Wednesday, July 8, 2009

2009 Chicago Ride of Silence

By John Greenfield

It’s Wednesday, May 20, and dozens of bicyclists are gathering in Chicago’s Daley Plaza for the 2009 Ride of Silence, part of a global tribute to cyclists who have been killed by motor vehicles.

The memorial ride began in Dallas in 2003 after endurance rider Larry Schwartz died when a bus struck him on an otherwise empty highway. This year people in nearly 300 cities are participating, to honor the crash victims and make a statement that streets should be safe for all users.

While the message of the ride is similar to Critical Mass, instead of a rowdy parade the 10-mile Ride of Silence is a solemn procession and its mood is quiet and reflective. “This is not meant to be a fun ride,” says organizer Elizabeth Adamczyk, addressing the Chicago crowd through a PA system on a bike trailer. “We’re out there just like a funeral procession to memorialize all those that have gone before us and we're also celebrating the fact that we’re still here riding. Tonight we’re going to let the silence roar.”

As he waits for the ride to begin, daily bike commuter Mayur Thaker says he’s participating because safety is an issue for all bicyclists. “The main thing is to raise awareness in the eyes of motorists as well as cyclists,” he says. “I hope that drivers will start looking out for cyclists on the road.”

There are many memorials to fallen local riders visible at the plaza. Those who have lost friends and loved ones wear black armbands; people who have been injured themselves wear red band. Green bracelets are handed out honoring Apple Store employee Tyler Fabeck, 22, who was killed in April 2008 at Western and Logan in Chicago. Several people have signs pinned to their backs remembering attorney Gerry Bolkema, 53, rear-ended by a car in northwest Indiana in May of last year.

Zip-tied to the handlebars of Laurie Chipp’s touring bicycle there’s a photo of her grandmother Marcella Kilter, standing by Lake Michigan with her own cruiser bike. Kilter learned to ride a bike right before her 42nd birthday and would ride 20 miles every day in the country near Peru, IL, Chipps says. In 1991, when Kilter was 73, a distracted driver adjusting her car radio struck the cyclist. Her leg was broken and healed incorrectly, ending her road riding habit. “She lived eight more years,” says Chipp, “and she’d ride a stationary bike on the porch for exercise, but it just wasn’t the same.”

Soon the crowd of about 200 rolls out of the plaza with an escort of several bike cops stopping car traffic for them. A sign on the back of Howard Kaplan’s bike says, “Shhhh! Ride of Silence,” and nearly everyone seems to be complying. The complete hush of the group is striking and some bystanders seem confused about the purpose this Mass-like ride; participants pull over to explain and hand them flyers.

The procession heads into River North to visit the white-painted “ghost bike” memorial for artist Clint Miceli, 22, at 900 N. LaSalle. In June of last year Miceli was killed when a car door opened on him, throwing him into traffic. Friends and family are trying to raise money for Active Transportation Alliance’s Clint Miceli Memorial Fund, which will be used for bike safety education projects; a benefit takes place on Saturday, June 13, at Emerald Isle, 6686 N. Northwest Highway in Edison Park.

After friends light memorial candles at the memorial, the group rolls into the sunset up Clybourn Ave. A boy on the sidewalk yells, “What parade is this? Is this the bike parade?” At Tyler Fabeck’s ghost bike under the Kennedy Expressway, the crowd spills into the street as more candles are illuminated.

A few miles later the group fills the street at Armitage and Kedzie, where pharmacy student Blanca Ocasio, 19, was killed in September 2007 by a right-turning garbage truck. A few months later, teacher Amanda “Mandy” Annis, 24, was struck at the same location in April 2008 when a car blew a red light. As riders light candles at Ocasio’s ghost bike, diners at the nearby Streetside Café ask, “Why are you guys so quiet? Make it loud.” Someone hands them a flyer.

Two blocks east at Humboldt the ride stops in the parkway by Annis’ recently-installed ghost bike, which seems to have been placed at a different location than the crash site so as not to detract attention from Ocasio’s memorial. Friends embrace tearfully as birds sing in the twilight.

The ride ends at Western and Augusta at the ghost bike for engineer Isai Medina, 50, who was killed nearby in 2006 when a vehicle hopped the curb as Medina stood on the sidewalk with his “chopper” bike. “I think we really made a bold statement tonight,” says Adamczyk to the crowd. “Thank you guys for cooperating,” says one of the bike cops. “I wish every Critical Mass was like this.”


chitownclark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chitownclark said...

Thanks for another timely entry. You make me sorry that I didn't attend and ride in silence too. I've been biking for all purposes for 30 years in Lincoln Park, ever since I sold my last car in 1979.

Generally I think Chicago is a safe place to bike, compared with most other American cities. This is because we are almost at a "critical mass" of bikes in many of our neighborhoods. We've got drivers constantly slowing down, reacting to seeing yet another bike in front of them. Lots of bikes on the streets benefits all us cyclists.

Dottie said...

This is a beautiful description of the ride. I only wish more Chicago cyclists had participated.

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