Why Do You Ride?

Local cyclists are invited to contribute their own answers at a Ride of Silence in honor of Sylvia Bingham

During her brief life in Cleveland, Sylvia Bingham used to joke to her friends that she needed an erasable T-shirt that said, “I RIDE FOR _______ .” so she could just fill in the blank with a different reason every day, because her co-workers would invariably ask her, “Why do you always ride your bike to work?” and she had so many answers to choose from.

For those who have never embraced transportation cycling – including even many avid recreational riders – riding in rush-hour traffic seems like a scary, hard way to get to work; stressful, inconvenient, and uncomfortable.  For non-cyclists like Sylvia’s co-workers, it probably just seems, well, weird.  But for anyone who has done enough transportation cycling to learn the ins and outs, or leveled their learning curve with a few simple classes –  or been lucky enough to find a good mentor – it’s an indispensably invigorating, liberating, and even fun way to start and finish the work day.

Sylvia was an experienced traffic cyclist.  She valued her time getting to work on her bike, and rode safely and carefully. She was thoughtful and committed, and the many reasons she rode reflected her dedication to imagining and creating a better world – as did her choices as a sociology student at Yale University, where she tutored academically failing second-graders and worked to make locally-grown food more accessible to WIC recipients in the city of New Haven, among her many other academic and extracurricular pursuits.

After graduating, Sylvia chose to come to Cleveland on an AmeriCorps fellowship. Her wish, as she wrote in her June 2009 application, was, “to explore the non-profit sector and begin a career of public service. I hope to spend the next year amongst professionals dedicated to creating a better world. I would like to help improve individual lives, while also working towards systemic sustainability and justice.”

This September, for the fourth year, local cyclists will join in a silent memorial ride to honor the memory of Sylvia Bingham, killed while riding her bicycle to work on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 15th, 2009 by the driver of a truck who made a right turn as she started to proceed straight on Prospect Avenue, after they were both stopped at a red light at E 21st Street.   The goal of this ride is to ensure that her death not validate the fears of her co-workers, but inspire us all to resolve the factors that contributed to it and empower more people to discover that Sylvia’s many reasons to ride a bike to work are more powerful than a shrinking few reasons to fear this humble, noble act. 

Sylvia’s Ride of Silence will pause at the site of her death for participants to place their own, “I RIDE FOR ______.” messages on a Ghost Bike near a plaque that her parents had installed there in 2012.

As of this writing the date and time of the ride has not been finalized: details will be published at SylviaBinghamFund.org; where more information is also available about Sylvia’s death and the subsequent civil and criminal trials, along with many links to bicycle safety information gathered by her parents, who live in California but have worked tirelessly through their grief to ensure that her memory will have a meaningful legacy here where she chose to start her adult life and made many friends.

On Thursday, Sept. 19th the Ghost bike at the site of Sylvia’s death will be moved to the Sculpture Center for the opening of Made in Mourning: Contemporary Memorial and Reliquary; where it, among other memorials, will be juxtaposed with the remains of the bike she was riding when she was killed, in an exhibit that, “navigates society's methods of reliquary… with artworks ranging from the American mainstream to regional and folk cultures.

A free Intro to Traffic Skills class will be presented at the Sculpture Center on Sunday, Sept. 22 from 2-5pm in conjunction with this exhibit: for more information and to register visit OhioCityCycles.org.  Concerned cyclists are urged to join that class or one held regularly at the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op; to participate in Bike to Work Days, presented by Bike Cleveland on the last Fridays of every month; and to donate to the Sylvia Bingham Fund, which supports bike safety education and planning efforts.

Jim Sheehan

Jim Sheehan is Executive Director and a founding member of the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op, a non-profit bicycle education facility in Cleveland Ohio. He was region 4 director of the League of American Bicyclists from 2006-2009, has been a League Cycling Instructor since 2003, and is a founding member of Bike Cleveland (and previous local advocacy groups, since 1992). He has been a bike mechanic, messenger, tourist, racer and (as often as possible) a bike commuter. He lives with his wife in Shaker Heights, where he enjoys mountain biking on nearby deer trails in the company (and at the "unhurried" pace) of their 12 year old beagle, Fressie.

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Volume 1, Issue 8, Posted 8:34 PM, 09.04.2013