Bike Walk Tompkins

Thanksgiving is a time of family and remembering, just as November is a month of remembrance, starting with All Souls on the 1st, continuing to Veterans Day on the 11th, and beyond. Last Friday night's Vigil for World Day of Remembrance of the victims of road traffic violence at the Bernie Milton Pavilion on the Ithaca Commons resonated with this theme, in a call to Remember, Support and Act. 

To start the event, Bike Walk Tompkins welcomed a gathering of 25 or so, braving the cold and dark as colored lights draped on bike wheel changed colors and hot tea was served alongside petitions calling for action to make roadways safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Rob Cantelmo (Common Council Member and Chair of the City Administration Committee) and Erin Cuddihy (City Transportation Engineer) joined the group and stayed for the whole event. To prepare for this night, I looked for stories of walkers and bikers hurt or killed in the Ithaca area, thinking I wouldn’t find much. I tend to think of little Ithaca as a place where this doesn't happen much and maybe dismiss it as mostly a big city problem. So I was shocked by how many accounts I found of serious roadway injuries and deaths of walkers and bikers, sometimes of people who were very young.

REMEMBER. Several people came to the microphone and shared stories sad and powerful, at times igniting shouts of anger, bringing home the vivid horror of lives touched by or lost to traffic violence. Kelda McGurk talked about the recent death of bicyclist Carlette Crowe on Floral Ave. and the petition she’d been circulating about unsafe Floral Ave. traffic conditions – one the victim had signed two days before his death. Victoria Armstrong read the names of several local road violence victims she remembers, and others stood up to speak of loved ones lost to car-on-person crashes. Then, the group viewed Sarah Nickerson’s beautiful and moving tribute to her niece Sophia, made into a video by local filmmaker Shira Evergreen, displayed on a white sheet quivering in the chilly breeze. Sophia was only 14 when she was hit and killed by a drunk driver last year while walking along a local roadway with her sister and friends.

SUPPORT. Speakers shared messages of empathy for those struggling with grief over people suddenly lost to crashes, and people hugged one another. The event concluded with a "walk of silence", as the group carried their twinkling white candles north and along Cascadilla Creek to return.

ACT. As Americans, our society has an unhealthy focus on cars and speed, to the exclusion of slower, healthier and more earth-friendly ways of getting around. We tend to view deaths of walkers and bikers on roadways as somehow acceptable, or the person’s fault, as they shouldn’t have been there. This is wrong. As the organizers of the first WDoR event in Ithaca, we called on the City of Ithaca to prioritize funding for roadway structures that make a safe space for walkers and bikers, rather than designing roads solely for moving cars as fast as possible, and we urged people to sign three petitions: 1) calling on the City of Ithaca to reduce its speed limit to 25 mph, 2) calling on local and state officials to promptly address unsafe traffic conditions on Rt. 13A/Floral Ave. and 3) calling on the Governor to sign the Complete Streets funding bill that would increase state support to localities building streets that make a safe space for pedestrians and bicyclists. We urge you, the readers of this piece, to do the same, and to keep challenging your elected officials to make safety for vulnerable road users a priority. If you’d like more information about how to get involved in advocacy for safer roadways for all, please write:


Margaret Johnson

Director, Bike Walk Tompkins

Center for Community Transportation

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