Mother killed on 2nd Ave was attorney who helped bring down Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Photo by Lars Halstrom

Photo by Lars Halstrom

Just one wrong turn — one missed glance into bike lane on 2nd Ave — and a man driving a box truck struck and killed Sher Kung Friday. By witness accounts, the man driving the truck jumped into action and tried to help her, but became distraught when he realized it was too late. He made a left turn right in front of her while she biked in the skinny painted bike lane, and it killed the young mother.

The outpouring of grief has been remarkable. It comes from those who watched it happen, those who knew her and those who bike downtown every day and know that it could have easily been them instead of Kung. A flower memorial sprung up within hours of the deadly collision, and a couple ghost bikes followed shortly.

The corner where she died is also the site of the Garden of Remembrance, a memorial to Washington residents who have given their lives in military service. And though Sher Kung did not die on a battlefield, her young legacy will live on through the lives of American service members who can now be true to themselves while wearing their uniforms.

Kung worked as a legal fellow for the ACLU and helped win a case that was instrumental in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. An AP photographer took this shot of Kung standing next to Margaret Witt after a federal judge ruled that Witt must be reinstated to the rank she had earned before she was discharged for being gay.

According to her bio on the Perkins Coie website, Kung has continued to do a lot of pro bono civil rights work including work for juvenile immigrants and defending against sexual orientation discrimination.

Kung was less than a block from the Perkins Coie office when she was struck.

Perkins Coie told the Seattle Times that Kung was “one of our brightest young lawyers … an exceptional lawyer and a wonderful comrade, with boundless energy, legal brilliance, and relentless optimism … Our hearts go out to her partner and their child, her extended family, and her many friends.”

The Washington ACLU released a statement to KOMO saying, “The staff of the ACLU is deeply saddened by the news of her death. She was very committed to civil rights and social justice, and was a lively person and was fun to work with.”

Many people — in emails to Seattle Bike Blog and in the comments and social media — have expressed a desire for a memorial bike ride for Kung. We will report on any such event when we learn about it.

Our deepest condolences go out to her family and friends.

For more on Kung, see these reports by KOMO and King 5.

UPDATE: An online memorial fundraiser has been set up to help support Kung’s family.

UPDATE 2: See this story for details on a memorial ride planned Friday, September 5.

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39 Responses to Mother killed on 2nd Ave was attorney who helped bring down Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

  1. Allan says:

    This is so terribly sad. I feel terrible for the family of this young woman. I rode down 2nd Avenue on Thursday, very carefully, stopping until I was sure no cars were going to turn left in front of me. That bike lane is an accident waiting to happen over and over. People turned left without even looking for bikes. It would be far safer to just take the whole lane than to be off on the side, ignored by drivers until it is too late. The only way to fix it is that there would be no left turns allowed all the way down. It would have to be very well marked too, not just a stupid little sign hanging far overhead. Otherwise get rid of the bike lane and clearly place sharrows all the way down. This kind of learning by mistake is intolerable and and now we are going to put beginners on bike share bikes, maybe without helmets into this mix. It is crazy. 2nd Avenue is a suicide run at best between the chances of getting doored and being caught by a left turning vehicle.

  2. Frank says:

    We don’t have to know any more about the specifics of this case to know that the driver won’t face jail time. Unless a driver is impaired or flees the scene, they never, ever go to jail for killing a cyclist. It simply doesn’t happen.

    I’m not arguing that this particular driver should or shouldn’t go to jail. I don’t know enough about either the facts of the case or the law in question to offer an opinion. I simply know that, based on hundreds of precedents, there is no way that jail will be an option.

    • Alkibkr says:

      What this tragedy makes so painfully obvious from the comments I read on various news reports is that both drivers and cyclists are desperately in need of more education on how to behave around bicycle facilities. Besides the other lesson, of course, that we need better designed bike facilities. I am so very sorry for Sher’s family and friends that she became a victim of the need to correct these deficiencies.

      • Ballardite says:

        I agree that better education is necessary, but strong enforcement of the law in this case, and others, is the best path to education.

        It’s been acknowledged in the media that turning motor vehicles are required to yield to cyclists in bike lanes. This driver clearly did not yield. Despite lack of impairment, and even if he was using a turn signal, saying ‘I didn’t see her’ is not enough. It may be the reason, but it can’t be an excuse. If a truck truly has a ‘blind spot’, that only points to further negligence on the part of the driver; he should have gotten better mirrors, or checked over his shoulder before turning.

        Bottom line: Sher had the right of way, the truck driver violated that right of way, and Sher is now dead. The driver was clearly distraught, but no amount of remorse will bring her back. Of course, strong enforcement in this case won’t bring her back either, but it will send the message that everyone has the obligation to follow the law, and there will be consequences for failing to do s0.

        If everyone who makes the choice to drive on our streets knows that, maybe we can save ourselves another needless death.

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  4. David says:

    Can anyone explain to me why the bike lane on 2nd Ave is on the LEFT side of the street? Aren’t bike lanes always on the RIGHT side of the street? I’m not at all implying this was a factor in this particular tragedy, but I have to think motorists are generally more accustomed to seeing cyclists on their right than on their left. Is the city going to keep the bike lane on the left hand side when they build their “protected” lane? As a cyclist, I’d prefer to see it on the right

    • Lars Halstrom says:

      Bus stops are on the right. That is why. Doors only open on the right side.

    • David says:

      Well, I just discovered that the 2nd Ave bike lane is on the left because the right side is reserved for buses. Which brings up another question: Why does Seattle feel compelled to have buses run on virtually every single north-south street downtown. There are also buses on 1st, and 3rd and 4th, etc.

      In Portland, which most folks agree is light years ahead of Seattle in its bicycling and mass transit infrastructure, the city has north-south city center buses run just on 5th and 6th Avenues, not every single avenue. It seems to work pretty well and also helps produce a quieter and calmer downtown.

      • asdf2 says:

        At least during rush hour, the shear volume of buses downtown is so great that 3rd Ave. and the tunnel are simply not enough, so some of the buses need to go down 4th and 2nd. (Almost no buses take 1st these days).

        Eventually, Link extensions will render many of the bus routes through downtown obsolete, but in the meantime, it’s what we have.

      • Doug says:

        We have a much great share of riders on transit in Seattle than in Portland. We’re also a larger city. Thus: lots and lots of buses downtown, far more than just a couple streets could accommodate.

  5. Steve A says:

    Observation: had she simply ridden in the left general traffic lane rather than depending on a bike lane, she’d be unhurt today. Lesson for those of us fortunate to still be around.

    • Al Dimond says:

      Or she might not have been riding at all. Only a minority will voluntarily put up with the abuse drivers dish out to cyclists that take the lane.

      • Steve A says:

        Al is correct, though actual abuse from motorists is rare. Worse is the cyclist riding along feeling uncomfortable which isn’t a whole bunch better. That feeling is magnified when controlling a lane next to a bike lane.

    • Breadbaker says:

      The same is true if she’d left home a minute later or a minute earlier. So what? If she’d walked her bike she’d still be alive. Or she might have been killed by something else. Your observation is meaningless.

      • JAT says:

        I disagree that the observation is meaningless and I think your dismissal of it is needlessly belittling. It’s always been a crappy bike facility. Seattle often implements bike infrastructure crappily, shoehorning it in as a feel good gesture.

        Without getting into victim-blaming or rhetorically charged nomenclature like “vehicular”, road users need to have the awareness and self-efficacy to reject and avoid road conditions that are patently unsafe. Don’t drive your Vespa on 405, don’t ride your bike on the left-side 2nd Ave bike lane.

    • Michelle says:

      I bike that route and never feel safe in the bike lane. That being said I would feel even less safe in the far left lane. Maybe the car you are directly in front of would see you but many cars try to get into the left lane to get on I-5. They would not even expect bikers in that lane. I’ll wait until the route upgrade before biking on 2nd again.

    • asdf2 says:

      My personal preference is to just ignore the bike lane completely and ride down the hill in the center of the right-hand car lane. Drivers who want to pass do so by making a clean lane change and passing on the left, just like they are used to.

  6. Ballardite says:

    Sounds a little like a lesson, but also a little like victim blaming.

    Of course, coming home alive is the priority, and all of us should ride in such a way to ensure that will happen. But drivers (myself included) need to know that jail time and financial ruin will ensue if they injure or kill someone in the course of not following the law.

    • jon says:

      except jail time and financial ruin are NEVER the consequences of killing a pedestrian or cyclist so long as the driver is sober and remains at the scene. infact never even goes on a driver’s record.

    • Stardent says:

      The only one to blame here is the previous mayor who simply had the roads painted to make bicyclists feel good. A separate, unprotected lane makes it harder for bicyclists to ride in traffic and gives some perhaps a false sense of safety and you end up with tragedies like this one. Reduce the speed limit on city roads, allow mixed bicycle, automobile use where separate, protected bicycle lanes are not possible, and impose written test for drivers every two years to force them to be aware that they ought to share the road AND ticket bicyclists who violate traffic rules.
      I hope something long lasting comes out of this tragedy.

      • Josh says:

        A previous mayor may carry the blame for originally installing this lane, but there’s plenty of blame to go around for continuing to tolerate this substandard facility, for failing to enforce traffic laws year after year as motorists continue to hook illegally across the lane, and for failing to post conspicuous warnings of the well-documented hazards of the facility.

        The Vehicular Cycling sect used to joke that John Pucher had never met a bike lane he didn’t like, that “something for bikes” was always better than nothing. Then Pucher came to Seattle, rode this lane just once, and publicly declared it worse than no bike lane at all. Even that didn’t get the lane removed.

        There’s plenty of blame for everyone in city hall and bike advocacy who failed to have this lane erased years ago.

  7. Karl says:

    Is there going to be a memorial ride?

  8. J Durocher says:

    Even drivers who take the utmost care to follow the law make mistakes when an anomalous traffic pattern is established. Can anyone truly claim they have never made a driving mistake resulting from confusion which, if it had occurred under slightly different circumstances such as transpiring a few second earlier, might have resulted in an accident? Of course not.

    This is a bike lane that should never have been designed this way. While the driver certainly is culpable for not paying attention to the unique rules of the road on this particular stretch, the city also bears responsibility for failing to factor in the high likelihood of human error when faced with anomalous rules.

  9. Josh says:

    Washington Bikes has an innocuous sounding item that’s been on their legislative agenda for some time, to clarify expected motorist behavior when turning through bike lanes. This case shows exactly why that matters.

    The design of standard bike lanes assumes that drivers will merge into the bike lane before turning, so that there’s no way for a bike to be undertaking during the actual turn. But many drivers, and even some police, believe that it is illegal for motorists to drive in a bike lane while preparing for a turn.

    Washington State law doesn’t actually say either way, and the Seattle Municipal Code is just vague enough that motorists who fail to use the bike lane when turning don’t risk enforcement.

    Before putting millions more into infrastructure that isn’t supported by law and can’t be reliably enforced, we need to have clearly written laws that protect people on bikes from sloppy driving.

    • Alkibkr says:

      I have been thinking since the accident we should be demanding our legislators add more specific language in the law about how drivers are supposed to behave around bike lanes. “Sher’s law”.

      Although it sounds like in this case, the markings for the lane may have been somewhat defaced making it confusing for everyone on the road (I haven’t been to the site yet myself).

      • Breadbaker says:

        We need driver education equally with any new laws. Am I the only one astonished that the Linden bikeway has signs only for cyclists and none telling cars how to react to a completely new animal? They put the bike box in at 34th and Fremont without a single sign telling driver’s they were supposed to stop short of it. There should be commercials, flyers with license renewals and other information readily available so no one is confused. Confusion leads to death.

      • Josh says:

        Special facilities require special education.

        Look at all the signs and striping required by FHWA for something as simple as a modern roundabout, something that doesn’t change the rules of the road at all — splitter islands, yield signs, gore points, shark-tooth yield bars, pavement arrows, etc.

        Then consider what guidance we give motorists next to a facility that puts wrong-way traffic parallel to the street, hidden behind parked cars, with conflicts at every intersection and driveway.

        Two-way sidepaths significantly alter the rules of the road for both cyclists and drivers. What has SDOT done to convey these changes to drivers?

  10. jon says:

    Why is no one asking why the hell 2nd Avenue through downtown Seattle is designed as a high speed 4 lane one way with timed lights encouraging speed? Normally motor vehicles are flooring it through here on empty streets. A freeway-like street design like 2nd has absolutely no place in the heart of heavily pedestrian and urbanized area.

    • Alkibkr says:

      + 1. If I had my way, they could turn the whole central business district into “Times Square”.

    • DrewJ says:

      I’ve always felt this about 2nd. If you drive 35 mph from Stewart to Cherry, you can make all the green lights. The same happens on 4th up from University to Battery. Many streets in Portland and other cities’ downtowns are timed to keep traffic moving at <20 mph…

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  12. Zogduke says:

    “Am I the only one astonished that the Linden bikeway has signs only for cyclists and none telling cars how to react to a completely new animal?”

    Completely agree… those signs were beyond clueless. The signs targeted the people who need the protection, not the drivers and clueless pedestrians who are endangering cyclists.

    I ride Linden nearly every day and I’ve never seen a cyclist cause a problem or break a law. Yet, drivers blow through green safety boxes and turn in front of cyclists frequently.

    I want to thank the City of Seattle for trying with the Linden cycle track, but it’s still a dangerous experience nearly every day. Drivers have no idea what the green boxes mean and most could care less. The areas where cars have been “separated” from the cycle track by paint stripes now park halfway in the cycle track itself. When they open their car doors into the cycle track there is sometimes nowhere to veer off to.

    I reported an Metro Access driver just last week for constantly parking right in the cycle track and completely blocking both lanes forcing cyclists into oncoming traffic. An organized fitness class regularly jogs down both lanes of the cycle track, forcing cyclists to ride up onto the pedestrian sidewalk where the joggers should be.

    Motorized rascal scooters from the public housing regularly take up both lanes of the cycle track instead of using the sidewalk. Dog walkers want to use the cycle track instead of the sidewalk also. Why?

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