Bicycles, bouquets and photographs of a smiling Robert "Bobby" Cann cram a sunlit slice of fence along North Clybourn Avenue, where the 26-year-old cycling enthusiast was struck and killed in May by a man suspected of driving drunk.
Five months later, dozens of friends, family members and fellow cyclists gathered Friday for the dedication of the stretch of road near Larabee Street in his honor.
The brown sign for Honorary Bobby Cann Way is not just a tribute to a young and popular cyclist. It's a reflection of Chicago's bicycle culture, which publicly memorializes fallen riders with whitewashed "ghost bikes" at fatal crash scenes and "rides of silence" for the deceased. The commemoration is also yet another reminder of the potential dangers that come as bicycles, pedestrians and motor vehicles increasingly share Chicago streets.
"It's a new way of showing a cyclist is a human being, we're not just an object on a roadway," Elizabeth Adamczyk, a local Ride of Silence organizer, said amid the rumble of passing trucks and cars. "It's a whole personification of a cyclist."
And for some, Friday's event was a call to action.
Chicago is one of a growing number of American cities to push for more bike-friendly roads, touting positive effects on the environment and public health. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city officials promote bike use and infrastructure projects such as the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, which calls for a 645-mile network of bicycle lanes. Divvy, the bike-sharing program Emanuel extols, has kiosks blooming citywide.
Census data and local estimates, meanwhile, suggest that the number of Chicagoans who commute to work on bicycles since 2000 has increased dramatically. A city report released last year estimated about 15,000 bicycle commuters used city streets daily in 2010, roughly 1 percent of commuters and a figure that observers say has increased in subsequent years.
But the transition hasn't come without conflict, or tragedy. The city's Department of Transportation logged 32 fatal bicycle crashes and 8,861 injury-causing crashes from 2005 to 2010, according to the crash data report. The majority of the crashes occurred in and north of downtown, the city's report said. State Department of Transportation statistics show a majority of cycling crashes happen on urban roads.
Nearly 7,000 cyclists died in the United States from 2001 to 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
All of that has led to more white bikes chained alongside city streets, more group rides to demand that drivers share the road and perhaps inevitably more tension.
In May, Emanuel proposed amending a city ordinance to increase to $1,000 the fine for motorists who hit cyclists with car doors and levy fines of up to $200 for cyclists who violate traffic laws. The mayor this week panned a South Side alderman's proposal to charge bike owners a $25 annual registration fee and require cyclists to take a "rules of the road" safety class.
Advocates for more bicycle-friendly streets say regulation is one facet of safety but cyclists, pedestrians and motorists also need to learn to co-exist on evolving roads.
"Chicago kind of has a culture of impatience when it comes to traveling," Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, said Friday. "That leads to some rash decisions, and I think that kind of carries over to people no matter what vehicle they're driving. That culture needs to change."
Bike lanes have become a mark of aspiring hip, urban neighborhoods. Cyclists last summer celebrated a bike lane along part of Milwaukee Avenue that features barriers to isolate bikes from cars. Such construction looks set to continue as urban planners design for a gradual shift away from automobile travel.
"It's all the more reason to design our streets to be safe for this growing crowd of cyclists," Burke said. "And we can do that, it's not an insurmountable task. In fact, when you put in bike lanes, especially protected bike lanes, you create more order on the street.
a bearded New Hampshire transplant who fell in love with Chicago
They remembered a Groupon employee who served as an ambassador for safe cycling, helmet and all. A regular participant at Critical Mass rides, who rode in all sorts of conditions but made a point of doing so in a safe way.