'Ghost bike' march calls for safer streets after cyclist killed

Cyclists and friends of Jay Keddy marched with bikes up the Claremont Access on Thursday, marking the place where he was killed on Wednesday.

Cyclists and friends of Jay Keddy marched up Claremont Access on Thursday

Friends of Jay Keddy and members of the cycling community gathered at the site where Keddy was killed Wednesday. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Just a few hours after a 53-year-old cyclist died Wednesday evening, Hamilton cyclists —angered and saddened by the news — began circulating word on social media about a march with bicycles up the Claremont Access on Thursday. 

"We love Hamilton, but we need to make a statement that all road users should be able to go between the upper and lower cities without losing their lives," organizers at New Hope Bikes wrote in the call for the march.

A crowd of more than 30 pedestrians and cyclists gathered at Main and Wellington streets on Thursday just after noon, some of them friends of the cyclist, Jay Keddy, some who saw his death as one more casualty of a road system tilted in favour of automobiles.

People do not have to die this way.- Steven Nagy, teacher, Earl Kitchener Elementary School

They brought with them a stark symbol of what had happened: A bicycle spray-painted white.

They wheeled the "ghost bike" memorial with them to install on the side of the road where Keddy was killed. Hundreds of ghost bikes have been installed in similarly grim sites elsewhere in Canada and around the world. 

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Hamilton Police closed the up side of the access and several bicycle officers walked alongside as the procession began.

Johanna Bleecker walks a bicycle and a trailer carrying a bike painted white as a memorial to cyclist Jay Keddy, killed as he rode up the Claremont Access on Wednesday. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Behind her own bike, Johanna Bleecker from New Hope Community Bikes pulled a trailer carrying the ghost bike.  

At the top of the access, organizers called for a moment of silence and read a tweet written a few weeks ago by Keddy, a kindergarten teacher at Prince of Wales School:

'It takes people to lead'

Steven Nagy, a teacher at Earl Kitchener Elementary School, told the crowd he knew Keddy from afar and considered him an inspiration. 

"As a long-time, more-than 25-year commuter cyclist myself, again, this unnecessary tragedy hits home," Nagy said. "It doesn't have to be. People do not have to die this way."

Nagy said there's no reason Hamilton cannot muster the "political will" to make streets safer. 

"It takes people to lead and to do what is necessary to provide for cyclists so that cyclists and pedestrians and automobile users can coexist in a city such as ours," he said. "They've done it in many other cities around the world."

Coun. Matthew Green said Thursday his office is researching the Vision Zero campaign, which originated in Sweden and has been adopted in cities around the world with an aim to drop cyclist and pedestrian fatalities to zero. Green, Mayor Fred Eisenberger and several councillors said they support Vision Zero in an election survey on Raise the Hammer last year.

"There are design improvements we can make. There are policy improvements and prioritization," Green said Thursday.

Green said the city should think about something like that "to ensure we reduce the likelihood of this happening again."

More than 30 people attended Thursday's impromptu march up the Claremont Access. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Sara Mayo has researched pedestrian safety and cycling infrastructure for the Social Planning and Research Council and said Keddy's death underscores the need for Hamilton to do better to connect the city. 

"This cyclist was obviously cycling ... to the Mountain; he wasn't a downtown hipster," she said. "Regardless of who he was he didn't deserve to die."

The cyclist, she said, was "doing everything right," reportedly with a light on his bike and wearing a helmet.

"And he had very little choice about where to go. It's not like he chose the most dangerous route," she said. "This is a real wake up call about our escarpment, about how we've neglected how pedestrians and cyclists can navigate the escarpment when they're not just out for a Sunday afternoon ride."

Mayo said diverse neighbourhoods and senior adults are among those in Hamilton pushing for safer streets. 

"I think we kind of think that it's controversial, but it's not," she said. "People want to have more than one way to get their destinations. We have to acknowledge that this is no way a special interest thing that only a few people want."

Craig Burley, a downtown lawyer and transit advocate, said as the march began he'd been encouraged this week by "honest discussions" like the one about studying how to make Aberdeen Avenue safer for cyclists and pedestrians. 

"And then this happened," Burley said. "Which kind of underlines how far it is that we have to go." 

At the end of the march, the crowd dispersed and left the white bike along the roadside as a memorial. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett