Ghost bike shows dangers that still exist in Westfield for cyclists

ghost bike
The ghost bike set up by John’s son, Jack Kurty. (Photo courtesy: The Westfield News)

WESTFIELD, Mass (The Westfield News) – John Kurty’s wife Rita could set a clock to his bike rides.

She knew he would leave for one hour every day, riding the same route near Westfield State University. This is the sort of thing you learn about someone after 57 years of marriage. And this activity was important to John, who dedicated most of his life to physical activity and education.

In addition to being a husband and a father to a son and a daughter, John was a coach for soccer, golf and volleyball teams at Westfield State University, as well as an instructor of physical education at the University until 1988. He was even inducted as the first coach into the Westfield State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1994.

And so on Nov. 2, 2012, it was expected to be no different. It was 2 p.m. and it was time for his hour-long trek. So, John got his bike ready and went to the door.

“He looked at his watch and said he would be back in an hour,” Rita said.

Nothing was different that day she said, except for the timing.

“The hour was almost up and the doorbell rang,” Rita said. “I thought, ‘Oh, there he is,’ but it wasn’t. It was two policemen.

“They said there’s been an accident.”

John, who would ride the same path every day for one hour, was struck by a truck on Western Avenue on Nov. 2, 2012.

Rita was told by the officers to find a ride to Baystate Hospital as soon as possible. She couldn’t find anyone to bring her and so she drove herself to see her husband.

But it was too late.

Now, a memorial “ghost bike” has been recently erected to mark the spot where John was struck. The ghost bike was placed there by John and Rita’s son Jack Kurty, to help ease the pain of loss and to raise awareness of those who use the road.

John was just one of 10 pedestrian and non-motorist fatalities that have occurred on Westfield streets from 2003 to 2013, according to a study by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC). According to the study, the total amount of fatalities is the second-highest in the Pioneer Valley, behind only Springfield, and the city has five of the 10 worst road areas for accidents involving pedestrians and non-motorists, including two in the top three.

The study, which is currently in draft form and is expected to be finalized Dec. 14, shows that there are still areas of improvement for the city when it comes to pedestrian safety.

“It doesn’t tell you all of the story but it does give you at least somewhat of an understanding, especially in Westfield, where you need to see improvements,” Gary Ruel, executive director of PVPC, said.

Ruel was clear in saying though, that the results are only until 2013 and that the numbers could go lower as improvements continue to happen to Westfield streets. Still, the fact that several locations throughout the city have multiple accidents over the timeframe show that there is still risk.

The areas that are in the top 10 all occur within a roughly one-mile perimeter in Westfield, along Main Street leading up to Elm Street near the Orange Street intersection. Notably, this area doesn’t include the Western Avenue location where John Kurty died.

For now, that will be represented by the ghost bike set up by Jack Kurty.