A reckless driver killed Divvy rider Gerardo Marciales. Another one destroyed his ghost bike.

The ghost bike memorial to Gerardo Marciales, before it was destroyed. Photo: John Greenfield
The ghost bike memorial to Gerardo Marciales, before it was destroyed. Photo: John Greenfield

On February 28, 2022, a driver ran a red light and killed struck technical consulting engineer Gerardo Marciales, 41, as he rode a Divvy bike across DuSable Lake Shore Drive at Balbo Drive, causing immeasurable heartbreak for his family and friends.

Less than a year later on December 11, another reckless motorist on the drive crashed into the light pole Marciales’ ghost bike memorial was chained to, demolishing the shrine. That surely must have compounded his loved ones’ sorrow.

Gerardo Marciales and his fiancee Jaime Bolognone in December 2020. Photo: Facebook
Gerardo Marciales and his fiancee Jaime Bolognone in December 2020. Photo: Facebook

Marciales had been biking west from the Lakefront Trail across the drive in the north crosswalk of Balbo/DLSD with a walk signal prior to his collision. A northbound 26-year-old male BMW driver had a green left-turn arrow, but he ran the red light for through traffic, striking the bike rider.

On the two-month of Marciales’ fatal crash, his family and fiancee were joined by dozens of bike community members for a ghost bike installation. The bikeway advocacy organization Bike Lane Uprising helped organize the event.

In the wake of the tragedy, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed plastic posts at the intersection to discourage northbound drivers from running reds from the left-turn lane. However, traffic safety activists who did counts at the location observed hundreds of drivers an hour continuing to blow the stoplight.

In August and September the activists held a couple of direct action events where they wore safety vests and held stop signs to force northbound drivers to obey their light, protecting people walking in the crosswalk with the walk signal. Then in October CDOT upgraded the safety infrastructure by building new concrete medians on the drive at Balbo, as well as Jackson and Monroe Streets, which have similar safety issues.

But the December 11 crash showed the measures still aren’t enough to completely protect people walking and biking across the drive. Bike Lane Uprising recently obtained and tweeted out surveillance camera footage that shows that the second motorist was heading south on the drive when they plowed into the light pole, ran over the median and crosswalk, and then careened southwest, striking a wooden snow fence on the west side of the drive before coming to rest on the sidewalk. Luckily the collision took place at 6:48 a.m. on a Sunday when there were no vulnerable road users present. Otherwise there could easily have been more loss of life.

The traffic crash report states that the driver was a 21-year-old man from south-suburban Calumet Park in a dark-colored 2022 Hyundai Tucson SUV. He told responding officers he was trying to avoid another driver when he struck the pole. Although he complained of an arm injury, he declined medical attention. The SUV, which was apparently disabled, was towed to the city auto pound at 400 E. Lower Wacker Dr.

Diagram of the collision from the crash report.
Diagram of the collision from the crash report.

However, Bike Lane Uprising noted that none of the camera footage, from various vantage points, shows another motorist anywhere near the SUV driver prior to him veering into the pole.

And even though a responding officer checked a box on the crash report indicating that the SUV driver was distracted prior to the collision, the motorist wasn’t issued any tickets. That’s despite the fact that he easily could have killed someone, and did tens of thousands of dollars in damage to public property, not to mention damaging Marciales’ memorial. That’s a sad irony, because the white-painted ghost bike was supposed to remind motorists to drive more safely.

“While Gerardo’s loved ones were bracing to spend the first Christmas without him, this crash felt like he’d been hit all over again,” Bike Lane Uprising tweeted. BLU shared its correspondence with the 42nd and 4th Ward offices (Balbo is the borderline between the districts), requesting that the pole be reinstalled for safety purposes, and so that a ghost bike can be chained to it again, in accordance with Mariciales’ loved ones’ wishes. “We have not received an update from CDOT’s Division of Electrical Operations,” replied a 42nd Ward representative, promising to follow up with the department.

Streetsblog reached out to CDOT yesterday. “We expect the light pole will be restored by the end of the month,” a staffer replied. “The process includes concrete repairs and significant electrical work, which is why it couldn’t be immediately replaced.”

That’s all well and good, but how about also installing more protection for pedestrians and bike riders, such as sturdy metal or concrete bollards around the edge of the pedestrian island? That would keep people safer if they get stuck on the island while attempting to cross the eight-lane highway. That’s probably a common scenario, because there’s only a 45-second walk signal, which means pedestrians have to walk at a brisk pace of almost three feet per second to get across on time.

“We will continue to explore opportunities to improve safety for our most vulnerable road users,” the staffer replied. “As you know, last year CDOT installed median improvements on intersections of DuSable Lake Shore Drive at Balbo, Jackson, and Monroe, along with a concrete island within the intersection at DLSD and Balbo Drive to help prevent drivers from illegally using the northbound left turn lane’s green light to bypass the northbound through lane’s red light to continue through DLSD to go northbound.”

As this latest crash shows, CDOT shouldn’t just be “exploring opportunities.” The department should install some real protection for people using the crossing island, not just flimsy flexi-posts, pronto.

Read the Bike Lane Uprising Twitter thread here.

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