West Loop bicycle tragedy spurs call for better safety
September 7, 2018

Photo by Mark J. Valentino
Mourners left memorials at the construction site near the spot where bicyclist Angela Park was killed.

By Patrick Butler

What will the City do to prevent future bicycle crashes like the one that killed Angela Park last month?

The 39-year-old mother of two was hit by a Lakeshore Recycling Systems dump truck on Halsted Street near Madison Street on Aug. 9 en route to her job as a fitness trainer and coach in Wicker Park. She lived in Bronzeville.

Although rushed to Northwestern Hospital, Park died shortly after being struck at 7:33 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Police ticketed the truck driver for striking a pedestrian in the roadway. Lakeshore Recycling Systems could not be reached for comment.

Kyle Whitehead of the Active Transportation Alliance (ATA) noted Park apparently was the victim of a “right hook” crash all too common when cyclists meet larger vehicles that lack safety panels on the truck’s sides between the front and rear wheels. The panels prevent victims from falling under the trucks.

The City Council already has ordered City trucks—and those belonging to companies doing more than $2 million in City contracts—to start phasing in these safeguards, Whitehead said.

Reggie Stewart, chief of staff to Alderman Walter Burnett (27th Ward), said he did not know of any additional plans in the works at this point and declined any further comment.

At the moment, the City has no mandate requiring other large trucks to have the panels, Whitehead added.

ATA lobbying City

Cities such as New York, Boston, and London already have adopted panel requirements, said Whitehead, adding that ATA is lobbying the City Council actively to require safety panels on all larger trucks, not just certain ones.

He also wants the City to look closer at how developers comply with safety regulations already in force at construction sites, which have seen a number of bike/truck accidents like the one that killed Park.

Near West Side resident Mike Kirchberg wants to go a step further – by taking the bike lanes off major streets and putting them on side streets.

He is not the only one who thinks it is an idea that’s time has come.

“I’ve already got 39 people on my website who agree with me,” said Kirchberg, a former photographer turned professional fundraiser.

“I don’t like the way the mayor keeps putting bike lanes between two lanes of auto traffic,” he said. “It’s downright scary.”

Kirchberg said he’s already written the mayor and plans to talk to ATA and his local alderman for starters.

Of course, cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians can do much to minimize accidents and injuries, Whitehead explained.

Cyclists can wear helmets, have safety lights on their bikes, and learn to share the road, he said.

None of which would have saved Park, said Whitehead, noting that, “This victim apparently did everything right. It appears she was doing everything she was supposed to have been doing.”

“She always was a big rule follower,” a friend of Park’s said.

Those at the scene found a bike helmet and a pair of sunglasses, presumably belonging to Park, lying in the street after the crash.

Angela Park leaves behind a husband and two children after her tragic death.

Multiple collisions

That collision was not the only one that occurred near Halsted and Madison, where concrete construction barriers line the streets around a 44-unit development under construction, Whitehead said.

About a week after Park died, a motorist hit another cyclist at the same location. That time, however, the parties involved reported no injuries.

That construction site is linked with 28 reported collisions, which occurred within 100 feet of the site in the past year, compared to 10 in that area in 2016, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Personal injury lawyer Brendan Kevenides, who specializes in bicycle injury cases, asserted that, “Construction in that area should be shut down until a proper assessment of safety measures can be completed. Lives are at risk.”

Meanwhile, Angela Park has not been forgotten.

People from National Teachers Academy, 55 W. Cermak Rd., where Park’s daughter is a student, immediately started a GoFundMe drive to help raise money for Park’s funeral expenses.  The campaign already has reached its $5,000 goal, organizers said.

Kristen Green, an organizer for Ghost Bikes, plans to ask Park’s family for permission to install a symbolic white bike as a permanent memorial on the spot where Park was killed.

“Angela was known as an inspiring instructor and coach by all who had the pleasure of working with her,” said her boss, Chicago Athletic Club owner Pat Cunningham. “We are all shocked and saddened by the tragedy.”

Park was a personal trainer, group fitness and aquatics teacher, and triathlon coach who began her career as a swim instructor in the 1990s, according to CAC. She had completed more than 100 triathlons and two ironman races.

“It was an area of fitness she was especially passionate about,” Cunningham said.

Park also organized her own fitness group, Spark Multi-Sport, which met regularly on Thursday afternoons for runs or jogs.

For Active Transportation Alliance, log on to http://activetrans.org/.