Robert Townsend, killed in U District, was fastest delivery person on staff

From Robert's Facebook page

The person killed September 10 in a collision with a car in the U District has been identified as Robert Townsend. He was 23.

Townsend’s friends, family and coworkers mourned his death Sunday, saying he was always happy to be one his bike, according to KOMO:

“It’d make me smile every time I’d see him on a bike,” said coworker Nick Haggard. “He’d have the biggest most childish grin on his face because he was so happy to be on his bike and doing what he loved.”

Townsend delivered sandwiches for Jimmy John’s on the Ave, and he was the fastest.

KOMO filed a good report featuring many of Townsend’s friends and coworkers:

Townsend was riding south (downhill) on University Way around 6:15 p.m. when he collided with a northbound car attempting to make a left turn onto NE Campus Parkway. The driver has not yet been cited pending an investigation that could last months, according to Slog:

“For us, this is as serious as a murder,” Whitcomb says. “About the same amount of care and detail goes into this type of investigation.”

It has come up in discussions about Robert’s death that he was riding a fixed gear bike without a front brake. To clear up any confusion, this is legal in Washington, per RCW 46.61.780:

Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

Condolences to Robert’s friends and family.

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39 Responses to Robert Townsend, killed in U District, was fastest delivery person on staff

  1. CyclistMike says:

    Just because it’s legal to not have front breaks doesn’t mean it’s smart. Physics will tell you that. All your weight gets pushed forward when breaking and your rear tire has very little stopping power. Perhaps it’s a time to re-evaluate that law, especially with all the hills we have here in Seattle.

    Still sucks that this ended up happening and that it could easily happen to me, which nearly did two weeks ago. My thoughts go out to his family and friends.

    • charlie says:

      Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the appropriate venue for discussion of physics and braking.

      Sad loss. You’ll be missed, Robert Townsend.

      • CyclistMike says:

        My intention was not to blame anyone, but rather suggest a potential change in the law. Tom (OP) pointed out that it was legal to operate a bike with no front breaks and my comment was geared towards him. There is nothing wrong with making the vehicle you are driving safer and, while it’s a horrible circumstance, it brings to light a potential problem and solution to make it safer and easier to control a bicycle.

        I share the same sentiment as you for Robert, but I make no apologies for making my initial comment.

  2. Doug Bostrom says:

    Oh, here’s a pretty kettle of fish.

    I’d no more operate a bike on the street without at least a front brake than I’d allow somebody to ride in my car without a seatbelt. A bike without working brakes is a fashionable toy or something intended for use in a velodrome, not suitable for use on the street as a transport tool.

    My car has an engine and transmission, notably not called a “brake.” Legs, chainring, chain, and cog are a motive power source and a power transmission, also not a “brake.”

    Yes, there’s a braking effect available by counteracting by friction or active resistance force transmitted from the ground back through a transmission to a motive power source. In the case of an automobile, if I insist on overdoing the engine braking effect, my rear wheels will skid, drastically lowering their effective stopping power and then causing me to lose control of the car if I don’t allow those wheels to turn again. A bicycle is not different except that it’s more difficult to modulate a skid using legs.

    Tom, we probably can’t ask the legislators who put that language together, but do you think they really intended to convey that applying reverse or stopping force to pedals is equivalent to a brake? By that interpretation, I shouldn’t be required to have brakes on my car, because with my engine and transmission I can do exactly what I can do through a fixed-gear transmission. Would it make sense for me to remove the brakes from my car and use my engine and transmission as a substitute? No, it would be laughably stupid for me to do that.

    Fixed-gear bikes on public streets are a symptom of our ambivalent attitude to bicycles. Are they a recreational artifact, like a football? A fashion accessory? A tool for living? ”

    It’s probably not unreasonable to propose that “a tool for living” will include the most practically effective means to continue living, which in the case of a bicycle means the ability to stop efficiently, which means brakes. Real brakes, not velodrome desperation maneuvers.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Your legs are not equivalent to a car engine. They are far more capable of control. And regardless, the city has a history of acknowledging legs as brakes on fixed gears: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/transportation/article/Getting-There-Reader-hit-by-a-track-bike-asks-1197594.php

      You can make the choice not to ride a fixie, but they are legal and lots of people like them. I would suggest a front brake, personally, but it is not legally required and is not a valid reason to apply blame to the victim of this collision (which is how some people are using the argument).

      The incident is under investigation, and it’s frustrating to hear or read people trying to make it the victim’s fault when we have no evidence to support that assertion.

      • Doug Bostrom says:

        Yup, I agree blame-casting is pointless here, possibly offensive, which is why I won’t speculate in that way, instead stay in the realm of physical facts. I’m simply unable to agree with promoting driving bicycles in traffic with no brakes, so I feel compelled to remark on this bizarre fad.

        Apparently the city reads slightly vague wording written into law by state legislators as being intended to say “a bicycle does not need to have brakes.” We end up with the same general result as when manufacturers began substituting cadmium for lead in children’s toys: “See, the regulations don’t specifically prohibit cadmium in toys!”

        It’s obtuse or more charitably deeply confused to claim that “able to achieve a skid” is diagnostic of “being equipped with a brake.” I could thrust a stick into my spokes and meet the requirements of the law, based on that interpretation. I’d be inviting disaster to do that, of course.

        The item in the PI came up because, as the correspondent related, “[The messenger] was unable to stop for his red light in time as I walked out into the crosswalk.” The messenger in question had no brakes, so of course his stopping ability was impaired. The messenger had no brakes because he confused riding for work with racing in a velodrome, or he was a victim of fashion. Not a very complicated situation, really.

        Another approach to this is to look up information on bicycle brakes. Many of us cyclists being equipment geeks, the Wikipedia article on bicycle brakes is a rich efflorescence of braking arcana. Here’s the part about no brakes at all:

        Bicycles without brakes

        Track bicycles are built without brakes so as to avoid sudden changes in speed when racing on a velodrome. Since track bikes have a fixed gear, braking can be accomplished by reversing the force on the pedals to slow down, or by locking the pedals and inducing a skid.

        Fixed gear road bikes may also lack brakes. Slowing and stopping is accomplished as with a track bike. Many fixed gear bikes are, however, fitted with a front brake for safety reasons, or because it is a legal requirement.

        Notice the phrases such as “without brakes” and “may also lack brakes,” as in “bikes that don’t have brakes.”

        More in the nature of fun, I could see a “brake off” as an enjoyable way of further exploring this topic. That would simply consist of having a few expert cyclists attempt panic stops on both wet and dry pavement, on bikes with no brakes and bikes equipped with brakes. The exercise would be pointless in terms of learning anything new about safe operation of bikes, but it would be cool to see just how fast any kind of bike can be stopped when in good hands.

      • mike archambault says:

        Doug,
        With all due respect, you say blame-casting is pointless here, but you proceed to make points that I have massive trouble interpreting as anything but blame-casting. I’m all for a discussion on physics, but maybe this isn’t the most respectful time/venue.
        Rest in peace, Rob.

  3. Pingback: Bike Deaths and Fixie Fashion « Single Speed Seattle

  4. poco ritard says:

    I was there just before the accident. To expand on my comments on a previous thread, I was stopped at the light a few blocks north when he passed me – coming to a full stop and starting up again when it instantly turned green. From the timing, photos, etc. I’m absolutely certain it was him. I considered catching his wheel cause I’m a middle aged Cat-6 racer (meaning one of those jerks who thinks he’s fast and tries to keep up with people faster than him just to see if he can) but I didn’t because I was tired and it’s kind of annoying to do that to a professional especially when you can’t back it up.

    Did I mention professional? As in, a perfect legal stop at the stop line, a half second trackstand en pointe, and an instant start on the green light? Is any part of “does it for a living and is really good at it” not clear?

    There but for fortune go I. He got hooked by someone who didn’t see him and died. Would you all please just STFU about how many brakes he should have had on his fixie? It’s just nauseating.

    • Doug Bostrom says:

      Mike A., I’ve said enough (more than enough, judging from the “STFU” ricochet) but just one more time: encouraging people to ride without brakes is to not care about bicyclists.

      Over and out!

      • Doug Bostrom says:

        Just be clear, I really -don’t care- whose “fault” this accident was; it’s tragic for everybody involved– life ending, life wrecking as I’ve already said.

        What I do care about is a thought leader like Tom encouraging people to ride machines that are inherently unfit for the purpose of sharing space with already-dangerous-enough automobiles.

        Now I really am done with this, except to say that Tom obviously does care for bicyclists, despite my poor phrasing in my last post. That’s why I don’t understand this thing about brakes.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Perhaps that’s an idea for another post. I think enough points have been made here to let it drop.

        The point is, someone has died on the streets of Seattle, and his friends and family are mourning his death while we await any official traffic incident reports.

  5. Cortney says:

    I knew Robert and I have known him for years. If you guys want to place blame, how about blaming the law for allowing these kind of bikes to be street legal, and not the person.
    This is not the appropriate time or place to be doing so, especially when his family and friends are mourning his death. Thanks.
    RIP Robert — you will be missed dearly.

    xoxox
    Randy, Zac & Cortney

  6. Steve A says:

    Please share when you hear real reports. Regardless of the bike type, it appears two scenarios are likely: motorist started turn on green and fast cyclist came along (bad motorist) or motorist waited and started turn to clear intersection when it turned red, only to be hit by cyclist running that red (bad cyclist). In either case, brakes and helmet were irrelevant. Cyclist lane position might be relevant to the cyclist’s chances of avoiding the impact, but not to fault.

    • john pepys says:

      your analysis is nearly spot on, Steve. One statement is clearly erroneous however: “… brakes and helmet were irrelevant.” as to the question “could brakes or helmet have saved this young man’s life?” you are correct. but this question itself is irrelevant. the truth is we’ll never know the answer to that question, even after the official reports come out, because there are just too many variables involved. none of us were in his saddle, so there is no way for us to know if there was anything Robert could have done to avoid the accident–there will just never be enough data.

      but what is not irrelevant is that brakes and helmets do make a difference, in general, and thus could have made a difference in this case. (again, all we have to go on at this time are the unconfirmed reports of a handful of tentative witnesses. he may very well have had both helmet and front brake. one “witness” stated that she did in fact see a bloodied helmet at the scene. and another, (a purported bus driver,) stated that the bike appeared to be a fixie with no front brake. but until the police confirm any of this, we just can’t be sure.)

      now, as you correctly point out, his lane position could be relevant to his chances to avoid the collision. so too, having a front brake is certainly relevant to helping avoid catastrophe. you said the key word: “chances.” just as a different lane position may have helped, the ability to decelerate more quickly would increase the odds that he may have been able to stop short or better maneuver to find an “out.”

      the same could be said for the cyclist’s speed. we’ll never be certain that going 5 MPH slower would have averted this tragedy, but we can be certain that Robert’s chances for avoidance would be greater. regardless of his actual speed at the time, a lower velocity would have provided more time to react and for greater maneuverability, thus increasing the odds of avoidance.

      as to the helmet: again, in this particular case, a helmet may not have been enough to save him. but, in general, a helmet increases a person’s odds of surviving a crash. it’s really a no brainer: skull vs. pavement OR skull + 2 inches of styrofoam vs. pavement.

      what we should keep in mind is that bike helmets really offer only a baseline, bare-minimum of actual protection for your head. to really protect ourselves in a worst-case scenario like this, a motorcycle helmet or football helmet would certainly offer more protection. in fact, i picked up a hockey helmet at goodwill to put this into practice. but it’s just too heavy to be practical. in order to ride even moderate distances with such a helmet, you’d need one of two things: a neck like mike tyson, or a beach cruiser style bike that keeps you in a vertical position in the saddle.

      so bike helmets are clearly a compromise. they forgo a certain level of protection in order to be light enough to be worn practically. as evidenced by the tragic death of the barista just days ago–a non-collision accident with a helmet, and he still died–bike helmets are far from a guarantor of safety; rather, they are merely a hedge against the worst: a way to increase, however slightly, our odds of surviving in the event of a crash.

      so while it is true that a helmet may not have been able to save a life in this particular instance, in a more general sense, helmets are indeed relevant–and may have been of benefit here, as well.

      • Gary says:

        There are full face Mountain Bike helmets with more jaw protection. The trouble is they tend to obscure your peripheral vision. And they can be hot, because there is more foam around your head. But they are not intended for road use.

        I met a regular commuter who wears one because he broke his jaw and his surgeon warned him against ever breaking it again.

      • Steve A says:

        John is correct that I assumed that, regardless of fault, the cyclist was going fairly quickly based on his past history. Even that is by no means certain. In truth, the helmet was irrelevant only to the cause of the collision and the brake was only irrelevant to who was either making an inappropriate turn or who should have stopped at a red light.

        And while I would hate to touch off yet another helmet debate, we should not forget that they were never designed for any likely variation of the collision on University. They were designed to prevent injury in the kind of crash my helmet protected me from 8 times in one morning last winter. A simple fall at very low speed. The kind you often experience on slick ice.

  7. Johnny says:

    you guys with the comments up top, This kid DIED. talk about front brakes and physics elswhere. RIP Robert.

  8. Jeanne says:

    Did any of you think before posting these terrible negative remarks of how they may make the family of Robert feel after their terrible, terrible loss! Most of these remarks could have been posted somewhere else so that the family and friends of Robert do not need to see them!! Think people!!!!!!

  9. john pepys says:

    from what i’ve read in the comments above, i don’t think anyone is blaming the victim here. CyclistMike & Doug B. are merely using this tragic example as a teachable moment–and, quite correctly, warning/reminding us all that riding without a front brake is never a good idea, (at least not on a busy street like the Ave.)

    as to the idea that this not the place to discuss this, i couldn’t disagree more. this is a public forum, dedicated to cycling in our great city. this is precisely the place for such a discussion. a tragic incident like this inevitably raises questions about cycling safety and what the rest of us–cyclists and motorists alike–can learn from this, so that we may not meet a similar fate.

    while we all mourn the loss of someone so young, as long as we keep our comments about bike safety respectful and general, and not specific to Mr. Townsend, this comment board is the right place for discussion. and if the message board does devolve into blaming, name-calling, and/or finger-pointing, Tom can certainly exercise his discretion to close the comments, or at least delete the offensive posts.

    Rest in peace, Robert.

  10. Anya says:

    I just read somewhere else that his sister committed suicide a few years back. Think of his grieving family, folks, and hold your tongues if you are tempted to judge or condemn. At least for now.

    • Ashleigh says:

      I can confirm this. Robert’s sister was my best friend in high school. And Robert’s death comes as a huge shock to me. I still can’t believe that I’m reading this. He was such a good kid with a great personality. I only hope that their parents and younger brother can make it through this.

      Regardless, they are gone and we need to stop passing blame. It won’t help Robert’s family and it won’t help the driver and her family.

  11. Melinda says:

    This blog is a great place to discuss bike safety, but this comment thread is a terrible place to do it, because you’re derailing a tribute to someone.

    Do you show up at people’s funerals and talk about how they could have prevented their own deaths? That’s kind of what you are doing here, guys.

    • john pepys says:

      no, it’s not. how can you compare discussing something here to doing so at the funeral? do you actually think his parents are at home surfing around the dozens of seattle-area bike blogs, and taking the time to read through all the comments to find out how strangers are talking about their son?

      this is not a memorial page, nor a tribute, nor a funeral–it’s a digital version of the town square. where else would you have us discuss it, that wouldn’t be equally as likely to be seen by relatives?

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        John, judging by the number of comments from friends, people who are mourning have read this post. I think it would be reasonable to respect that, since it was requested by another community member.

        Besides, I think all points have been made that can be (and then some) based on what we know (very little).

  12. john pepys says:

    @Steve A
    Thank you for the response and the clarification. you are certainly correct: helmet is irrelevant to cause/avoidance, and brakes are irrelevant to fault.

    honestly, i don’t think “fault” per se is up for debate yet–we just don’t know enough specifics. (as is usually the case, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, and there’s probably enough “fault” to go around.) from what we do know so far, it seems clear that this was truly an accident. no one involved meant for this to happen and would’ve avoided the collision if possible–unlike the earlier hit-and-run on dexter, for example, where the driver actually accelerated toward the cyclist and was blatantly driving in a reckless manner.

  13. JimBo says:

    Tom said:

    “Perhaps that’s an idea for another post. I think enough points have been made here to let it drop.”

    Tom, can you help me figure out how to start another thread? I think a lot of point have been made that deserve discussion.

    JimBo

  14. AdmiralWinfield says:

    I commute to UW on that street every day. By now I am so used to it that my alertness level is pretty low. Riding downill on that street I routinely reached around upper 20′s mph.

    This kind of accident really served as a wake up call for me to reevaluate my alertness on the roads there.

  15. jdg says:

    i had actually spoken with robert, just a few days before he was killed.
    i was locking my 80s track bike up at recycled, and he was just coming out. we talked for a good 30min about track bikes, steel frames vs alum frames, etc etc etc. he was totally passionate and focused, and was ready to learn what he didn’t know. such a sad sad waste of obvious intellect and talent :(

  16. kriegjos says:

    ive known robert since i was very little grew up with each other.

    rest in peace brother

  17. Matthew says:

    So sad… He was a really nice guy and to have him gone so soon is aweful. My thoughts are with his parents. RIP.

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  20. Hinda Israel Bartoli
    Erik, did you see this?
    Fatal accidents leave cyclists wondering how bike-friendly Seattle is – Local News – Seattle, WA – msnbc.com
    Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44494717/ns/local_news-seattle_wa/t/fatal-accidents-leave-cyclists-wondering-how-bike-friendly-seattle/
    Like · · 44 minutes ago via msnbc

    Hinda Israel Bartoli
    There is NO excuse for this accident to happen. The driver of the car that hit Robert Townsend was so at fault because they probably were not driving defensively in the first place. True the law is lax when it comes to bicycle brakes & safety but there is no excuse for negligence on the road especially in a crowded city with a lot going on. I am so sorry this has happened and my heart goes out to the beautiful family of Robert Townsend. I, too, lost a child 16 years ago. Although she did not die accidentally she still is not hear and I miss her so much. You might say that is was an accident of choice or poor judgement but the fact still remains, she is gone forever. Mothers and fathers please be aware that when children become adults you are still on duty for the rest of there live. You can only guide them and then they make their choices but sometime if you are a “nagging” parent it might not be so bad. No blame intended on parents with my words! I truly and so sad to know t…

    Fatal accidents leave cyclists wondering how bike-friendly Seattle is
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com
    There are new questions over bicycle safety after another bicyclist was killed in Seattle over the weekend. The city has spent a lot of money to make more room for cyclists, but are they actually safer?
    Like · · Share · 46 minutes ago
    RECENT ACTIVITY
    “Cute Boy! He is growing so…” on Meghan Beth Rosales’s photo.
    “OMG! She is beautiful WITH HER…” on Dave McGrath’s photo.

    Hinda Israel Bartoli
    Hinda Israel Bartoli
    There is NO excuse for this accident to happen. The driver of the car that hit Robert Townsend was so at fault because they probably were not driving defensively in the first place. True the law is lax when it comes to bicycle brakes & safety but there is no excuse for negligence on the road especially in a crowded city with a lot going on. I am so sorry this has happened and my heart goes out to the beautiful family of Robert Townsend. I, too, lost a child 16 years ago. Although she did not die accidentally she still is not hear and I miss her so much. You might say that is was an accident of choice or poor judgement but the fact still remains, she is gone forever. Mothers and fathers please be aware that when children become adults you are still on duty for the rest of there live. You can only guide them and then they make their choices but sometime if you are a “nagging” parent it might not be so bad. No blame intended on parents with my words! I truly and so sad to know that this accident could have been prevented if the driver was not in such a “world paced” hurry and took the time to be alert and responsible so this accident wouldn’t have happen. I say we need to take our time and think about what we do in our ever so rapidly changing world and SLOW DOWN………….. Hinda Bartoli
    Like · · Share · 5 minutes ago
    Like · · about an hour ago

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  22. yeah says:

    Sorry to hear about this a little late. We all know and need to come forward and start telling the truth about ‘jimmy johns.’ I personally worked as delivery driver at four Seattle stores and although the managers were good people, Glen and local owners actively and enthusiastically encouraged drivers to totally neglect all traffic rules. It was a contest to see who could absolutely defy all traffic laws, courtesies and good practices and again the owners intentionally penalized us if we didnt. Mo, Mo, Jeremy, there are hundreds of us in the Seattle area; lets all come forward and help this family gain closure and comfort in fact that Bobby did not die in vain. I certainly am willing to tell my many stories if it will help this family. Please contact me at yeah-so@mail.ru and yes I will testify if I can help in anyway. Many heart felt condolences for this very unjust, senseless and severe loss.

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