(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Less than 48 hours after Kathryn Rickson lost her life while bicycling on SW Madison Avenue in downtown Portland, well over 200 people came together to grieve and to raise awareness for safer streets.
There were no speakers or agenda tonight. Most people just sat quietly and thought about what happened Wednesday. Others held signs; most of which were printed up by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. The messages included: “This was preventable”; “Look right, save a life”; “Crashes are not accidents”; and “No more ghost bikes.” A long line of people stood on the curb of SW Madison, holding the signs so that passing traffic could not miss them.
Signs aside, this was mostly a time for people to just be present and to let this tragedy sink in. I have unfortunately been to more of these events than I care to remember; but there is something very powerful about visiting the scene where tragedy has struck. It’s a feeling — a deeply sad one that’s mixed, at least for me, with frustration — that I think is important to feel. It reminds us about the seriousness of working for safer streets and it brings the community together in a way that nothing else can.
Among the crowd tonight was mayoral candidate Charlie Hales, City of Portland Bike Coordinator Roger Geller, PBOT traffic safety expert Greg Raisman, and City Commissioner Amanda Fritz. Fritz brought flowers and placed them in a vase on the corner. (Mayor Sam Adams had planned to come, but shared via Twitter that a sore throat kept him away.)
memorial just steps from where Kathryn was struck.
On that same pole was a letter encased in plastic…
Here’s what it said:
We never knew each other, yet this morning, for the first time in my life I cried while riding my bike to work.
I was thinking of YOU as I passed through this intersection in the same direction you did.
From my family our thoughts go out to you and your family during this tough time. We will forever remember you.
Your cycling community”
This underscores another reason these gatherings are important. They provide Kathryn’s family and friends with great comfort, knowing that there’s a large community of people who care enough to show up — and stand up for — someone they had never met.
Among people who bike in Portland, there’s a shared experience; a small bond that forms simply from riding through the same intersections, facing the same fears, and, all too often, narrowly avoiding a similar fate to Kathryn’s.
For Kathryn and her partner of over four years, Ryan Gaughan, bicycling was something they experienced every day. Kathryn’s friend Valerie Liptak (who owned and ran the Madison House community home where Kathryn used to live), told me tonight that they didn’t own a car. Ryan was there tonight, surrounded by friends and his seven year-old daughter Madeline. He spoke to the media and he seemed, understandably, shell-shocked by what has happened.
Thankfully, every time I looked up, he was hugging someone.
Liptak said Kathryn’s family is still in Rhode Island and they’re planning a memorial in June. She wanted me to take some nice photos of the flowers to send back to them.
On Wednesday night, Kathryn was coming home from classes at Portland State University. She had gone back to school to pursue a Master’s degree. She was a playwright; and while she worked odd jobs and took classes, her dream was to write plays for the theater. “She was so bright, so smart…,” Liptak shared as her voice trailed off into sobs.
In the brief moment we shared together, I tried to assure Ryan that something positive would come from his loss. That maybe, if enough people come together, we can make changes that will make it less likely this tragedy befalls anyone else. We owe it to Kathryn, we owe to seven-year-old Madeline, and we owe to everyone that rides in this city. After all…
See more photos from the event in the slideshow below: