I did not know Tom Palermo. Hundreds of others also did not know him, but they came to the 5700 block of Roland Avenue to remember him on a cold New Year's Day.

For many reasons, people gathered.I wanted to pay my respects to someone who had died on a neighborhood street. Other Roland Parkers said they felt the same. We all knew people who had been struck while riding a bike or taking a walk. The Dec. 27 accident could have happened to anyone. It could have happened at one of the many times when Roland Avenue is a speedway or a dangerous jumble of buses, SUVs, bikes and pedestrians.


That it happened not at one of those busy times, but on a quiet, traffic-less, weekend afternoon along an open stretch, makes Tom Palermo's death more tragic and puzzling. That Heather Cook, who initially left the scene of the accident, then returned, but who has not been charged with Palermo's death, is a suffragan bishop in the Episcopal Church exacerbates the tragedy.

News travels fast beyond Baltimore; friends in England and Spain heard about it.

On New Year's Day, cyclists rode from all over the area to honor Palermo. They congregated first at the Cathedral of the Incarnation on University Parkway, then north on University Parkway, past the "ghost bike" memorializing bicyclist Nathan Krasnopoler, the Johns Hopkins University student who was fatally struck by a car four years ago. They rode past Centennial Park and the historic trolley stop that a car smashed into two springs ago.

A sea of color rode shoulder to shoulder on University Parkway until it became Roland Avenue, then crossed the normally congested Cold Spring Lane.

Across from St. David's Church, a line of Episcopal priests stood silently holding candles.More people stood in front of Roland Park Presbyterian Church, where cars normally zoom by. Hundreds of pedestrians, area residents and more clergy met the cyclists in the 5700 block of Roland, where Palermo was hit.

Organizers of the ride and vigil said 750 people signed up to participate, but estimated the crowd in attendance at twice that. Cyclists arrived silently in waves of fluorescent yellows, pinks and greens to fill both sides of Roland Avenue, its embankments and sidewalks. Some stood above a stone wall lined with candles.

Three small red poinsettias that had been placed by the wall the weekend of Palermo's death were shriveled but joined by many more new bouquets and handwritten notes. A week before, the wall had been bare, the street in front of it free of orange spray paint marks that are now remnants of what happened when a man went out bike riding on a Saturday afternoon.

New Year's Day felt much like that Saturday: sunny and quiet with few cars on Roland. New Year's Day was colder, but it was still a good day for a ride.

In his opening remarks to the crowd, Palermo's brother-in-law said that Palermo's wife had suggested he take a ride Dec. 27. It was her husband's passion, but with his full time job at Johns Hopkins Hospital, as well as two small children and a bike-building business on the side, he'd had little time to ride recently.

It was easy to recall similar conversations from that weekend after Christmas. It had been so beautiful, almost like an early spring day, with time for long walks, postponed errands, a new bike or scooter ride.

My husband walks daily on Roland Avenue to the post office and back. Sometimes I go with him. After heavy snows, we walk in the street. We feel vulnerable there, the way cyclists must feel every day. I am always glad to reach home without incident. Occasionally, I've grown anxious when my husband has not walked back in the door within an hour of leaving the house.

Tom Palermo did not walk back through his Anneslie house door. On New Year's Day, it was painfully easy to look at his grieving family and imagine standing in their spot.

It was humbling to hear them say "thank you" at a time of such sorrow. Palermo's brother-in-law thanked firemen and paramedics who had responded and cared for Palermo. He thanked strangers who stopped to help. He thanked the cycling community for its outpouring of support. In spite of their grief, he said, his family hopes that tens, or even hundreds, of lives may be saved because of awareness raised by Palermo's tragic death.

A ghost bike was then locked in place on Roland Avenue.Every day, that white frame will remind those who pass it how fragile life is on foot, on a bike or in a car.