Yesterday, Father’s Day, was a day for looking back and looking forward. I began the day attending commencement at Cal Poly for my students who were graduating. It is always so uplifting to watch my students achieve a goal they’ve worked so hard to attain, for many, the first in their families to obtain a 4-year college degree. They’re just starting out, young lives full of promise and hope. Last evening was also the memorial walk/ride for Phillip O’Neill, a 25-year-old young man whose life was also full of promise and hope, killed by a careless driver one year ago in Pasadena. I was bearing witness in both cases. The first fills me with joy, and affirms my hopes as an educator. The second fills me with deep anger and a fervent desire to change our roads and our laws.
Last night’s walk/ride brought together many bicycling advocates from the area, as well as those who just wanted to ride with us in solidarity. Chris Cunningham of the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition led the ride, and there were attendees from as far as South LA’s East Side Riders Bike Club. We rode from Pasadena’s City Hall, where we must press our case for safer streets, to the ghost bike placed on Del Mar Blvd. where Phillip was killed. We stopped and had a moment of silence for Phillip, and people placed flowers and candles on the ghost bike. I contemplated both the fragility of human life and the nearby roadway that has been designed primarily for the convenience of cars. It’s wide enough for bike lanes, but such redesign might make drivers slow down. As I so often do, I wondered why we let such things happen. Why do we design our streets for machines of death that kill an average of 35,000 and maim nearly a quarter of a million Americans every year? Why aren’t more people standing here with us? Why aren’t more people outraged?
From there the group then rode or walked to Grant Park, where there was a small ceremony. Katie, who was riding with Phillip when he was killed, described their beautiful first date that day, and noted that both of them were riding legally in the right lane because of the lack of a bike lane on Del Mar. Among the other speakers was Phillip’s mother, who spoke about her son’s work as an environmental scientist and his desire to make the world a better place. As a parent, I deeply felt her unending grief and anguish at the loss of a child. Worse yet, she noted that her son’s killer has yet to accept responsibility for his actions that day, that he was driving too fast and was illegally passing on the right when he struck Phillip. I’m saddened and angered by this lack of responsibility, but I’m not surprised by it. Our car-centric culture has a tendency to absolve drivers of responsibility and blame the victims of car violence. If you doubt me on this, next time you see an article describing the death of a bicyclist, read the online comments. The callous victim-blaming will sicken you.
I was heartened to see Terry Tornek, a Pasadena city council member, attend the event and speak on behalf of making the streets of Pasadena safer for all people, not just motorists. I’m also heartened by the people from the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition, formed in response to Phillip’s death last year, who organized this event. PasCSC continues to grow and is now lobbying for an ambitious new mobility plan for the city of Pasadena. Indeed, many members of the coalition (as well as the LACBC, CICLE, BikeSGV, Walk/Bike Glendale) were there last night. I’m also heartened that members of this small but growing advocacy community have neither forgotten Phillip nor lost hope that things can change—must change. In this way, bearing witness and looking forward go hand-in-hand.
As Danny Gamboa said last night, we must never forget those killed or maimed by cars and we must work for the day when we no longer need ghost bikes because our streets will be safe for people on bikes. I made a solemn pledge to Phillip’s mother that this is what I would do.