From nightmares and grief, comes support and resolve: Community gathers to remember Joe Brausen

Ghost bike procession of walkers and bikers through streets of Hillsboro Saturday. (Noah Langenwalter – Ride Westside)

I have been crushed to know that our worst nightmares are another family’s reality.

Community members, city leaders (including Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway and City Councilor Beach Pace), safe streets advocates, family and friends gathered for a memorial event on Saturday in remembrance of the life and loss of 12-year-old Joseph Brausen.

Joe was killed while riding his bike to the playground to play basketball on February 10th. The memorial ride and walk took the path he intended to travel, and delivered his ghost bike to the basketball courts – “the ride Joe didn’t get to finish” — then returned to the spot where he was killed to install the ghost bike in his memory.

The week leading up to the memorial was painful, as we prepared to face this loss in the place it happened. (How much more so for Joe’s family?!) Both my son and I were having terrible nightmares. I dreamed my son had been hit by a car and that I had to find his body on the side of the road. A few days later, my son told me he had had the worst nightmare of his life. I expected monsters and villains, but he dreamed I was killed on my bike. He was trying to help me, but didn’t know how and couldn’t find anyone to help him.

Our nightmares were our fears and our empathy. Though I have tried to shove the sleep-stealing terrors out of mind, I have been crushed to know that our worst nightmares are another family’s reality. And what comfort can we give to them or to each other?

It is not enough comfort, and it is not what any of us want, but gathering to remember Joe and installing a ghost bike for him was one thing we could do. The all-white painted bike was moving, beautiful and terrible. I had never connected with the ghost bike tradition until this moment, but immediately I saw the power of it. Seeing the angel-white bike, without its rider, immediately brought me to tears. It told the story. And it hurt. I suppose it must. 

I’m so thankful to all those who stepped up to create this event, including Noah Langenwalter and other members of Ride Westside, to all those who attended, and to the Brausen family who let us into their lives to share their grief.

Sometimes a traffic fatality gets only a one-paragraph mention, or a brief gape from the nightly news, then drifts away without further thought. I have a few such traffic deaths in mind, where I couldn’t find any organized memorial to attend, nor any follow-up news reports with important details. It often seems like these tragedies simply disappear — out of sight, out of mind, gone. It has added to my grief, that my grief had no outlet. And I have grieved to think the bereaved families in my community could understandably feel abandoned and forgotten, uncared for by their neighbors and peers.

This memorial gave our whole community the opportunity to stand beside the Brausen family, to cry together, and assure them that we have not forgotten. 

It’s clear why folks get so passionate about safe streets. They know what it means. They know the stakes. They know the cost. They know they never want to attend another ghost bike memorial. To never have occasion to paint another bike white.

And so, many of us will be working in Joe’s memory, and for every kid on a bike, to fight for their right to ride safely to the park to play, and to come home again in time for dinner. I’m so sorry we did not achieve that safe ride, safe route, and safe homecoming in time for Joe and his family. That’s really what I want to give them: safe streets, so that every kid comes home.


Below is the text of the speech I shared at the event:

Sharing words as Joe’s parents look on. (Noah Langenwalter – Ride Westside)

Hello everyone. Thank you for coming today, most especially to the Brausen family: I’m grateful that you are here with us, and that we get to come out and surround you with our love and support – as many of us have longed to do – but I must say, I truly wish we did not have occasion to be here today. I wish that instead of doing a memorial ride, we could just be out for a ride, and that instead of installing a ghost bike, we could wave at a boy on his bicycle, riding to the park to play basketball. I admit, part of me didn’t want to come at all, because the thing I want most in the world, as a mother, is to give back the boy to the mother who lost him, and I know we can’t do that.

But I did come. We have all come. To bear witness and share our deep regret and grief over the loss of a child, a loved one. Some of us have come without knowing Joe or his family, but we want them to know: we see you. We stand beside you. And we are crying too. We are so sorry for your loss, which is also a loss to all of us, both the loss of your Joe, and with him, a sense of loss of the innocence that should accompany every child who is out riding a bicycle.  

I am a mother. I also have a boy who rides his bike, on his own, to the park. And that should not be a mortal danger. All kids should be able to ride their bikes to the park, to do so safely, to do so with the whole community watching out for their safety, prioritizing their safety, ensuring their safety. That is the kind of community we want to live in, and today we grieve that we have not achieved that in time to protect the life and safety of Joe Brausen.

(Noah Langenwalter – Ride Westside)

To remember Joe, we are putting up this ghost bike in his memory. A ghost bike serves as a reminder to all who pass by: a life was lost here, in this spot, while riding a bicycle. Like any memorial, a ghost bike honors the loss and is a reminder of the grief, which the family continues to bear. But a ghost bike is also an important reminder for our whole community of our shared responsibility to keep each other safe as we travel. It is a stark reminder to drivers to slow down and pay attention, to look for pedestrians and cyclists and children–to see them!–and to drive with caution and care for others above self. It is a reminder to transportation planners and government leaders that we need safer infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians. It is a reminder to police officers that we need strong traffic enforcement, especially against speeding and distracted driving. But most of all, it is a reminder that Joe Brausen is missing from among us, and we are missing him.

Thank you to everyone who helped create this memorial and to all of you for coming.

Today, we have come to put up his ghost bike, to remember Joe and to say to his family that we remember and we honor your loss and we grieve beside you. Joe Brausen, you are greatly missed. You will not be forgotten.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of  five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via shannon4bikeportland@gmail.com

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John D
John D
6 days ago

Thank you, Shannon, for the very moving speech.

It wasn’t a fun ride, but it was an important one, and I’m glad I was able to attend. I can only hope we won’t need to do another one.

Shawne Martinez (Guest author)
Shawne Martinez
6 days ago

Heartbreaking. Thank you to the RideWestSide team for organizing this. I was able to talk to Mayor Callaway who was genuinely moved by this experience. We must address the epidemic of traffic violence in our country. Pedestrian and cyclist deaths are skyrocketing. Car crashes have been the leading cause of death for children for decades. Vehicles are getting taller and heavier while drivers are more distracted than ever. We must build infrastructure that is safe for all users. Thank you for speaking at the memorial Shannon.

Brett
Brett
5 days ago

Less than an hour before the driver killed Joe, we were walking up 10th Ave. a/k/a Calle Diez. As we approached the next driveway past that spot, a driver made a startlingly fast turn off 10th right in front of us to pull into that driveway. I remember telling my companion, ‘this is why they need to fix 10th.’ “

Props to Shannon and Noah and everyone involved for organizing this somber but necessary ride/walk. I don’t think any of us had dry eyes after hearing her speech and seeing Joe’s family. It’s important for those of us in this community to participate in the hard stuff, not just the fun part of getting around by bike. Our hearts go out to the family. 

The fact that Hillsboro’s current mayor and his likely successor were there might mean that this dangerous area could change so another tragedy like this doesn’t happen. (Neither politician spoke or grandstanded, just listened and offered hugs and support and community witness.) It matters because Hillsboro is rethinking this part of 10th and adjacent car-centric, dangerous stroads. “10th Avenue and its adjacent land uses have been designed primarily for moving traffic, with little consideration given to the pedestrian, “ states the city’s own vision plan for the area. 

As tough as it was, seeing the painful reality of what can happen because of car-dominant designs might just make policy makers listen to us — instead of those pushing back on losing a few seconds of their car commute so that everyone else can get around without fear of something like this happening to them. If you want to get involved in making this area safer, here are some links to start.

“10th Avenue Concept Plan
(Between Baseline Street and Maple Street)
The cross section selected for 10th Avenue is intended to preserve Calle Diez’s community identity and increase access for people walking, biking, and taking transit. 

  • Maintain four general purpose travel lanes and the two-way center turn lane. 
  • Bring the curbs in and install separated bike lanes with landscape buffered and sidewalks on both sides of the road. 
  • Convert posted speed to 25 mph.”

 https://www.hillsboro-oregon.gov/our-city/departments/economic-development/oak-baseline-10th-avenue-corridor-study

 https://www.hillsboro-oregon.gov/home/showdocument?id=29384&t=638162147190614208

https://www.hillsboro-oregon.gov/our-city/departments/economic-development/development-areas/downtown-southwest-industrial/10th-avenue

https://www.hillsboro-oregon.gov/home/showpublisheddocument/27217/637660187063070000