Memorial for bicyclist killed in accident

Lee Townsend, left, and Scott Townsend, father and brother of Neill Townsend, who was killed while riding his bike, are comforted by friends, near a white spray-painted "ghost bike" adorned with flowers and a photo of Neill. (Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune / October 19, 2012)

Friends and cyclists gathered Friday to install a ghost bike memorial — a bike spray-painted white from spokes to handlebars — at the corner of Oak and Wells Street near where Neill Townsend was killed  two weeks ago.

A small banner hung from the bike’s frame with a concise epitaph.

“Son. Brother. Friend. Protector. Cyclist,” it said beneath a black-and-white photo of Townsend.

An avid cyclist who rode his bike almost every day, Townsend died Oct. 5 when he fell under the wheels of a semitrailer after swerving to miss an opened car door. The 32-year-old North Side resident was killed as he rode southbound on Wells Street just north of Oak Street while commuting to work.

Nearly 100 people gathered Friday morning. Bikes in tow, most had also come for a commemorative ride to Daley Plaza.

“The accident really hit home for a lot of people,” said Melissa Mahon, a local cyclist who helped organize the event. “It could’ve happened to any of us.”

While many still struggled to make sense of Townsend’s sudden death, others were determined to raise awareness about bike safety in hopes of preventing future accidents. They passed out flyers that explained the importance of headlights, the dangers of dooring and Chicago’s municipal bike laws.

Elizabeth Adamczyk handed out blank accident reports, wallet-size cards for cyclists to fill out if they’re ever hit by a driver. Though she’s never been in an accident, Adamczyk said she had narrowly avoided doorings similar to the one that cost Townsend his life.

“I really hope that people just stop and think and realize that we all have to share the roadways,” she said. “One death is one too many.”

Townsend’s father and brother, who had flown in from Kentucky to attend the memorial, stayed behind with a small group of his friends and coworkers as the bikers headed to Daley Plaza. They posed for photos next to the memorial as bikers rode past on their way downtown, taking the same route Townsend once did.

“This is the kind of thing that will impact people,” said Townsend’s father, Lee. “On one level you hope people will be more aware of cyclists. But on another level you think about how there’s no guarantee in life that there’s tomorrow.”

mholtz@tribune.com