Weekend Memorial Events Highlight Continued Vulnerability of Cyclists

Friends of Oscar Toledo, Jr., gather around the ghost bike put up at 47th and Normandie in South LA. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Friends of Oscar Toledo, Jr., gather around the ghost bike put up at 47th and Normandie in South LA. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

For those of us who pay attention to such things, it was a terribly mournful weekend.

Friday night, friends and family gathered at 47th and Normandie to witness the installation of a ghost bike in honor of hit-and-run victim Oscar Toledo, Jr., at the growing memorial there.

His youth and the freshness of the event meant that emotions were running high. When I spotted Toledo’s girlfriend, she threw herself into my arms, her body shaking with sobs.

“IT’S BEEN THREE FUCKING DAYS!” she wailed in disbelief.

She wasn’t the only one in tears. As the group gathered in a circle to hold hands and say a few words about Toledo, people cried openly and cursed both the unfairness of their loss and the person who had done this to someone they had loved.

The mood was more subdued Saturday afternoon for the Memorial Ride for Benjamin Torres, killed in an early morning hit-and-run in Gardena.

When the East Side Riders — now, in conjunction with Los Ryderz and the team from Ghost Bike Documentary — promised to do a monthly ride to honor Torres until justice was finally served, I don’t know if they realized justice would seem more elusive than ever two years on.

We had all hoped someone would come forward or have a change of heart and accept responsibility for the deed. Instead, the family has had to find solace in their memories and the ever-growing network of families and friends whose loved ones have been left to die in the streets.

But, even when the perpetrator is known, there is a limit to the comfort that knowledge and the extended bike family can offer, as was evident at Sunday’s memorial ride and vigil for Phillip O’Neill.

The case against the driver Jose Gonzales, charged with manslaughter for striking O’Neill from behind and killing him, is currently making its way through the court system. Unfortunately, as the friends and family of September hit-and-run victim Andy Garcia know all too well, Gonzales’ prosecution will neither bring O’Neill back nor fill the void his loss created.

Whether a week, a year, or two years ago, the losses remain present for friends and family. Few things seem so unnecessary as losing a loved one to the streets. And, few things seem so brutal, especially in the cases of hit-and-runs.

Which is why I find opposition to bike infrastructure, say, like the ridiculous battle currently being fought over bike lanes on N. Figueroa, so puzzling.

Opponents often seem to be of the opinion that cyclists are just farting around on bikes because they have nothing better to do except slow cars down, make parking impossible, and convert everyone to hipsterdom.

But, that’s clearly not the case.

Oscar Toledo, like many youth in poor communities, used his bike for transportation and was on his way home to his family after visiting his girlfriend. Benjamin Torres, like many immigrant workers, was on his way to work on the route he took every day. Phillip O’Neill was out on a first date on a street where many students regularly cycle back and forth to college. Andy Garcia was headed home after spending a night out being active and healthy (instead of partying and driving drunk, as his killer was) with friends. Los Ryderz and the East Side Riders (the groups that do regular memorial rides) use bikes to give at-risk youth from South L.A. unique opportunities to give back to their communities and break free of the limitations on mobility the area sometimes places on them.

Like cars, bikes are used by people for a variety of reasons, all of which generally involve getting someone from point A to point B.

Unlike with cars, however, those using bikes have to constantly battle both the powers that be and others on the road for the right to get to point B safely.

Which is why we sometimes have weekends like this past one, where we are all reminded of how vulnerable we are and how callous others can be.

Were this the movies, this might be the point at which the sidekick cried out to the superhero, “Holy spokes, Super Planner Man! Over forty cycling deaths so far this year? It’s a massacre!” And, Super Planner Man would agree it was a sad, sad state of affairs and use his super-planning powers to unleash a super-safe infrastructure network upon the good people of this beleaguered metropolis.

But, this isn’t Hollywood.

This is L.A.

So, in the meanwhile, folks, please share the road.

 

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Oscar Toledo’s family needs help with funeral expenses. If you’d like to connect with them, please see their gofundme page here or donate to their Wells Fargo account #9869983123.