(Originally published via the League of American Bicyclists on May 17, 2016)
Ghost bikes. Those stark white bikes that stand as memorials alongside a roadway to honor a cyclist who was killed in a crash.
In Chicago ghost bikes dot our urban landscape and serve both to remind us of our fragility as cyclists and to rally us to advocate for safer roads for all road users.
Each May as the annual Ride of Silence rolls out in cities around the world, these local ghost bikes give life to the Chicago Ride of Silence. (See photos of the 2015 Chicago ROS here.)
The organizer of the first ever Ride of Silence in Dallas, TX, in 2003, never intended for the Ride to become an annual event. However, the silence “roared” beyond Dallas and soon other cities wanted to host a similar memorial ride to honor their own fallen cyclists. In the spring of 2005, after my first year of bike commuting in Chicago, I felt compelled to start an ROS in Chicago. After too many near-miss crashes with motorists, I wanted an event that would call attention to motorists of the need to share the roads with cyclists. I also wanted to help give a voice to those cyclists I knew who had been killed or injured.
By 2006, I was the organizer of the Chicago Ride of Silence and learning what it means to be an advocate. Also in 2006 Chicago installed its first ever ghost bike for Isai Medina. The connection could not be ignored, and the Chicago Ride of Silence route has always been tied to the ghost bikes. The ghost bikes personalize the Ride for many and give the Ride a distinctive resonance that calls each of us to rally on behalf of our fallen comrades.
Over the years, the number and location of ghost bikes has varied. Some bikes endure years after being placed at a site; other bikes fall into disrepair and remain only a short time. Sometimes no bike is placed. Fellow cyclists have organized Ghost Bike Rides and have helped the ghost bikes live on virtually.
While the Ride of Silence is not a Ghost Bike Ride, I have met many of the victims' friends and families. When a new ghost bike is placed, the route of that year's Chicago ROS often changes to incorporate the newly placed bike. Unfortunately the route in this one single night cannot visit the locations of each of the ghost bikes now spanning the city. Yet after each year's Ride, as I mused last year, I appreciate the community spirit that inspires the Chicago ROS because “our Ride and route honors all of the fallen cyclists throughout the years and we hope that the sentiment of this Ride carries into all reaches of the city.”
I recently spoke with a colleague who was struck by an aggressive motorist who side-swiped her during her commute home last week. The motorist tried to pass her with too little room and struck her. She expressed such gratitude to me — thankful that her injuries weren't worse and for the support she has felt from the community. Then she pointed me to the Be Kind to Cyclists campaign, and its message echoes my own passions. I listened, and my heart leapt with new hope and inspiration to continue to carry forth the message of the Chicago Ride of Silence and to be that voice for hurt and injured cyclists who are survivors and for the deceased victims and their families.
As we ride — not just on this third Wednesday evening in May but with every ride — we must respect our fellow road users. The annual worldwide Ride of Silence serves as a reminder to all we encounter on our daily travels that our roads are meant to be shared. In the universal Ride of Silence, the silence speaks volumes — we honor ALL cyclists who have fallen, and we ride to be a positive voice for cyclists' safety everywhere.
Before last year's Ride of Silence, I shared my thoughts about the importance of this annual event – that the Ride is to “celebrate the lost lives of our fellow cyclists who died doing something they loved — riding their bike.” Their memories and the connections to their loved ones remain etched in my heart forever. Their legacy is a shared part of my ride today and everyday.
Elizabeth Adamczyk, League Cycling Instructor #3731, regularly commutes to work by bike and aspires to inspire and educate more people — especially women via Women Bike Chicago — of the joy of bicycles; she would like to thank her parents who have always supported her, especially their help with the Chicago Ride Silence to make it the community event it is.
The 2015 annual Ride of Silence was exactly 10 days ago but the memories and gratitude and sense of community remain. Despite the rainy, chilly conditions on the evening of Wednesday, May 20, over 50 bicyclists showed up at Daley Plaza (and a few more joined along the way) to ride in silent procession to five of the ghost bikes in Chicago. Our Ride and route honors all of the fallen cyclists throughout the years and we hope that the sentiment of this Ride carries into all reaches of the city.
Thank you to everyone who showed up to ride on May 20, to all who offered support and to all who contributed in your own way (in thought, in donation, in spirit). The Ride of Silence embodies community and calls for the community to come together -- as it continues to do every year on the third Wednesday evening in May. This Ride is for the community. It is a memorial, a tribute, a legacy of those who have died while riding their bike on the roadways. We strive toward Vision Zero, that no loss of life on our roadways is acceptable. Chicago is still seeking support from its political leadership for its own comprehensive Vision Zero strategy.
Six of Chicago's bike patrol officers rode with us and kept us safe throughout our 10-mile procession; like a funeral procession these officers shepherded all in our cortege.
Thank you also to all who generously donated of their time and talents toward this year's Chicago Ride of Silence. We appreciate the generosity of the community and all who donated monetarily. A full list of our supporters is on this site.
If you would like to help with future events and with next year's Ride of Silence, please contact us and/or subscribe to our mailing list.
Each year on the third Wednesday evening in May, people around the world ride their bikes in solidarity during the annual Ride of Silence. Although this event is solemn, we celebrate the lost lives of our fellow cyclists who died doing something they loved – riding their bike.
Each year before the Ride of Silence I experience a myriad of feelings - from sadness and frustration to hope and encouragement. It is the hope and encouragement that I wish each Ride of Silence event carry with them into their own communities.
Here in Chicago as we anticipate this year's Ride of Silence, I hope that everyone recognizes what a blessing it is that we are graced to enjoy our Ride each year. We ride to honor the lives and memories of each and every cyclist who has been needlessly killed here in Chicago and throughout the world.
Please join us this Wednesday evening; we especially welcome with love and reverence the family and friends of our fallen brothers and sisters. As this community rides in silent procession, may we be reminded that we are all family and part of a close supportive community.
On the 3rd Wednesday each May...
We ride to honor our fallen
We ride for a right to safely share the roads
We ride in unity worldwide
We remember those who ride with us in the Chicago suburbs and in communities worldwide, those fallen bicyclists - including those whose ghost bikes we cannot visit or who do not have a ghost bike, those bicyclists who have survived crashes and those affected by the loss or injury of a bicyclist.
Thank you all for your support.