Ghost Bike

October 1, 2016

Chicago, Illinois

 It’s been another very eventful weekend here. My last five weekends have been filled with adventure and experiences that will make stories of their own. But one thing that I wanted to write about this weekend happened Friday evening.
 On the last Friday of each month in Chicago, there is an organized bike ride titled, “Critical Mass”. The purpose of the ride that begins at Daley Plaza inside the Loop is to bring awareness to the fact that our streets are shared by thousands of bicyclists riding alongside cars, trucks, and buses in traffic.

Chicago has been heralded as one of the most bike-friendly cities in America. We have a very popular bicycle-sharing program. There are many new dedicated bicycle lanes appearing on our streets. Each year, several different planned and organized rides take place throughout the city. Yet, all too often, we receive the news that another bicyclist has died in a collision with an automobile.

 I enjoy riding with the Critical Mass group, because many times the ride takes us through neighborhoods that I am unfamiliar with. Because of the unhurried pace, I get a chance to view the architecture, smell the wonderful ethnic or artisan foods being prepared in the local cafes and restaurants, see the amazed looks on the people who live in the homes as a horde of cyclists roll through their streets yelling, “Happy Friday!” to them. I’ve enjoyed enlightening conversations as I pedal alongside fellow riders. This particular Friday, we had been riding perhaps an hour, and the sun was setting on an already overcast day. We were heading west on Addison street when traffic began to slow, the buses and cars ahead of us were not moving as we made our way around them. I didn’t know what was going on up ahead until I saw all of the other riders stopped and standing by their bikes at the corner of Addison and Damen. Then, I remembered that we were stopping to witness a “Ghost Bike” installation. Wherever a bicyclist is killed in an accident on the streets of Chicago, a bicycle painted completely white will be locked to a signpost or a streetlight at the spot where the fatality occurred. A simple sign hanging from the bike will state the name, age, and date of death of the rider. It serves as a reminder that we all have to be cognizant that cyclists are vulnerable, and both riders and drivers need to be on the lookout for each other.
A young woman, 23 years of age, died at the intersection of Damen and Addison last Monday, struck by a truck whose driver did not see her in the bicycle lane. I don’t know her name, and it’s not even important for this story. What is important is that she left behind a family who loved her. I saw them openly weeping as the dedication took place. In front of them was a white-painted bicycle chained to a lamppost- a memorial to their daughter, sister, girlfriend. The fact that we could not really hear what the speakers were saying due to a malfunctioning megaphone just made the scene all the more poignant. The police were there making sure that one lane of traffic was able to get through the intersection, and I watched as the faces of those riding on the CTA buses turned from irritation at the delay to confusion and then to a mournful understanding as they began to recognize what they were seeing.
After a period of time, we began to quietly leave to complete the ride. It was different now. Somber. No more shouts of “Happy Friday” to the pedestrians or the drivers who had their windows down. It was more a ride of contemplative reflection. The reason that the deceased girl’s name is not important to this story is because that could have been any one of us. The next ghost bike could have our name on it.

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