May 20, 2009

Ride of Silence

Tonight it was time for a somber event, the annual Ride of Silence. Around the globe, at 7:00 P.M. local time, riders set out to remember cyclists who have been killed or injured by motorists; our group included 24 people. In our thoughts were six who lost their lives in the past year, including a sixth grader who was run down on the last day of school in San Jose (Breanna Slaughter-Eck), a bicycle messenger in San Francisco (Kirk Janes), and two cyclists who were victims of drivers who hit them and drove away. Laura Casey was left lying in a Richmond street, crying out for help until her life was taken by a second driver who also fled.

Closer to home, a hit-and-run driver seriously injured Ashleigh Jackson in Saratoga just a few weeks ago. What goes through the minds of these drivers? It is beyond my comprehension. Those with such callous disregard for human life, I would lock away forever. But it is not up to me, and sadly they are not always caught.

Ghost bike along Stevens Canyon Road, Cupertino, California
We remembered Michelle Mazzei, killed in 2005 by a distracted driver in Woodside, and John Peckham, killed in 2006 by a driver who was recklessly impaired in Palo Alto. Our route led to the site of a memorial for three cyclists killed on Stevens Canyon Road: Jeff Steinwedel, by the careless driver of a gravel truck in 1996, and Kristy Gough and Matt Peterson, killed by a sheriff's deputy who apparently fell asleep at the wheel on a sunny Sunday morning last year.

I will never forget these cyclists I never knew, who lost their lives on the same roads that I ride. Twenty-four hours before the deputy smashed into Kristy, Matt, and a third cyclist (who was severely injured), I had rounded that same bend in the road. Now, whenever I approach that curve, I tense up for the familiar shiver that will run down my spine. I will never forget how heartbroken I felt, after riding with hundreds of other cyclists in the memorial for John Peckham, as I sat with my lunch in a park filled with joyful children. For taking John's life, so full of promise, there is no adequate penalty.

Every time you get behind the wheel, you are responsible for the lives of people all around you - sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. Be alert. Be patient. Be responsible. Focus on driving your vehicle. Don't yak on your cell phone. Don't drive when you're impaired. Don't drive when you're sleepy. How hard can it be?

There is so little I can do, but I can hope that when we ride in silence next year, there will be no new names on our list of remembrance. And I can never forget the people we have lost.


  1. Not to disparage this blog post, but many cyclists need to do more to be visible, too. We live up in the Skyline, near Portola State Park, on a very steep, curvy road that is popular with cyclists...who often do things like ride in dense fog with no lights of any sort. On a road where visibility is an issue on a sunny day. We live up here & know to be careful & have still had a few near-misses. Much of the weekend traffic up here, motorized or not, do NOT live here & do NOT know the roads. It's not a very safe road without cyclists, and, when you come around a blind curve to suddenly have 2 cyclists riding abreast (or other such unsafe practice) directly in front of you...well, drivers up here are very careful, or there would be a LOT of accidents.
    Please, if you cycle up in the Santa Cruz Mts., be very careful, & come prepared for the fact that weather conditions (especially fog!) up here may be very different than down on the valley floor!
    I am familiar with a couple of roads mentioned in this blog post, and, with at least one of them, road conditions are such that an accident could easily occur even if the driver was taking proper care. If you are going to cycle in places where visibility is bad (very steep, very curvy, foggy, etc.), you really do need to make sure to be very visible. Spending $6 on an LCD headlight & similar for the back of your bike could easily save your life!

  2. I certainly agree that cyclists should abide by the rules of the road, and being as visible as possible can't hurt. Sadly, there is no defense against a driver who is impaired, falling asleep at the wheel, or distracted. The cyclists were not at fault.

    I was nearly run down a few months ago by a driver who swerved into the bike lane on a straight road, without signaling, to pass a left-turning car. Within two blocks, she pulled into a parking lot and I took the opportunity to chat with her. Despite having passed me before cutting me off, she had never seen me. At the time, I was commuting to work in broad daylight, wearing a neon-yellow jacket with blinking red lights mounted on my helmet and rear rack.

    There is no defense against a driver who is impaired, falling asleep at the wheel, or distracted.