LOGAN SQUARE — A symphony of love and cheer rang through Logan Square Saturday morning as family, friends and cycling advocates ended a memorial to musician and actor Kevin Clark with a “moment of sound.”
The boisterous sendoff was a fitting tribute to Clark, a “loud” drummer known for his role in the “School of Rock” movie, his family said. A driver fatally hit Clark last month as he biked through the intersection at Logan Boulevard and Western Avenue.
“He made noise wherever he went. He either riled them up with his music or with his caring, and so that’s what he wanted. He’s a rockstar; he needed to have noise,” said his mother, Allison Clark.
“He wasn’t quiet. He came into a room with a burst of energy, and he was just big and vivacious,” said his cousin, Matthew Portman.
The gathering served as a memorial to Clark’s life and a clarion call for state and local leaders to prioritize infrastructure to make city streets safe for cyclists.
Clark’s mother said about half of the “School of Rock” “family” was in attendance, and she’s spent hours on the phone with some of the cast. She and the other parents of the young cast spent months together during filming and became close.
“Some of those calls have probably been the hardest,” she said.
Clay Sulak, a friend of Clark’s since before his movie fame, came into town from Maine. He made sure to call Clark every time he returned to Chicago to find “a little excitement and a little music and a little culture.”
“Kevin always provided that. I knew that every single night Kevin was doing something fun with good people and was always full of love,” Sulak said.
When Clark came home from filming the movie with purple hair, his longtime friends gave him a hard time, but Sulak said Clark didn’t change.
“Kevin was always pretty sweet,” he said.
Drumming loud was always a part of Clark’s life — he could make any object in grade school a drum, Sulak said. He played shows across the city, and his newest band — Jess Bess and the Intentions — performed for the first time the weekend before Clark died.
Clark also worked at a local Starbucks for almost a decade. Allison Clark said the coffee shop closed for two days and brought in crisis counselors for employees after her son was killed.
Two Logan Square Neighborhood Association youth organizers spoke at the memorial, saying Clark’s role in “School of Rock” inspired them and they’d work to honor him by pushing for safety improvements for bicyclists.
“He was very important to all of us,” said Kim Casas. “His movie, his music, inspired generations, especially ours, because music and art mean more to us now than ever before.”
Casas is fighting for change because she doesn’t want to “worry that one day my mom or my brother, or anyone that’s biking or walking is going to be hit by the same tragedy,” she said.
Pilar Kelly, 19, said there are “too many ghost bikes all around Chicago.”
“There are simple infrastructure improvements that can save lives, and in the future Logan Square can be a safe haven for cyclists in this beautiful, green oasis in the city,” she said.
People familiar with the intersection where the crash occurred weren’t surprised a bicyclist was killed there. Cycling advocates have pressed state and local leaders to improve bike safety for years— and 13 years ago, 22-year-old Tyler Fabeck was killed while riding through the same intersection.
Following the memorial, mourners placed an all-white “ghost bike” to serve as a monument to Clark’s death at the intersection where he died.
“Everyone in this neighborhood knows it’s a problem”
As his friends and family took pictures and tearfully placed notes on the bike, car horns blared as drivers jockeyed for position at the dangerous intersection.
City and state officials have known for years the danger the intersection poses to cyclists, but they have done nothing to improve the situation, said Daniel La Spata, cycling advocate and 1st Ward alderman.
La Spata spearheaded a meeting next week bringing together state, county and city leaders to tackle the issue, he said.
“We want to understand what are the immediate steps you’re going to take. What can be done this summer to start improving things,” he said. “But we just can’t have [is] what we’ve had for the … the last 13 years, which is simply doing nothing.”
La Spata has toured area streets, including the intersection, with Gia Biagi, the commissioner of the Department of Transportation.
“I wish that was enough. I wish illustrating the challenge was enough to see action. I am hopeful that the power, the momentum that we’re generating here, even if it’s coming out of mourning and grief, is really going to light a fire under the rug,” La Spata said.
A spokesman for the city’s transportation department said last week the city will conduct a “post-crash analysis” of the intersection to determine what safety improvements are needed.
An improvement project is complicated by the fact there are a few different jurisdictions at play: Western Avenue is managed by Cook County, Logan Boulevard is managed by the city and the Kennedy Expressway is managed by the Illinois Department of Transportation, Jim Merrell, managing director of advocacy for Active Transportation Alliance, said last week.
Merrell spoke at Saturday’s memorial and said afterwards that despite the challenges, the fixes are not out of reach.
“The first thing you notice when you’re at Logan and Western is that there’s a lot of space for cars and no room for anything else,” he said. “You can reduce the number of lanes on Logan Boulevard and create space on the road for protected bike lanes, which would physically separate people walking and biking from traffic.”
Merrell suggested similar measures on Western Avenue and introducing traffic calming measures, like reduced speed and better signs and lighting.
“If you change the geometry of the street to slow people down, that really reduces crashes and especially the number of fatalities. Because if you slow folks down, they’re more likely to survive a crash,” he said.
“This was made so much harder when we learned where it happened,” Portman said. “Everyone in this neighborhood knows it’s a problem and the city knows it’s a problem.”
Officials need to do “whatever” they can to fix the intersection, Allison Clark said.
“This is horrible. Just horrible,” she said. “If Kevin’s death can mean anything, it would be nice to find out that the ball got rolling and it really happened.”
As the fight for a safer intersection continues, Portman and other family members launched a website, Kevin’s Coda, to keep Clark’s legacy alive. A coda is the final part of a piece of music. The site is helping Clark’s family raise money for an organization that supports music education for local children and raising awareness about bike safety advocacy.
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