IRVING PARK — Years ago, Northwest Siders rejected a plan to install protected bike lanes on a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue from Irving Park to Jefferson Park. Instead, painted lanes were put in place.
Now, 37-year-old Carla Aiello of Norwood Park is dead after being hit by a truck while in the fading bike lane at the intersection — and the Chicago bicycle community is furious.
That decision to not install barriers to protect cyclists was fresh in the minds of some of the nearly 200 people who showed up Wednesday night to the 3800 block of North Milwaukee Avenue holding signs that read, “Please Don’t Kill Us” where Aiello was struck and killed 12 hours earlier.
“You had a bike lane that is completely gone, it hasn’t been maintained. The plan was to make it a protected bike lane but the area pushed back, so it was just a faded, painted bike lane,” said Christina Whitehouse, founder of advocacy group Bike Lane Uprising. “We had a cyclist that was in it and who was clearly an experienced cyclist based on the bike, and you had a commercial truck that right-hooked her.”
Whitehouse, who started Bike Lane Uprising after almost getting hit by a truck in a bike lane in 2017, has built a devoted following of transportation activists who say the city is not doing enough to protect cyclists and pedestrians from bad drivers who aren’t punished even if they kill someone.
In the case of Aiello’s death, the 41-year-old truck driver was cited for traffic violations, police said, but no further charges were filed. The collision remains under investigation, an officer on the scene said.
Aiello was a counselor at Josephinum Academy of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls high school in Wicker Park.
“We are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of our counselor, Carla Aiello,” the school posted on social media Thursday. “We extend our thoughts and deepest sympathies to her family and loved ones. Our Josephinum community of faculty, staff, students, alumnae, and volunteers are supporting each other and remembering the enduring legacy of Carla – her unending care and guidance to each and every person she served.”
Cyclist and member of Bike Lane Uprising Ray Koltys showed up to the vigil with a sign that read “Paint is Not Protection.”
“It’s frustrating to want to commute and get around in a way that’s healthy to myself and the environment but to be risking my life to do it,” said Koltys, a Logan Square resident who often bikes from his home to his IT management job Downtown.
Looking at the faded bike lane on the street, Irving Park resident Harold Ward said, “This fades. If they installed cheap metal poles it would at least be visible indicator so people are aware.”
That solution infuriated locals just north of the crash site in 2014, however.
Neighbors at the time slammed the proposal to add buffered bike lanes, complaining about the loss of parking spots. Ultimately, painted bike lanes were put in place instead of barriers.
A visit to the scene Wednesday night confirmed the painted lines for the bike lane on the street were indeed faded and hard to see; however, one bike enthusiast said the incident may have been more the fault of driver negligence than the fault of fading bike lane lines.
“You can argue that, although I think it’s more of a lack of awareness by the driver in this instance,” said Fidel Talavera, a cyclist and owner of Bacardi Bikes, a bike store located just blocks from the fatal accident on Milwaukee Avenue.
Lena Reynolds, a Jefferson Park resident who also bikes to work Downtown regularly, said, “I think I saw myself in that girl today. … I hope that people think about the importance of not just paint but real barrier protected bike lanes.”
At 6:59 a.m. Wednesday, Aiello had been biking south on Milwaukee Avenue alongside a truck when both she and the driver got to the intersection of Milwaukee and Kilbourn avenues, police said.
The light was green and the truck turned right onto Kilbourn, but the cyclist was in the driver’s blind spot, and the truck hit her and she rolled under it, officials said. She died at the scene.
“To the family & friends of the cyclist killed this morning: Please know there is a community that is grieving with you,” Bike Lane Uprising posted on social media late Wednesday. “We recognize it could have been us. Thank you to everyone who was able to make it out and help spread the word. Her life mattered.”
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