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Cycling Advocacy
Broken
Every time we take to the open road, we entrust our lives to a safety net of legal protection and basic human decency. That system has failed.
ByDavid Darlington
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By almost any measure, Sonoma County should qualify as cycling heaven. Spanning more than a million acres from the Pacific coast to the Mayacamas Mountains, it has every kind of riding, from flat to steep to gently rolling, much of it on lightly traveled roads through quiet forests, farmland and vineyards-a pastoral landscape that, blessed by a balmy climate, amounts to a paradise for two-wheeled travel. That, no doubt, is why race organizers chose it for two stages of the 2007 Tour of California-the first one rolling up the coast and heading inland toward Santa Rosa on Occidental Road, the second passing through -Sonoma and Napa Valleys via Trinity Grade, an 8.2 percent slope of chaparral.

 

In the United States, however, cycling heaven is a qualified concept. Five years previous to the 2007 race, Ross Dillon set off on a June training ride that reversed the peloton's eventual route. A 25-year-old Cat 3 racer who had ridden with the 2007 TOC winner Levi Leipheimer on group outings from Santa Rosa, Dillon was spending the summer at his family's home on Trinity Road before starting his first year of law school at Boston College. Since graduating cum laude from Santa Clara University in 1999, he had moved to the East Coast with his girlfriend, Katie, also a B.C. law student, whom he was now planning to marry in August. In the meantime, having saved some money from a job as an investment clerk at Liberty Mutual, Dillon was taking the summer off to race and train, hoping to upgrade to Cat 2 with the Boston Bicycle Club in the fall.

 

"In races Ross would typically be third or fourth," says his father, Rusty, who is also a cyclist, as well as a psychotherapist and Anglican minister. "He once told me that he thought he had too wholesome a family background to be a really successful racer-he wasn't angry enough."

 

"He was afraid of being hurt," Rusty's wife, Betsy, elaborates. "He wouldn't go out and take risks." Among his friends, Ross was known for a funny and disarming, if stubborn, personality. When a low-intensity training ride turned into a hammerfest, Dillon would ride resolutely off the back. If somebody in the group was acting like a jerk-being overly critical of riders, or telling everyone else what to do-Ross would pedal up alongside the authoritarian and announce how honored he was to ride with him. That sort of thing made people laugh. Everybody would loosen up.

 

At about 12:30 p.m. on June 3, 2002, Betsy telephoned Ross from her job tutoring children with learning disabilities. He told her that he was going to ride his Land Shark into Santa Rosa, go to the bank and the bike shop, and be home for dinner by 6:30. In between, he'd do a long ride out toward the coast, heading west from Santa Rosa on Occidental Road.

 

Occidental, a fast, semi-rural two-lane road, marks the geographic transition from eastern to western Sonoma County. Although the wine industry has given this area a reputation for civilized gentility, Santa Rosa (the county seat) is becoming a congested urban grid, and the region's wooded western reaches are giving way grudgingly to different kinds of development. With the demise of dairies and orchards, wine grapes now compete for prominence with the county's other major cash crop, cannabis sativa. As California Highway Patrol officer Eric Nelson observes: "Those back roads that are so wonderful to ride and drive on were built for farmers in agrarian times, not for the [conditions] we have today. We're driving 2000-model vehicles on roads designed in the 1920s, '30s and '40s."

 

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Comments

Everybody has the right to get justice. My heart got broken by reading this
In Sacramento CA I am lucky to ride mainly on bike paths without cars around. But still, two blocks from my home three years ago a car cut me off, I yelled and rode past. The car driver then burned rubber to race past me and skid to a stop blocking the street. The driver was yelling at me for being in his way, even though I was riding legally where I suppose to be. I did not respond to the driver and just called 911, but in the few minutes it took them to answer he had driven away so they never even sent a car to tell the driver road rage was wrong. Some day that driver will kill some kid on a bike and I will blame the cops for never taking the time to at least talk to him about laws relating to bikes and traffic. All that being said, many of us break laws when riding, lights do not change for us and most STOP signs become slow down signs. We should all just assume most cars do not see us, care about us or have any understanding of how fast we are riding. Laws of physics do apply and a 2,000 pound car at even 20 miles an hour can destroy the life of a 200 pound rider in a heartbeat. I have been lax about wearing a helmet - but I think this story has changed my thoughts and I will be more diligent to protect myself and be a good example for my kids.
-First- Driving is a privilege, NOT an inalienable right! -Second- By definition an accident is a random event that can't be helped. NOT true in any of the cases! They were ALL preventable! I agree the laws should reflect the magnitude of what is at risk. Personally I think if a driver is at fault (car v. ped or bicycle) the privilege of driving should be removed for at least a year for the most basic of incidents. As well insurance should be required in increased amounts for those with a record of bad behavior behind the wheel. BZ to the Sonoma County cyclist and their support for fellow cyclists. We should all be so lucky! Unrelated, but what is with all the spam in the blog?
You'll never be able to control everyone's driving 100% of the time. Even mostly responsible people can make mistakes. All I can take away from this is that every time you ride a bike on a road you're taking your life in your hands and that bikes need to be separated from cars. I don't see what it does to put someone who hadn't been driving drunk or otherwise impaired in jail for years.
It takes them off the road wher they are obviously a danger to everyone around them! If they didn't clean up their act they need to be removed and given some incentive to not kill somebody!
I live in a rural area with no shoulders just ditches. I rarely ride anymore because when I decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood (3k around) I saw a pickup truck coming so I moved to the white line, he then moved his pickup truck to the white line and made me go down into the ditch, when he drove by me he went back to the middle of the lane. If I had been on a bike I would have been in an accident no matter how you think through the scenerial. So now I don't ride much anymore.
I live in a rural area with no shoulders just ditches. I rarely ride anymore because when I decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood (3k around) I saw a pickup truck coming so I moved to the white line, he then moved his pickup truck to the white line and made me go down into the ditch, when he drove by me he went back to the middle of the lane. If I had been on a bike I would have been in an accident no matter how you think through the scenerial. So now I don't ride much anymore.
I'm more a 'wanta be' cyclist than active: I live in N. IL where roads are mostly straight and level. Still, some car drivers insist on 'teaching me I don't belong on the road' by imperiling my life. Human nature, I guess. Distracted driving is almost a given; again, human nature. Powered cyclists have a "see motorcycles" campaign going on. Last night I conducted a test re: gas mileage by driving no faster than 55 with a lot of effort to see how high I could get the MPG to display. I achieved a 6 MPG increase by driving slower and more intentional. I leave 2 thoughts: higher gas prices may force us to drive slower and more intentional; All 2 wheel riders must be more overt about being seen (not cool). Perhaps safer days are ahead if those 2 attitudes are on the road.
A heartbreaking story. There is no doubt that there is an epidemic of poor driving that has serious serious societal consequences. I would also like to point out though, that I live in a valley outside of Sonoma, CA which is a very popular spot for cyclists to frequent. And I have to say, many of them are the most disrespectful people I have ever encountered. They litter their garbage in our beautiful valley, they don't obey stop signs, they don't signal, they park their cars on private property, and they won't pull over so you can pass them so you have to drive at 5 mph for ten minutes to get up the hill (no joke). And god forbid, if you roll down the window and point out one of their transgressions to them they get all nasty on you and give you the finger. To be sure, there are many respectful cyclists, but there are just enough complete asshole cyclists that I wish they would never come to our valley!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
These are tragic stories and the lack of justice is infuriating. HOWEVER, equally aggravating is cyclists who continually demand their "rights" on the road while ignoring their RESPONSIBILITIES. I was riding home from work one evening awhile back, stopped at a stop sign, & just as I was starting through the intersection nearly got T-boned by another cyclist who barreled through the stop sign at the cross street. Worst, he seemed oblivious to the fact that he nearly inflicted severe bodily and mechanical harm on us both. Sadly, this particular scoff-law seems to be in the majority, not minority. Stop signs, traffic lights, and other laws seem to be for OTHER PEOPLE in the minds of most cyclists...till they get hit or breezed by a car, then all of a sudden they are ranting about RIGHTS. If we want our rights, we need to observe more of our responsibilities. It really doesn't break your legs to stop for the stop sign/light.
To survive: be seen (lights & reflective clothing/bike, eye contact, bell) & see (mirror, no ipod). brakes (+ learn how to use the front brake) & helmet. Vicious circle, wish to turn positive: the more soft road users (pedestrians, cyclists, skaters,... - 'zachte weggebruiker' in Dutch), the more hard road users will pay attention to us and the more hard road users will be converted back to soft ones. My university town of Leuven is a great though not perfect example of respect towards soft road users. In Izumi, Japan, where I live now, children are obliged to go to the nearest school and it is forbidden to be dropped from a car by mom/dad. Elementary school students go by foot, in secondary school bicycle is allowed. The sight of students lining the road is truly endearing. My wife used to walk 5km to school, something you would only expect to happen in a developing country. Obesitas in Japan is low, discipline is high. Never heard of a soft road user murdering a hard one, vice versa all too often. Car traffic has caused the proliferation of kafka traffic law, ugly concrete jungle and traffic lights slowing down pedestrians and cyclists.
I commute by bike 7 miles one-way to work almost exclusively. No really close calls in 2 years, but I keep a close eye around me and on my mirror. I rode the Tour de Pierce this year, a 50 mile county-sponsored, casual bike ride. The second real climb was a winding narrow two-lane road, highly crowned and with a soft gravel shoulder. I was alone at that point, riders well ahead of and behind me. As I struggled up a tight right hand curve, I rode near the shoulder. I could hear a pickup approaching behind me. Too impatient to wait 30 yards until we cleared the corner, he passed me, his mirror forcing me so close to the shoulder that I veered into the gravel. I was fortunate to be able to unclip and dismount without falling or getting hurt. No time to catch the license plate before the truck disappeared around the curve. What amazed me was the last thing I saw of the pickup - bikes in the bed of the truck. It's a struggle to get people to understand the enormous responsibility that they undertake in getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. As far as respect for cyclists, there are still just enough careless cyclists our there to make it too easy for people to point at cyclists as the problem. But we must keep on with the struggle. In my commute in dense suburbia (just north of Tacoma, WA), it's most often the case that I see no other cyclists along my route. An yet many live no further from work or a bus terminal than do I. It's my hope that we can make cycling (and walking) safe, convenient and inviting enough that I'll see at least a dozen regular cyclists along my route on any given day. We'll only achieve that when we acknowledge that almost no vehicle crash is an accident. Most were rehearsed a hundred times or more before they actually occurred.
A great story-- well researched and one that poignantly brings to life the pain and heartbreak that affects the families of cyclists struck by negligent-- or worse-- motorists. The question remains for cyclists-- what can be done to make the roads safer and motorists more heedful of us? I'm not sure that even if drunk and careless drivers who hit and kill cyclists were successfully prosecuted, the roads would be any safer. There would still be plenty of jerks behind their wheels out there. Maybe placing signs on roads warning drivers to watch our for bicycles or reminding them that cyclists are entitled to use the roads would help. I have never seen a public awareness campaign about bicycles, which would also be a great idea. A few TV ads and posters on buses couldn't hurt. At the very least, police should stop harassing cyclists and focus on citing motorists who pass too close or drive aggressively, especially around cyclists. Maybe we need to educate the cops.