Safe Streets Social provides space for healing, calls for change

80 or so people gathered in Lake Union Park to ride in memory of people killed on our streets.

But the Safe Streets Social was also about creating an opportunity for bicycle riders who have been shaken by news of recent bicycling deaths to come together and support each other, mourn those killed and take an active role in working for safer streets. The ride was organized by Adonia Lugo, Davey Oil and myself with invaluable help from Anne-Marije Rook (who made some fabulous spoke cards), Liz Nixon and many others who helped spread the word.

One of the most touching moments happened at the first stop on our group ride: Dexter and Thomas, the intersection where Mike Wang was killed in a hit and run in July. Wang’s wife, Claire, contacted me a few days before the ride and asked riders to shout “Wang” as we passed. But when we first arrived, seeing Clarie, Mike’s children and Mike’s father William waiting for us was overwhelming. In all the work of planning the ride, concentrating on small details like which route to take and what colors to wear, I think I had not prepared myself to meet Mike’s family.

William bowed to the riders as we passed, many of us yelling “Wang” as Claire had suggested. Some riders stopped to put flowers on the ghost bike installed at the corner. Claire had a strong, determined stance, her children at her side. Seeing her strength and shaking her hand, I felt just a small portion of what a traffic death really means to those who have lost someone they loved.

I rode off with tears in my eyes and a remarkable pain in my chest. With each stop — Brian Fairbrother’s memorial on Fairview Ave N and Robert Townsend’s at University Way and Campus Parkway — I felt that pain again.

Conversations with others during and after the ride revealed that many others were feeling the same way I was. And as we continued talking, we began discussing what we can do to make sure deaths like these never happen again. It doesn’t matter whether someone dies in the seat of a car, walking across the street or riding a bicycle, we must make safety our top transportation priority. We must make our roads safer.

We designed these roads, and we can redesign them. At least 448 people died on Washington roadways last year. That’s more than one person per day. We can do better, and we must do better.

Everyone who went on the ride sent a clear message to our elected officials: Stop traffic deaths now.

Riders get ready to leave Lake Union Park

Several people who went on the ride have posted about it, and several news organizations were there reporting. Here’s a roundup of coverage. If I am missing anything, please leave links in the comments:

SLIDESHOW: Cyclists ride for a safer Seattle – Ballard New Tribune

‘A Cyclist Died Here’ Memorial Ride spurs activism to make safer streets now – Tubulocity

Seattle Cyclists Hold Memorial Ride for the Fallen – The SunBreak

Eastlake news: Memorial bike ride – Eastlake Ave Blog

Moving Planet / Safe Streets Social – Family Ride

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10 Responses to Safe Streets Social provides space for healing, calls for change

  1. Gary says:

    One thing to notice is that Seattle is not alone with bicycling deaths.

    http://bikinginla.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/san-diego-cyclist-killed-another-seriously-injured-when-suv-flips-onto-bike-path/

    ‘SignOnSanDiego reports that both riders were wearing helmets; if anyone ever invents a helmet strong enough to protect against an SUV falling on top of a cyclist, I hope they let us all know.”

    I was just down in San Diego vacationing and I noticed that while the climate is perfect for bicycling, cool in the mornings, no rain very few cyclists are on the streets. On Saturday there were butt loads of riders out in organized rides along the coastal highway so I asked a few if they commuted, nope.

    When looked at the geography I realize why, San Diego county is full of short steep hills with mesas on top. On the Mesa is a housing development or office park, between the hills in the “canyons” are 4 and 6 lane roads with 45mph limits, and drivers going 50. So if you want to actually go anywhere you have to leave the mesa and ride the canyon road with cars going 30 to 40 mph faster than you can ride. There are “bike lanes” which in my youth looked like curb lines. I can tell they are “bike lanes” because there is a sign that says bikes can ride in them but as in “Effective Cycling” notes they have all the road debris is swept there by the passing cars.

    So when I got back to Seattle I realized how lucky we are that most city arterial s are not 45mph. And how nice my actual ride to work every day is, rain or not.

    The key to safe streets is to slow everybody down. Unfortunately we’ve spent the last 50 years trying to speed everybody up. Adding lanes, free right turns etc. All of which endanger pedestrians and bicyclists and car drivers as well.

    F = (Mass * Velocity^2)/2

    Increasing velocity and squaring it means just a little bit more speed gives a huge amount more momentum and hence increased distance to stop when something out of the ordinary happens. And as we have seen, something somewhere happens that we don’t expect all to frequently and the result is these injuries and deaths.

    • Merlin says:

      Thanks, Gary. Well said.
      I wonder how San Diego will tackle their topography – because they will have to do better with bikes, sooner or later. Our hills are not as bad as what you describe, but Seattle could learn from and learn with other hilly cities as we move forward with bikes as normal transportation.

      • Gary says:

        I think it’s going to be “later” for San Diego. They have a car culture that is firmly imbedded in everything. They have a trolley and buses but here regular commuters ride the bus. There poor people ride the bus.

        And San Diego has a huge problem with water. It’s going to hit them well before the fuel crisis makes a dent. (They are at the wrong end of the Colorado river drainage basin. And as fuel costs rise a desalination plant becomes even more out of reach.) You see it with them using recycled water on their landscaping. (Signs everywhere “don’t drink this water!” not quite skull and cross bones but I’m not drinking it.) And even tap water sucks rocks for taste. So you end up buying water in plastic jugs for more than you pay for gasoline. But that’s all beside the problem of bicycling there.

    • Todd says:

      Spot on Gary. I think it’s good the biking community continues to push for greater expansion and safer alternatives — but I also think it’s very important that we realize just how lucky we are. I rode over a 100 miles on Saturday and about 70% of it was on dedicated bike paths and trails — through Bellevue, Renton, Kent, Auburn, Sumner, and Orting. And when I ride my commute, I ride about 20 of 25 miles on a dedicated bike trail and the rest in bike paths. No, we don’t have it too bad at all.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        We are lucky to live in such a great place to bike. But that’s wasn’t an accident! Lots of people worked hard to make sure that stuff was built, keeping the importance of safety and exercise on the minds of our leaders. We need to keep pushing to keep making things better.

    • Tiny Pedant says:

      Gary, while your comment about the potential lethality of velocity increases is very warranted, I wanted to point out that your formula is not quite correct.

      Kinetic Energy = 1/2 (m*V^2)
      (not force)
      momentum = m * V

      And very true, increasing the speed limits on arterials (some of which in Seattle go through pretty ped/cyclist heavy neighborhoods, complete with schools and little kids out an about) leads to a significant increase in the kinetic energy of a traveling car, and a linear increase in momentum. Both of these quantities are conserved in a collision (although some energy is lost to the environment–sound, heat, etc) and bam. I wish more drivers would exercise better judgment and not treat speed limits as “requirements” or a mere suggestion of the lower bound on their speed. Road design is often bad and there are many streets where posted speed limits are just a little too dangerous, in my opinion :(

  2. Gary says:

    Here’s the link for why slowing down saves lives.

  3. Gary says:

    Oh, I wanted to also point out that even if you can’t get out there and advocate/badger your local politician, you can affect change by just being a visible rider. Which means by just showing up and being counted on “bike to work days”, “Chilly Hilly”, STP, Ghost rider memorial days, commuting.

    This helps because when folks like David Hiller say “Bicyclists want X,Y & Z” everyone can say, yeah, I saw that crowd of “voters”/”bicyclists” last weekend. I better vote for this, I can count and those are votes I don’t want to lose.

    Then when the few of us can write/call/complain and in general be a pain about fixing things, it means something besides a few cranks complaining. Politicians generally know that for every one who does complain there are many who think the same way but say nothing. So the few count for many, and just being a “visible many” is worth doing even if that’s all you can do.

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