Home News Ghost bike in Aurora a memorial to a great kid

Ghost bike in Aurora a memorial to a great kid

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Although I wasn’t there in person, I wish I could have been.

There’s something about a lone and riderless bicycle, painted all in white, that is both haunting and memorable.

Which is what those who put together Aurora’s first Ghost Bike Memorial event, held May 19 at Hochsheit Park, were hoping to achieve.

The goal was to recognize the fatal bike/vehicle accident that claimed the life of a Waubonsie Valley High School student last November, and to remind all of us – cyclists, walkers, motorists – of traffic hazards that can ravage so many lives so quickly.

According to organizers Tom Craighead of Naperville and Jillian Plowcamp of Aurora, there are dozens of these somber memorials all over Chicago, with thousands throughout the country and world and more spreading into the suburbs. As of today, Craighead told me, there is one in Naperville from a fatal bike accident a decade ago and three in Batavia.

It’s no surprise Aurora’s first ghost bike popped up where it did.

The areas along Eola and Montgomery roads, as well as Ogden Avenue, have been a hotbed of controversy as residents in far East Side neighborhoods continue to demand traffic safety improvements from local and state officials.

Over the past 18 months I’ve listened to many of those concerned voices grow louder as a series of tragedies hit Indian Prairie School District particularly hard.

In early 2023, a young Waubonsie Valley High School graduate’s car plunged into an icy retention pond at South Eola Road and Autumn Grove Circle; a few months later a beloved fourth-grade teacher from the district lost her life after a three-car crash on a different part of Eola near Village Green Drive. And in November, 16-year-old junior Micah Ginsberg, whose Eagle Scout project had just raised the funding for a second community refrigerator for Aurora, was killed when his bike and a pickup truck collided at the intersection of Ogden Avenue and Montgomery Road.

Micah’s family and friends attended the Ghost Bike Memorial event, as did members of the Naperville Bicycle Club who, dressed in white, rode in silence from the Naperville Police Department, where Micah was a well-loved and respected cadet, to the Aurora park. Also attending the memorial were representatives from Naperville and Aurora police, along with Aurora Alds. Patty Smith, 8th Ward, and John Laesch, at large.

Dave Simmons, executive director of Ride Illinois, spoke about bike safety, while community members shared stories and memories of Micah. Included in the latter was Plowcamp, a PTA leader whose son and his friends were greatly impacted by the teen’s death, and who is helping to lead the charge for road safety.

Among their concerns – the intersection of Ogden and Montgomery has very little signage and traffic signal controls to protect crosswalks.

“It is insane,” said Plowcamp, who describes herself as a mom on a mission. “Our children have to cross streets where adults can’t even cross safely.”

Later, with Aurora police to assist in traffic control, the ghost bike was walked by four Waubonsie Valley students to its resting site. Due to IDOT regulations, it could not be placed where the incident occurred, but instead is further down Montgomery Road near its crossing with the Waubonsee Creek Trail.

Not only is the bike a memorial to Micah, who organizers described as a “great kid,” it’s also a stark reminder of the need to improve engineering of intersections, enforcement of traffic laws and to change behaviors and attitudes of those who drive, walk or pedal a bike.

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A ghost bike now stands along Montgomery Road in Aurora, near the crossing with Waubonsee Creek Trail, in memory of a 16-year-old Waubonsie Valley High School student who was killed while riding his bike, and to remind drivers, cyclists and walkers of traffic hazards on the far East Side of Aurora. (Tom Craighead)

“Every year has gotten less safe for cyclists and walkers,” says Craighead, a member of Naperville Environmental Taskforce, who has volunteered for decades planning and managing cycling and walking safety.

While most of his work takes place in Naperville, he expressed gratitude for Aurora’s response, including from police and Mike Nelson, director of community events, who got permission for the ghost bike’s placement.

All these efforts, they hope, will make a difference.

The city of Aurora conducted a traffic study last year of these critical roadways. And thanks in large part to Plowcamp’s partnership with state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, the Illinois Department of Transportation gathered traffic data in the area, and the report should be completed later this month or in early July, according to Kifowit, who describes the issue as “a very serious situation.”

Echoing the feelings of so many others, she insisted, “safety must be a top priority.”

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