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Ghost Bikes

At memorial for fallen cyclist Josh Anleu Buendia, 16, his mom says we need to “care about other people’s lives” on the road

City and state officials, as well as Bike Lane Uprising's Christina Whitehouse, stressed the need to create safe streets.

The ghost bike, painted the color of Josh’s bike. Photo: Cameron Bolton

On Saturday afternoon dozens of family members, friends, and bike safety advocates gathered in Portage Park to honor fallen cyclist Josh Anleu Buendia, 16, with the installation of a "ghost bike" memorial. On October 24, Joshua was riding his bike north on Long Avenue (5400 W.) when an eastbound woman, 40, driving east on Waveland Avenue (3700 N.) failed to notice him and fatally struck him. In addition to serving as to the teen's memory, the purpose of placing the ghost bike at the crash site was to remind drivers that unsafe driving often has tragical consequences.

Josh's family coordinated with Christina Whitehouse, founder of the civic tech platform Bike Lane Uprising, to plan the ceremony. At the event, she told attendees that the boy's death was the first such case that city and state officials had contacted her about, as well as showing up for the vigil.

Josh Anleu Buendia

Josh was a sophomore at Carl Schurz High School, located about a mile east of the crash site. According to Whitehouse he was a "606 fixie kid" who enjoyed riding his single-speed fixed gear bike around the city with friends, visiting locations like The 606 elevated greenway. Even though many of these teens are old enough to be able to drive, Whitehouse said these youths choose to make bicycling a large part of their identities. White ghost bikes are usually painted solid white, part of Josh's ghost bike was painted pink because that was the color of his bicycle, which was such an important possession to him.

According to the traffic crash report, the driver who fatally struck Josh told police that she stopped at their four-way stop sign intersection before proceeding, but didn't see the teen before she "heard/felt something on the right side of her vehicle." Whitehouse questioned that account was accurate, because the speed limit at that location is 25 mph, and according to the Federal Highway Administration, people struck by motorists at that speed almost always survive.

Streetsblog previous questioned how the driver could have stopped at an intersection with clear sight lines and then struck Josh without first seeing him, unless she was driving distracted.

Josh's friends and loved ones look on as Christina Whitehouse speaks. Photo: Cameron Bolton

Whitehouse added that Johua's death was first reported in the media during the same week of October that Chicagoans Donald Heggemann, 59, and James Bowman, 52, were killed while biking in the region. There have been 5 bike fatalities and 25 pedestrian deaths on Chicago streets this year.

Recently appointed local state senator Natalie Toro (D-25th) also spoke at the ceremony. "Our system has failed to prioritize pedestrian [and bicyclist] safety and it has led to the death of not just Josh, but many other cyclists in our city and state," she told the crownd. "Around Cook County alone there have been at least two others who have died in cycling-related accidents in just the past three weeks. This is a public safety threat to our community, and we must address it now."

Toro, who grew up in Portage Park and has lived on the Northwest Side her entire life, said she is "100 percent committed to enhancing our community and wellbeing and making our community safer." She added that she is interested in joining forces with bike advocates and organizations to help ensure safer biking conditions through better infrastructure.

Attendees, many of whom biked there. Photo: Cameron Bolton

New local alderperson Ruth Cruz (30th) said her son is also one of the 606 fixie kids, so keeping cyclists safe is a personal issue, and she knows just how important bikes are to these young people. She said that improving traffic safety is going to require support from community members, like the large group of people who showed up at the ghost bike installation.

“They are going to be installing more signs," Cruz said. "We are going to think about either doing a traffic circle here or other things. But I want to make sure that we're not reactive [but] we are proactive. And that's something that my office has been doing.  We have been going out to the community, seeing what is needed, but also the neighbors that reached out to us and we are taking those requests."

Northwest Side state representative Lindsey LaPointe (D-19th) said Josh's case hits close to home for her as well. Back in 2010, LaPointe was in a debilitating bike crash that took her off her feet for six weeks. LaPointe eventually received compensation for her medical bills, but she recognizes that that's the exception rather than the rule. 

"None of us should ever have to deal with this type of loss," LaPointe said of Josh's death. "To parents in particular, and losing a child is one of the hardest things in life. We appreciate you opening up your house and opening up to the community because of collective grief. You're feeling the most pain no one should ever have to go through this. But I want to extend my gratitude for you opening your hearts today. Today is about honoring Josh but it's also about supporting you, the family, and friends, and fellow Carl Schurz students.”

Karen Buendia gives final remarks about her son, with his 6-year-old younger brother. Photo: Cameron Bolton

The final speakers at the vigil were Buendia’s family members. His mother Karen Buendia said she initially didn’t want her son to be out riding a bike because it wasn’t safe in the city. But she also knew that she couldn’t control him. She said her only responsibility as a mom was teaching him how to take care of himself, but unfortunately that wasn’t enough.

“I will say thank you to everyone," Karen said, tearfully. "To be here is to take your time, because the only thing we have in life is time. We need to share, we need to love each other. We need to have more respect. Love, morals, we need to start caring about each other. Because this is not enough. It doesn’t matter how many rules or how many bike lanes they will do. If we, as human beings, don’t care about other people’s lives, we're going to keep killing each other."

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