A brightly colored sculpture of a yellow bike — mounted on a 16-foot pole —has been placed on busy Foothill Boulevard in Sunland/Tujunga.
It’s hoped that motorists take note of it. Made of steel, it’s a permanent memorial placed at the spot where Jeff Knoop, a father, husband and marine veteran, was killed five years ago.
Advocates for cyclists, along with his widow Jennifer, gathered on Saturday, April 9, to honor him and unveil the first yellow bike memorial.
Inspired by the Ghost Bike Movement
The Yellow Bike Project was inspired by the “ghost bike” movement that set up makeshift memorials with bikes painted white at the sites where cyclists were killed by motorists. But without formal approval, these memorials are temporary and are removed at the city’s will.
It’s taken five years to get the necessary permits and approval to erect the first yellow bike memorial structure. The yellow color and shape of the sculpture represent the official color of remembrance for those lost to traffic collisions.
Knoop’s widow could not hold back her tears as she expressed gratitude to all of those who attended.
“They’re doing this for me and my husband, but really it’s for everybody who’s lost a loved one to street violence,” she said.
Jennifer considered the structure to be a way for her husband to live on and help to save others. “If this will help in one little way, just one little way,” she said.
There could be hundreds of structures like the one placed for Knoop erected as the number of victims increases. Throughout the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles, the numbers of cyclists who have been killed and injured occurs too often.
“In 2021, there were 289 people killed and 1,465 people who were severely injured. In the City of Los Angeles, our pedestrian fatality rate is four times the national average,” said Damian Kevitt, the founder and executive Director of SAFE who emphasizes that the road isn’t only for motorists.
“Every single one of those fatalities were preventable. The mission of our nonprofit organization is to make streets safer for all road users,” Kevitt said.
Knopp, a Sunland resident, was struck from behind On Nov. 1, 2016. Knopp was cycling on Foothill Boulevard when he was struck and killed while riding a narrow stretch of road that had no bike lane.
Three months later, a pedestrian was killed along that same road.
Since that time, a lane of Foothill Boulevard was removed to install a protected bike lane. However, the effort to share the redesigned road is still challenging for drivers of numerous trucks and cars who are oftentimes “distracted,” and are not mindful or respectful of cyclists, pedestrians and the many equestrians who also use the road.
Kevitt knows the danger to cyclists firsthand. He shared his own story at the unveiling.
While cycling with his wife in Griffith Park en route to the LA Zoo for a picnic, he was hit by a minivan and was pinned underneath and as the driver fled the scene, dragging him nearly a quarter of a mile.
“My right leg was gone with about 20 pounds of flesh in two minutes,” he said.
Kevitt, who was at first unconscious, awoke underneath the car as the driver accelerated to get away.
“Somehow I survived that,” Kevitt said. “My right leg was essentially ripped off. My foot was dangling by flesh. My left foot was shaved down to the bone. It was literally bone in large sections.
“I had lacerations. I had road burns to over 60 percent of my body. And somehow, I managed not to bleed out. Miraculously, I survived that incident.
“Tragically, Jeff Knopp did not.”
His widow Jennifer made an appeal to those who would try to get away after hitting someone.
“It’s bad enough with what you have done. We need more people to stop and render aid and for those who leave the scene, stopping will help to heal you,” she said.
She acknowledged the man who hit her husband, “stopped and prayed.”
Changing “Accidents” to “Traffic Violence”
Seleta Reynolds, general manager of the Department of Transportation, takes issue with the persistent use of the word “accident” when tragedies like Knopp’s occur.
“These are not ‘accidents.’ The hardest part of this job is bearing witness to ‘traffic violence’ that leads to tragedies on our streets. It’s an absolute disservice to call these incidents ‘accidents,’” Reynolds said.
“When we build streets that allow people to drive at unsafe speeds and put devices in cars that makes it easy for drivers to be distracted, it’s a preventable tragedy and it’s our job to redesign these streets.”
LA Councilmember Monica Rodriguez called the unveiling a “tremendous milestone,” that took collective action. “Enforcement alone isn’t going to create change,” she said.
“You might ask why is this memorial important? Why do we need a tall sculpture to remind us of Jeff and what happened that day in November of 2016 [when Knopp was killed]?” Kevitt said.
“We as a community have gone numb and complacent with the news of traffic violence and have come to accept it as normal. It’s not normal,” he said. “The United States has by far the highest traffic fatalities per capita of any developed country in the world and Los Angeles is the deadliest major city in the USA.”
The next Yellow Bike is planned for 15-year-old Sebastian Montero, who was killed April 1, 2018, while riding his bicycle on Burbank Boulevard near De Soto Avenue.
The name of the cyclist, the date of the fatal crash and #safetymatters will be placed on a sign at the base of each structure. This effort is part of the Yellow Bike Project with SAFE — Streets Are For Everyone — and experimental artist Scott Froschauer.
“I’m not the first widow and I know I won’t be the last widow,” Jennifer said. “We need more forgiveness and render aid and I’m really sad for all the victims out there who haven’t got the opportunity that I’ve got.”
“We need this memorial to be reminded that safety matters and it’s why this sculpture is so big and intended to stand out because it’s not normal,” Kevitt said.
Yellow Bike project memorial structures are available, with community support, to be placed in locations across California. The cost is $2,500 plus installation, which varies by location. SAFE works with the communities interested to help raise these funds.