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Bobby Cann Way sign unveiled in Old Town honoring cyclist

By Leonor Vivanco, @lvivanco

RedEye

5:31 PM CDT, October 25, 2013

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Philip Bird rarely rides past the corner of Clybourn Avenue and Larrabee Street by himself.

It's just too hard.

Bird's best friend, cycling advocate Robert "Bobby" Cann, was killed by a car at the corner while biking home from work May 29.

"For someone like Bobby to go down like that, it's very real to people like me that ride every day cautiously and now more cautiously," said Bird, 29, who met Cann while working at REI four years ago. "If it can happen to Bobby, it can happen to us. When [I] get a close call, it still scares the hell out of me and I immediately think of him."

On Friday, Bird and dozens of Cann's friends and family members got together--bikes and helmets in tow--to visit the site, placing flowers at the makeshift memorial in Old Town. They watched the somber unveiling of the honorary Bobby Cann Way sign at the corner. It serves as a permanent reminder of Cann's life and the importance of safety on city streets.

"He loved biking for two reasons," said his mother, Maria Cann, who traveled from New Hampshire for the ceremony. "He loved biking because it was just fun, riding was fun. But he also loved biking because the biking community in Chicago was important to him."

The local bike community rallied at the time of his death, paying tribute to him during a Critical Mass ride, installing a ghost bike in his honor at the site and attending court hearings about the case. The driver, Ryne San Hamel, 28, of Park Ridge, has been charged with reckless homicide and felony DUI.

Groupon, where Cann worked as an editorial tools specialist, raised more than $43,000 in Cann's name during an online fundraiser for the Active Transportation Alliance. The Alliance's Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign works to create 100 miles of protected bike lanes in the city by 2015 in an effort to reduce crashes and make streets safer for cyclists.

At Friday's dedication ceremony, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) announced that Clybourn Avenue, where 26-year-old Cann was killed, will become the first protected bike lane on a state-controlled road.

The Active Transportation Alliance applauded the announcement, but executive director Ron Burke said there is more work to be done.

"Bobby's tragedy reminds us that we have a long way to go," Burke said. "Our goal should be to really have no bicycle deaths in Chicago, no pedestrian deaths in Chicago. I think we can get there. Bobby's life, I think, should drive us all to try to achieve that goal."

Cann's family members were touched by the outpouring of support.

"Bobby genuinely wanted to make the world a better place and we're so grateful to all of you for providing a way to keep alive his spirit of doing, fixing, solving and improving things for everyone," Maria Cann said.

"While we all know that no law or infrastructure change can ever make it safe to share the road with intoxicated drivers, we can challenge that culture by speaking up and taking action when someone we know has too much to drink and tries to get behind the wheel of a car."

Cann's memory also is kept alive at rideonbobby.com, where friends share stories of Cann as a cycling enthusiast who taught fellow riders about wearing helmets and following the rules of the road. Friends recalled how considerate he was and fun to be around.

"He was pretty amazingly selfless. I always say if I could just be half of who he was, I'd be happy," Bird said. "He was kind of an idol to me, which was pretty cool considering he's younger than me."

Bird misses the man he considered a close friend.

"There's a lot of times--and I should probably stop doing this--I still text him from time to time even though his phone is no more. I go through the old conversations. There's just times where I think about how much he would love this, whatever that is I'm doing," Bird said.

Bobby Cann Way isn't the only honorary street remembering a cyclist who died in Chicago. Tyler Fabeck Way, at the northeast corner of Western Avenue and Logan Boulevard, honors Fabeck, 22, who was killed in 2008 when a car hit him in Logan Square.

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