London

'It feels like it's life or death:' London cyclists call for safer roads after student killed in hit and run

London, Ont.’s bicycling community is urging city hall to take its calls for more safety measures on the road seriously, following the death of a 29-year-old international student as he was travelling home from work.

Cyclists plan ride to city hall Tuesday to raise awareness following tragedy

A white bike on the side of the road is surrounded by candles and signs saying "Rest in Peace."
A ghost bike now stands at the site where Jibin Benoy, 29, was fatally struck by a vehicle that did not remain at the scene. Cycling advocates are planning a ride to London, Ont.'s city hall to raise awareness for road safety. (Michelle Both/CBC)

London, Ont.'s bicycling community is urging city hall to take its calls for more safety measures on the road seriously, following the death of a 29-year-old international student as he was travelling home from work. 

Jibin Benoy was struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle along Hamilton Road in the early hours of Sept. 18. He was later found and taken to hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries. Police say they are on the lookout for the suspect driver of a blue sedan who left Benoy at the scene.

Cycling advocates are planning to gather at the scene of the incident on Tuesday evening, then ride to London's city hall to ring their bells and demonstrate for safer streets.

On Friday, a white-painted "ghost" bike was placed at the site to memorialize Benoy. Cyclists then rode along his route to raise awareness of the tragedy. 

"It feels like it's life or death sometimes, just getting to where we need to get in London," said cyclist Hailey Tallman, who organized Friday's event and plans to go to Tuesday's. 

Cycling advocates organized a ride in Benoy's memory on Sept. 23. On Tuesday, they'll ride to city hall to demonstrate for improved safety measures on roads. (Michell Both/CBC)

Most of the main arteries that cyclists travel on in London don't have enough protected lanes, Tallman said. She described Hamilton Road in particular as "treacherous," filled with potholes and speeding drivers. 

"Every time I go out and cycle, I have to cycle very defensively. Drivers don't look for me, even with lights on and a vest. Close calls are a daily occurrence unless you're a very experienced cyclist," she said. 

Too many 'gaps' between protected areas 

Tallman's partner, Luis Patricio, rides along Hamilton Road every day. Benoy's death should have been preventable, he said, given what can be done to improve infrastructure to protect cyclists, many of whom are unable to afford any other kind of transportation.

"And yet we still have a road design that allows for things like this to happen," said Patricio. 

One of the key problems, Patricio said, is there are gaps between pockets where it's safe to ride in London. 

One such example is the intersection of Hamilton Road at Adelaide Street North, where he says cyclists are especially vulnerable to colliding with speeding drivers. 

Jibin Benoy had come to London, Ont., from Kerala, India, to study at Fanshawe College. He was killed in a hit-and-run incident on Hamilton Road while riding his bicycle home from work. (Facebook)

He's calling for more traffic calming restrictions in the area, and the continuation of protected bike lanes. 

"I think the main message is to understand that elected officials and city staff have a big part of the responsibility of what happens on the roads, and the design of those roads impacts our lives on a daily basis," said Patricio. 

Luis Patricio and Hailey Tallman are avid cyclists and advocates in London. They're asking cyclists and pedestrians to speak up about their experiences on Hamilton Road. (Submitted by Hailey Tallman)

Both Patricio and Tallman are helping to organize a "Vision Zero" feedback campaign through the Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre. They're asking cyclists and pedestrians to tell them about their experience on Hamilton Road, including collisions and near misses. That information will be shared with the city. 

It's the second time Patricio has participated in a memorial for a cyclist killed while riding in the area. Three years ago, 24-year-old Nicholas Keddy was fatally hit from behind by an SUV at the intersection of Hamilton Road and East Street. 

Tuesday's slow roll to city hall begins at 5:30 p.m. ET at Benoy's ghost bike, near the corner of Hamilton Road and Inkerman Street. 

Benoy was in his second year studying operations management at Fanshawe College, according to his boss at Kluck It fried chicken, where he had been working for 10 months before he died. 

He had plans to send for his wife in Kerala, India, and for them to start a life together in Canada. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela McInnes is a reporter for CBC London. She keeps a close eye out for stories touching on environment, poverty and mental health. You can reach her at angela.mcinnes@cbc.ca.

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