Respecting the Road and Reflecting on a Tragedy

The Bay Area is enduring three emotional events this weekend involving bicycling, but the most important, and most emotional cycling incident and tragedy occurred in Novato on Thursday afternoon.

The Bay Area is enduring three high profile and emotional events this weekend involving bicycling, including the 20th anniversary of Critical Mass in San Francisco, and the return of the Levi Leipheimer Gran Fondo in Sonoma County. In those first two combined, nearly 20,000 cyclists will take to the streets.

But the most important and most emotional cycling incident occurred in Novato on Thursday afternoon when an innocent 12-year old life was taken during the meeting of her bicycle and a several-ton, fast-moving vehicle on a well-known Novato roadway near schools and homes. 

The two formal cycling events and the tragic accident in Novato also come at a time when Gov. Jerry Brown is considering the authorization or veto of Senate Bill 1464 — the 3-foot Separation Law — to formally designate a safety space between cars and bikes on California’s roadways.

My rationale for writing this short piece is not to get into an argument one way or the other for the Assembly bill (although there are many local residents who have been very vocal on both sides and I, in fact, support the proposed legislation) nor is it to blame drivers or cyclists for accidents.  Instead, I am using this space to plead to the citizens of Novato and others reading this to recognize that not one user — vehicle driver, cyclist, pedestrian — solely “owns” the roadways. 

I am also here to plead to the vehicle drivers that you must be more patient, you must slow down, you must be aware of your surroundings and please —DO NOT USE THE PHONE as you are driving.

I am here to plead to cyclists — young and old – to be more patient, follow the laws of the road including traffic signs and lights, ride with traffic and not against, and be courteous to drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists.

The fact is, we have seen nearly a doubling of cyclists in the past decade or so. We also have seen increases in the number of drivers. Even with the much better cycling infrastructure in Novato and Marin County (including more and better marked bicycle lanes, separate bicycle trails, and continued education by groups such as the Marin County Bicycle Coalition), my personal experience is that the frustrations and confrontations between driver and cyclist also are increasing. I do not have an explanation for this latter occurrence, but I fear it has to do with our faster-paced lives and general intolerance toward patience.

Why does a driver need to pass me cycling down a narrow downhill road near Black Point while I am coasting downhill at 20-25 mph, still below but close to the legal speed limit? It only takes me 30 seconds to get to the bottom of the hill where the roadway opens up and the car can pass safely.

Why does the road warrior cyclist feel like he has to go through stop signs and stop lights endangering not only himself but the other riders and vehicles and pedestrians around him?

Both of these situations make no sense to me. 

But what makes the least sense of all, is why does a 12-year-old girl have to die while riding her bike home from school? I, like many of you, have children who we wish to encourage to be independent, ride more to school and to the market like we did when we were kids many decades ago.  Cyclists are good for the environment, and are good for drivers because they take cars off the road. And drivers, you have to understand that physics dictates the final result of a confrontation between a fast-moving several-ton vehicle and a lightweight bicycle. The bicyclist will not win. 

I love cycling — I just rode 330 miles from Eureka to San Francisco to raise more awareness for bicycling and environmental causes. But the high of that ride is dashed by the tragic taking of a young life.

I encourage — no, I plead — for all of us to be more empathetic toward each other. I plead for us to not just share the road but respect the road and the users of the road. And to do all we can, in our power, to prevent more instances of the tragedy that unfolded in town just a few short hours ago.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Tina McMillan October 01, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Schools throughout California have had to cut bus service because our state is in bankruptcy. Many middle school age children want to be able to ride their bikes to and from school. Buses are not the answer. We need to make our roads safer and drive slower. The area in which the accident occurred needs attention. If we all email the city they may be able to add a crosswalk as well as a sidewalk on both sides of the road. We could also reduce the speed limit until you reach Stafford Lake to 25 or 30 miles an hour.
Scott Warner October 02, 2012 at 06:15 AM
Dear all: public transportation is not the sole answer here - we will continue to see multiple uses for the roadways - bikes, vehicles, and pedestrians along the edges.and crossing streets. We need to continue to educate cars and cyclists and walkers, and continue to educate our kids and all riders about defensive riding and increase the safety measures of our roadways (slower legal speeds in high pedestrian traffic areas around homes and schools, for example) One final comment - I think it is time to hear from our City Council members in a written forum on steps being taken to eliminate these horrific accidents. The elected leaders of this community should not be quiet.
Matt October 08, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Im all for safety, but when Bikers are in the middle of a major road....???? and I mean middle and not off to the side...... These are bikes not cars.... I dont drive my car on the bike trails.........
Scott Warner October 08, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Then you slow down so as not to create an accident. What do you do if another car is in your pathway? How about an animal? How about a ball from a playground that goes into the road and a child chases it down? You are a several ton machine going very fast - regardless of fault as to why the pedestrian, animal, or cyclist is in the road, you do all you can to avoid a collision. And by the way, bikes can make turns from the left turn lane in the middle of the road if it is done safely. Again, you do all you you can to avoid a collision.
Chris October 09, 2012 at 12:53 PM
I encounter cyclists all the time when driving my car. I'm glad to see them and don't mind having to slow down before it is safe to pass. And I've never had to wait more than a minute to pass safely, even on ridiculously narrow roads like Coleman Valley Road. When the traffic lane is too narrow to be safely shared by cars and bikes, cyclists will "take the lane" to avoid the risk of being side-swiped. What's a few moments' inconvenience, anyway? Safety trumps convenience every time.


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