Several hundred people on bicycles gathered Saturday in City Park for a mass bike ride meant to raise visibility for cyclists in New Orleans and to honor Sharree Walls and David Hynes, cyclists who died after being hit by an allegedly drunk driver one week earlier.

Tearful riders hugged each other while the Secondhand Community Band played “I’ll Fly Away,” a song typically played during local funeral processions.

Some of Walls’ family arrived on a cluster of rented Blue Bikes. “I came to celebrate something Sharree enjoyed doing — bicycling,” said Walls’ aunt, Patricia Walls, 51, from St. Louis, who said that, even though her niece owned a car, she often chose to pedal instead.

Walls’ family begins its formal mourning with a viewing at Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home in Treme between 3 and 5 p.m. Sunday. 

Saturday’s gathering beneath the park's wind chime tree, or "singing oak," was intended to both mourn the dead and call for more to be done to protect the living, especially those who ride bicycles on city streets.

Lindsey Boettinger, 35, who knew one of the seven cyclists who were injured in the same Esplanade Avenue incident March 2, arrived on a bike with her partner, Brendon Palmer-Angell, 35, and Philip Braun, 38. She felt the event gave bicycling visibility. “It helps us feel seen and stronger, even though we’re still vulnerable,” she said.

For her and for others who pedaled to the memorial, the most important point is that the city needs to do better in discouraging people from getting behind the wheel when they are drunk, which is suspected in motorist Tashonty Toney’s case. “We have to, as a community, work to prevent reckless behavior,” said Freddye Hill, 72.

Others came because it was something they could do in the face of immense tragedy. “There’s not much else we can do except play,” said sousaphonist Jimmy Williams, the band’s tuba player.

Designed as a “critical mass” ride that stops traffic by filling city streets with a stream of bicyclists, the ride first circled City Park. As bicyclists filled the bike path outside the Big Lake gazebo, Avriel and Vlicia Kizart stood next to the path, their heads bowed.

The couple had been married three years ago in the gazebo, at this same time of day, so they’d come there to celebrate. But like most people in town, they knew that nine bicyclists had been hit nearby a week ago, on the Saturday night before Mardi Gras.

To see all the bicyclists meeting under the chime tree was touching, Vlicia Kizart said. “It shows that the community is coming together.”

After circling the park, a wave of bicyclists 10 blocks long turned onto Esplanade and rode to the same section of the street that was filled with emergency vehicles just a week before.

The endpoint was Alcee Fortier Park, where men dressed as pallbearers, wearing white gloves, lifted memorial “ghost bikes” to shoulder height and carried them through the crowd, to be placed in Esplanade's narrow neutral ground in honor of Hynes, 31, and Walls, 27.

Frank Southall, 36, said that he was bicycling on Mardi Gras day but found the streets more filled with cars than he’d ever seen. He hoped Saturday's ride could spur a change in how the city looks at itself. “We have to change the culture of how we party,” he said, suggesting that there was little chance that Toney, whose birthday was on the day of the accident, was out celebrating alone.

At the park, near a tree turned into a de facto memorial, with its roots covered with bouquets of flowers, signs and pineapples — Walls’ favorite fruit — Walls’ father spoke tearfully, praising both his daughter and those who had turned out to memorialize her.

City Councilman Jason Williams told the crowd that he grew up riding bicycles in New Orleans, but that he feared for his children riding them. “No words or platitudes can address this,” he said. “Only action can address this.”

He urged people in the crowd to attend a meeting in the City Council chamber this week to discuss ways to make streets safer for those walking and bicycling.

A friend of Sophie Harris Vorhoff, the executive director of the Friends of the Lafitte Greenway, shared the proceedings by Facetime with Vorhoff as she lay in a hospital bed, recovering from injuries she suffered as she and Walls and a group of other graduates from the University of Pennsylvania were riding in the designated bike lane on the uptown side of Esplanade.


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Her friend held up the phone to Williams, who asked how she was feeling. “Just know that there will be action, not just words,” he said.

“I want to see protected bike lanes,” Vorhoff said. “I want to see people remember David and Sharree and make our bike lanes a lot safer."