AVONDALE — For a long time, no one spoke.
Instead, one by one, mourners walked up to the white bicycle at Belmont and Sacramento avenues and left their tributes to Virginia Murray. The 25-year-old Wicker Park cyclist died July 1 when she was struck by a flatbed truck while riding a Divvy bicycle, and dozens turned out Sunday to remember her.
Together, the gatherers wordlessly lit candles. They wrapped strands of flowers around the handlebars of the so-called ghost bike. They cried.
Finally, Pamela Lowe broke the silence.
"In times when there's a lot of upheaval in our world, Ginny stood for everything that was good," she said. "She shared the grace of her happiness and her energy, her life, with all of us. And for that, we will be eternally grateful."
Lowe's son grew up with Murray in Edgebrook. As part of the St. Mary of the Woods church community, Lowe watched the children grow up together and recalled touching memories of a young Murray.
"She had a passion for learning and giving back, and she was as brilliant as she was sweet," Lowe said. Lowe described Murray as a cheerful girl with a contagious laugh.
Murray had just left her job at Blue Cross Blue Shield to return to college. She planned to get a masters degree in library science, hoping to eventually help children in underserved communities, Lowe said.
Pamela Lowe places a candle by the ghost bicycle dedicated to Virginia Murray, a family friend who died July 1 after she was hit while riding a Divvy bicycle. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Known to loved ones as "Ginny," Murray was a lifelong Chicagoan. She attended St. Ignatius College Prep and the University of Illinois, graduating summa cum laude with a degree in communications.
"She never got less than an 'A'," Lowe said fondly.
Murray's death was felt not only by those who knew her, but also Chicago's cycling community. Kristen Green brought the ghost bike to Avondale from Albany Park. The 29-year-old cyclist said a man who witnessed Murray's crash reached out to the community through Facebook, looking for a way to honor the young woman.
Ghost bikes are a tradition that began in St. Louis in 2002. The painted white bicycles are left at intersections where bicyclists are killed or injured on the street, serving as "a reminder of the tragedy that took place on an otherwise anonymous street corner," according to Ghostbikes.org.
The website estimates there are some 630 ghost bikes worldwide.
In Chicago, at least 20 cyclists have been memorialized with the ghost bikes, although some are removed or stolen over the years. In 2013, one Chicago law firm offered to donate ghost bike racks as a more permanent tribute.
The most current map of Chicago's ghost bikes is on bedno.com:
Each year, the Ride of Silence visits the ghost bikes during a procession from Daley Plaza through the city. Next year's run is set for May 17.
As Green watched mourners place mementos and balloons on Murray's bicycle Sunday, she also remembered her friend Blaine Klingenberg. The 29-year-old Logan Square bicyclist died June 15 when he was struck by a double-decker bus Downtown.
Kristen Green attaches a memento to a newly dedicated ghost bicycle in memory of Virginia Murray, 25, who was killed July 1 while riding a Divvy bicycle at Sacramento and Belmont. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Murray's death "hit close to home" for Green so soon after losing Klingenberg, she said.
"People can't see how cyclists have targets on them. We keep dying and they keep getting away with it," Green said. "My friends are dying, and it's just not fair."
Of 22 fatal crashes involving bicyclists in Chicago since 2005, four drivers were charged with felonies. Three of those were accused of driving drunk, according to a DNAinfo review of media reports and the Ghostbikes.org database.
Twelve of the cases — more than half — either resulted in no charges, charges weren't immediately filed or the driver fled the scene. Another six received citations.
Mourners embrace during a ghost bicycle dedication for Virginia Murray, who died July 1 after her Divvy bike was struck at Belmont and Sacramento in Avondale. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Murray's death is likely the first time a bike-sharing rider was killed while on a rented bike. In April, Quartz reported that of the 30 bike-sharing programs in cities across the country, no fatalities had been reported.
As of 2014, Illinois ranked fifth in the country for bicyclist fatalities. Over a two-year period, 80 Illinois cyclists were killed, a rate of three per month. Statewide, about 1 percent of crashes involved bicyclists in 2013.
While some cases are ruled accidental or bicyclists are blamed, cycling advocates say it's unfair to shame cyclists in such circumstances. Doing so is "ignoring the fact that unpredictable, careless, and aggressive behavior by drivers is widespread, and it's an exponentially bigger problem," writes John Greenfield of Streetsblog Chicago.
Belmont and Sacramento avenues, where Murray died, has not been brought up in conversations about dangerous intersections in Avondale, Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) said Sunday. The city had plans to install a bike lane on Belmont Avenue from Kedzie to the lakefront, "but it's been put on hold," Mell said.
Mell joined mourners at the corner and said the community has been "shaken up" by the woman's death.
"To think you get up in the morning, take a bike ride and your life is over — it's really hard to conceptualize," Mell said, gazing at the crowd of two dozen. "We need to make our focus pedestrian and bicyclist safety first."
Mell encouraged concerned residents to work with the ward's transportation action committee, which meets on the fourth Thursday of each month.
"Let's be part of the solution," she said.
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