killed. Photo: Anne Alt
Before the rally, children draw on the street at the intersection where Rafi Cardenas was killed. Photo: Anne Alt

At 10:30 Rebecca Resman gave the crowd a brief overview of what would happen that day. Speakers would share a few remarks, followed by a brief statement from Rafi’s parents, a moment of silence to honor Rafi’s life, and then a procession to Lily’s crash site, on foot, stroller, skates, scooters, and bikes, for another tribute.

Sz Donnelly then gave a passionate speech citing some of the failures of the city to create safe streets across Chicago, and the frustrations she’s experienced biking into the city from her home in Berwyn with her children. She called for holding the Chicago Police Department accountable for its failure to ticket for illegal parking in bike lanes, which was a factor in Lily’s death, noting that police officers themself often block bikeways. Donnelly noted that today’s rally felt like a turning point based on the huge number of people in attendance, and said she hopes it will help bring about real change on our streets.

Next local 47th alderperson Matt Martin (47th) shared that he lives a few blocks from Rafi’s crash site. His voice cracked with emotion as he shared that his own children rode their bikes and scooters along Eastwood. He said that a sidewalk bump-out had been installed in the area, but noted that one such curb extension alone will not be enough. “We need a series of bump-outs, a series of protected bike lanes. However, our efforts will not be enough. We need something better than a piecemeal approach. I remain committed as ever to ensure that every person in our community will be able to move safely through every block in our community and throughout the city.”

Kyle Lucas speaks at the rally. The "Stop the kindermoord" ("Stop the child murder") signs use the slogan from the 1970s anti-traffic violence campaign in the Netherlands that brought about a safe streets revolution in that country. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers
Kyle Lucas from Better Streets Chicago speaks at the rally. The “Stop de kindermoord” (“Stop murdering children”) signs use the slogan from the 1970s anti-traffic violence campaign in the Netherlands launched by a grieving father, which helped bring about a safe streets revolution in that country. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

“I’m devastated that we are confronting, once again, tragic and preventable loss of life on our streets,” said Better Streets cofounder Kyle Lucas. “Rafi and Lily should be here with us today. I send my deepest condolences to the families.” He called our current reality of car-dominated streets “sick.” “The city of Chicago is on the hook” for addressing the problem, he insisted. Lucas pointed that so far this year drivers had killed 14 people on foot and four people biking on Chicago streets. [With today’s pedestrian fatality, 15 pedestrians have been killed.] “How many deaths will it take before we have meaningful change?” Lucas noted that safe street designs should be a given – whether or not to make streets safer shouldn’t be up for public debate.

Resman then said she felt sick to her stomach about having to address the crowd under such unbelievably tragic circumstances. She noted that a month earlier she led the family-friendly Lincoln Square Kidical Mass bike ride down Eastwood. She urged motorists to leave earlier in order to alleviate time pressures and to anticipate encountering people on foot and bike while driving. She asked children to remind their parents to stop at stop signs while driving and stay below the speed limit.

I loved Resman’s message that “Neighborhoods are not shortcuts.” Both Rafi and Lily were killed on residential streets, which should be reserved for walking, biking, and driving a few blocks to or from local destinations, at slow speeds. Drivers making cross-town trips should not be allowed to use them as cut-through routes to avoid motorist-created traffic jams on main streets. 

A "Neighborhoods are not shortcuts" sign at the rally. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers
A “Neighborhoods Not Shortcuts” sign at the rally. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Rafi’s parents, Henry Cardenas and Marina Ross thanked their family, friends, and the wider community for their support. “This loss is not just our own, it’s a loss for our entire community,” Cardenas said. “This is our home – where we should feel safe, where our children should be able to play, where we should be able to raise our families, where anyone can take a stroll, a bike ride, or ride their scooter without fearing the worst. It is evident that our streets are not safe.”

Cardenas and Marina called for change, demanding that Chicago’s streets be redesigned for pedestrian safety, and calling for all residents to be educated about how to advocate for infrastructure improvements in their neighborhood. “Together we can build the future we need for all residents,” Ross said. “Please join us in this mission and let two beautiful souls, Rafi and Lily, guide us on this journey. We are honored to live in a community where people care enough to come out on a Sunday morning to fight for change. Thank you, everyone.” The crowd then observed minutes of silence to honor Rafi’s life.

Marina Ross and Henry Cardenas address the crowd. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers
Marina Ross and Henry Cardenas address the crowd. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

The last speaker was attorney Brendan Kevenides from FK Law (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) who spoke on behalf of Lily Grace’s family. He shared that when he first heard the news of Rafi and Lily Grace’s deaths he had an emotional response and encouraged the crowd to channel their emotions into safe streets advocacy. “Talk to your friends, family, and neighbors and ensure they do the same.” Kevenides recognized U.S. representative Mike Quigley (5th), an influential member of the House Committee on Appropriations who attended the event, along with Illinois state rep (26th) and Chicago mayoral candidate Kam Buckner. (46th Ward alderperson James Cappleman, whose district includes Lily’s crash site, did not attend.) Quigley promised to bring more federal funding to the district to help create safer streets.

I certainly appreciate Quigley’s promise to win more funding for safe streets. However, the larger issue within Chicago at the moment is the lack of political will to address traffic violence. I wonder what good more funding will do if most members of City Council don’t even recognize the need for change on our streets?

After Kevenides’ remarks, the crowd was encouraged to begin traveling east on Leland to Lily’s crash site. As we made our way to the site, I was struck once again by the huge number of people. At one point the mass of people stretched across multiple city blocks down Leland.

Once the procession arrived at Leland and Winthrop, we observed minutes of silence to honor Lily. Attendees then either fanned out or continued to converse with one another.

Kyle Lucas, Sz Donnelly and I were the last to leave. Before we departed, a man approached us and asked about the rally, and we told him that it had already ended. The man then revealed he was at the scene when Lily was killed. He was visibly upset recalling the event and Sz consoled him as they stood next to her memorial, with a cross, flowers, candles, and stuffed animals. My heart broke all over again.

The end of the procession at the memorial to Lily Shambrook. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers
The end of the procession at the memorial to Lily Shambrook. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Right before we left, another person asked about the demonstration and how she could get involved with the movement. Those moments will stick with me as I continue to fight for Chicago to achieve Vision Zero, the elimination of all serious and fatal crashes. I’m grateful for everyone who attended today’s rally and I look forward to us continuing to honor the lives of Rafi and Lily.