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Friends, family, strangers gather to remember Susan Hicks

Bikers+and+pedestrians+decorated+Susan+Hicks%E2%80%99s+ghost+bike+at+the+intersection+of+Bellefield+and+Forbes+avenues+commemorating+the+professor%2C+who+was+killed+there+last+year.+Kyleen+Considine+%7C+Staff+Photographer
Bikers and pedestrians decorated Susan Hicks’s ghost bike at the intersection of Bellefield and Forbes avenues commemorating the professor, who was killed there last year. Kyleen Considine | Staff Photographer

Bikers and pedestrians decorated Susan Hicks’s ghost bike at the intersection of Bellefield and Forbes avenues commemorating the professor, who was killed there last year. Kyleen Considine | Staff Photographer

Bikers and pedestrians decorated Susan Hicks’s ghost bike at the intersection of Bellefield and Forbes avenues commemorating the professor, who was killed there last year. Kyleen Considine | Staff Photographer

By Janine Faust | Staff Writer

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Friends, family, strangers gather to remember Susan Hicks

Janine Faust

The white bicycle, adorned with vibrant flowers, has been tied to a utility pole on the sidewalk across from Carnegie Hall for exactly a year, honoring Susan Hicks’ life.

Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the day 34-year-old Hicks was fatally hit by a car at the intersection of South Bellefield and Forbes avenues. The same gloomy, rainy weather that backdropped her friends’ and family’s mourning that day reappeared on Friday as about 40 people gathered to leave notes to the late Pitt professor.

But Friday’s tone was not nearly as melancholic. Instead, those who came to leave messages sent love to an old friend.

“We miss you!”

“I’ll never forget you.”

“I’m going to take your office someday,” one read jokingly.  

Hicks had been an assistant director for academic affairs at Pitt’s Center for Russian and East European Studies. On Oct. 23, 2015, a car struck and killed her while she was riding her bike home from Oakland. The group that gathered in Hicks’ honor, despite the wind and rain, included relatives, work colleagues and members of the Pittsburgh cycling community.

But Hicks’ death also added fuel to an ongoing conversation about bike and pedestrian safety in Pittsburgh, and particularly on Fifth and Forbes avenues, causing public meetings to fill up with supporters.

At an Aug. 31 meeting led by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Carnegie Mellon University and the city of Pittsburgh, among others, organizers and cyclists discussed the Forbes Avenue Betterment Project. The project, set to debut in September 2017, will add bike lanes, safety buffers and thicker pedestrian crossings along Forbes Avenue from Craig Street to Margaret Morrison Street near CMU’s campus.

The speeches at Hicks’ memorial service –– which began at about 4:30 p.m. –– focused on the progress that has been made in the past year to ensure that Pittsburgh’s streets are made safer for other cyclists. Among other things, these safety measures include an advocacy campaign for wider and more connected bike lanes around Pittsburgh.

A memorial bike ride followed speeches and note-writing on the one-year anniversary of Hicks’ death. Kyleen Considine | Staff Photographer

District 8 Councilman Daniel Gilman spoke to the crowd about changes being made to bike lanes in Oakland to make it safer for cyclists.

“The district council has been working with organizations such as Bike Pittsburgh and with city staff to make biking safer in the area,” Gilman said. He added that there are plans to link new and existing bike lanes on Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard.

Patrick Hughes, a Pitt religious religious studies professor who worked with Hicks through the Center for International Studies, said Hicks’ death continues to deeply affect the University community, even as they try to heal.

“She was a brilliant person, very dedicated to what she loved,” Hughes said. “It’s been a year, so we’ve gotten people to take over the work she left when she passed –– but you know, it’s not the same.”

At the University, Hicks was known for her dedication to traveling, and for the encouragement she gave to her students to do the same.

In the global energy program she taught, Hicks traveled with students to visit drilling companies in Washington County, anti-drilling non-governmental organizations in Pittsburgh and multinational companies and lawmakers in Moscow, Bulgaria and Washington, D.C.

Cengiz Haksoz, a teaching fellow and anthropology doctorate candidate at Pitt, said he was in Bulgaria when he was rocked by the news of her death. He had worked closely with Hicks while he was starting out on his doctorate degree.

“It took a lot of time for me to process it,” Haksoz said. “It was difficult, being far away and losing a very supportive friend.”

Hicks was an avid biker, and several members of Pitt’s biking community, like Pitt alum Rachel Dingfelder, came out to remember their friend and fellow rider.

Dingfelder said she rode her bike “everywhere” when she studied on campus, and still rides around the city and to work. Many cyclists said on Friday that the most jarring thing about Hicks’ death was that she was doing something most of them do everyday: biking from work.

“Events like these, they make me think of me and my friends, and how this could happen to any of us,” Dingfelder said. “It’s why I’m glad to see some changes finally happening.”

Since Hicks’ death, one more bicycle accident resulting in a death has been reported in Pittsburgh, according to the Accident Data Center. Dennis Flanagan was killed on West Carson Street on Aug. 30, when he was hit by a pickup truck while riding his bike.

After the speakers finished, attendees were invited to participate in a bike ride down Penn Avenue to a fundraiser at the Brillobox for the Susan Hicks Memorial Fund.

According to Elly Fisher, a biking friend of Hicks and employee at the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, the scholarship is for Pitt students who plan on studying abroad in Eastern Europe, as international education was one of Hicks’ passions.

“She was so brilliant and so involved when it came to international studies and biking,” Fisher said. “Although that’s only the tip of the iceberg when I think about how passionate a person she was.”

Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this story, Cengiz Haksoz’s last name was misspelled. The article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling. The Pitt News regrets this error. 

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Friends, family, strangers gather to remember Susan Hicks