LINCOLN SQUARE — Over 300 people gathered Sunday on the North Side to push for better city infrastructure that protects bicyclists and pedestrians after drivers hit and killed toddlers Raphael “Rafi” Cardenas and Elizabeth “Lily” Grace Shambrook this month.
Families, elected officials and bike safety advocates gathered for the “Walk and Roll for Safe Streets” event organized by Better Streets Chicago and Chicago Family Biking. The group held moments of silence to honor Rafi and Lily, chalked messages on the streets to alert drivers to pedestrians and bicyclists, and marched from the Lincoln Square intersection in where Rafi was killed June 2, to the Uptown corner where Lily was killed Thursday.
Organizers and participants said unsafe driving, uneven enforcement of traffic laws, insufficient protected bike lanes and a disjointed bike lane network throughout the city led to Rafi and Lily’s deaths. Rafi’s parents, Marina Ross and Henry Cardenas, spoke at the event and said they would demand “that our streets be updated and redesigned so that pedestrian safety is always prioritized.”
“This is our home,” Cardenas said. “This is where we should feel safe, where our children should be able to play, where we should be able to raise our families, where anyone should be able to take a stroll or a bike ride or ride their scooter without fearing the worst. It is evident that our streets are not safe.”
So far in 2022, drivers have killed at least four cyclists and 15 pedestrians in the city, according to Better Streets Chicago.
“We will demand that drivers take responsibility for their actions and understand the risks involved in operating a motor vehicle,” Cardenas said. “We will not stop until we are all safe.”
“Together we can build the future we need for all residents,” Ross said. “Please join us in this mission and let two beautiful souls, Rafi and Lily, guide us on this journey.”
Brendan Kevenides, a local bicycle advocate and attorney representing Lily’s family, also spoke at the rally and urged people to channel their outrage into action.
“Hold on to that anger and energy and use it for positive change,” Kevenides said. “Join the Active Transportation Alliance, work with Better Streets Chicago, contribute to Bike Lane Uprising, […] do whatever has to be done to bring about this change.”
Kyle Lucas of Better Streets Chicago blasted the city for a transportation culture “that prioritizes automobiles over people — over our children.”
“I’m devastated that, yet again, here we are confronted with a tragic and preventable loss of life on our streets, Lucas said. “Rafi and Lily should be here with us today. It’s time for change, we cannot accept this. This reality is sick.”
As neighbors marched, Lucas led the crowd in a series of chants calling for concrete, citywide bike lanes and for drivers to slow down.
“Let me be clear; the city of Chicago is on the hook,” Lucas said. “We have to implement expert-recommended, gold-standard road designs instead of watering them down for small but loud voices. Safe streets are not public opinion, they have to be the default.”
Some participants carried posters distributed by Better Streets reading, “Neighborhoods not shortcuts” and “Safe streets for all.” Others brought handmade signs from home.
Heather Penzkofer, a bicyclist and mom, brought her son along to the rally via cargo bike. She said she wants to see “more accountability” for people who park in bike lanes.
“There need to be more people out there giving tickets faster,” Penzkofer said. “If people don’t get tickets for these kinds of things, they’re gonna just keep doing it.”
Emily Wilson, a bicyclist who lives in Lakeview, said she hopes the city can create “a network of safer streets that are accessible throughout the city to make sure that people can get from A to B safely,” because “right now [Chicago’s] cycling infrastructure is very disconnected and segmented.”
“It’s disheartening to see the number of cyclists and children dying on the streets,” Wilson said.
Ald. Matt Martin (47th), whose ward encompasses the intersection where Rafi was killed, has long advocated for better bike and pedestrian safety, and previously has criticized how the city approached infrastructure improvements.
“One big thing that we need to overcome is thinking about things in a piecemeal way, like block by block or ward by ward,” Martin said. “We need to be looking at the entire transit network. If we’re talking about, say, a series of protected bike lanes — it can’t be just for a half-mile. It needs to be something that folks can really use to get from point A to point B.”
Martin told the crowd he lives just a few blocks away from the intersection where Rafi was killed and is the father of two young children, one who just learned to ride a scooter.
“We need a series of bump-outs, we need a series of protected bike lanes,” Martin said. “While it’s important we come together and mourn, it’s also important that we come together and ask what we can do collectively.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, and state Rep. and mayoral candidate Kam Buckner also attended the event.
Hours after the march, a driver hit and killed another person in North Center, about 1 mile south from where Rafi was killed, Martin said.
Martin said the victim was a regular volunteer in his office and was leaving an early voting rally he’d also attended when a car hit and killed him as he tried to cross Irving Park Road near Hoyne Avenue, Martin tweeted.
“Like so many of you, I am distraught by these deaths: I know first-hand how dangerous it can feel to cross Irving Park on foot, and I know how anxious it can feel to have your young child scoot or bike on side streets,” Martin said. “My office will continue working to ensure that future improvements to pedestrian, bike, and public transportation infrastructure —not just throughout our Ward but throughout all of Chicago—are holistic, systemic, and better designed to ensure safe streets for all.”
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