Victims of Chicago's Traffic Violence

A “ghost bike” is a memorial bicycle that has been painted white, placed where a bicyclist was killed, and remains as a warning and reminder to others.

Written by: Bike Lane Uprising Volunteer

In Chicago I cross several ghost bikes weekly that are familiar fixtures to me, and I remember others that are gone now. I regularly biked past Jacqueline Marie Michon's downtown on Wabash near Wacker until the city removed it. The sign on Liza Whitacre’s ghost bike on Damen Avenue always catches my eye. I remember reading about the death of Anastasia Kondrasheva and seeing her ghost bike not long after. I keep a list of Chicago bikers whose final spots I have visited either alone or as part of a memorial event. Carla Aiello, Isaac Martinez, Adé Hogue, Jose Velásquez, Gerardo Marciales, and Nick Parlingayan most recently for me

Not only cyclists have memorials though. If not a white ghost bike then a bundle of flowers or a fragile wooden cross will mark the place where a person was mowed down by another person. A human body vs several tons of moving steel. Everyone knows who wins and who loses in that contest. Bicyclists, pedestrians, and children don't have airbags and reinforced steel beams to protect them while they're out enjoying the streets. I wish I never had to learn the term “traffic violence”, but I feel it most accurately describes the recent deaths of two year old Raphael "Rafi" Cardenas, three year old Elizabeth "Lily" Grace Shambrook, and 11 year old Ja’lon James.

Gerardo Marciales' recent death and ghost bike installation impacted me more than others, and I wasn’t sure why at first. When I crossed the street where Gerardo’s family and friends stood the evening of his memorial I couldn’t make eye contact. I tucked myself away off to the side of the crowd. His fiancé commented to the news outlets about Gerardo's inclination to bike. Why use a car in a city like Chicago when he didn't need it, he would ask. I share that mindset. I bike for transportation, for fun, for fitness. I bike because I don’t want or need to own a car. I bike because I grew up with family bike rides. I bike because it’s an American pastime proved by a cycling club older than the first automobile. I bike because I love the freedom and independence it grants me, and no-one should have to worry about dying if they feel the same way.

Before Gerardo’s death I did not know that hundreds of drivers purposefully run the red lights on Lake Shore Drive (U.S. Highway 41) every day. I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. It sounded absurd to me, but then I stood out there where Gerardo had been killed. I stood on a thin oasis of concrete barely large enough to fit his ghost bike, between eight lanes of traffic, and in 10 minutes I saw an endless stream of drivers running the red lights. This is what killed Gerardo. Not only a dangerous decision by one driver, but a flawed design and complete absence of enforcement so that people feel empowered to drive dangerously. All these drivers knew that they would not be held accountable for their behavior. This was no accident. This was negligence by a driver and negligence by a city government. The police let us know they intended to take down Gerardo's ghost bike shortly after it was installed since it could be a "distraction" to drivers. Drivers with cell phones, billboards, radios, and in-car computers might be distracted by a reminder of their responsibility, and apparently that was too much to ask.

Killing a bicyclist with a car is a shortcut to punishment-free manslaughter. Whether it’s due to malice, negligence, poor infrastructure, or some combination of those and other factors it is the driver of the car who has a duty to keep vulnerable people safe, and it is their failure in that duty when someone dies. In American society we teach drivers that running over cyclists and pedestrians is a minor annoyance and not likely to to result in any consequences.

On my way both to and from Gerardo’s place of death I witnessed, as I routinely do, several drivers (including police officers) who had illegally parked their vehicles putting bicyclists in danger. I used to report abuses of infrastructure and unsafe driving to the city of Chicago in the hope that I could make an impact and help conditions improve. Chicago’s 311 system has a category specifically for bike lane obstructions, but all support requests to 311 for bike lane obstructions are immediately and automatically closed. Closed with no resolution. Closed with no action taken. Closed. A dead end. I stopped reporting these incidents to the city months ago, and only continued again recently. Even if the city won't act, I will continue to complain, but I won't hold my breath that they will do anything meaningful with the information I give them.

Chicago issued only 1,263 tickets for vehicles parked in bike lanes (MCC 9-40-060) in 2021, averaging barely three tickets a day. A quick look at one independent source of data shows that the daily average number of violations is actually much higher than Chicago's rate of enforcement implies. Querying the Bike Lane Uprising database it appears that the actual number of bike lane v