BicycleWire.com (Note: This website is no longer functional) * November 12, 2001

Dying for Love

By "The Scorcher"

"On November 17, 2000, our beloved son, brother and friend, Chris Robertson, was tragically killed in the city he loved, San Francisco. He was 30 years old. All of the quotes below were written by his friends and family who loved him as much as we did. Chris died doing what he loved—riding his bicycle. We can only hope that his death will save the lives of other bicyclists and pedestrians in our rushed society."
—from the website of Lauren Robertson

On October 31st, cycling campaigner Karl Briggs died in an accident with a lorry. Briggs, who had been cycling since the age of three, was 65 when he was killed. He was known around North Yorkshire, England, as "a keen campaigner on behalf of local rights of way for cyclists."

On October 23rd, Colorado bicycle shop owner Chris Etheridge was struck head-on by a car and killed. Etheridge, 31, "died doing what he loved—riding his bicycle."

Dying doing what you love isn't much consolation if you ask The Scorcher.

Both Etheridge and Briggs shared a passion for cycling. Both were experienced cyclists. Briggs was a cycling safety expert.

Apparently, not much has changed on the road in the year since Chris Robertson, a San Francisco cyclist, "died doing what he loved—riding his bicycle." He was 30 years old on November 17th, 2000, when he was hit and killed by an 18-wheel truck driven by Reuben Espinosa, who has a history of violent behavior and who admitted to "playing chicken" with the cyclists.

After much pressure from the San Francisco cycling community, Espinosa, who continued to drive a truck after the incident, was finally charged with manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon.

On November 8th, Espinosa was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon. But the weapon was not the 18-wheeler. Before running over Robertson, someone threw a wooden wheel block from the truck.

On November 9th, Espinosa was found not guilty of manslaughter, in part because of testimony that the truck's brake lights were on at one point during the incident.

As almost any cyclist will tell you, it's not unusual for an enraged driver to slam on the brakes and swerve over to deliver a few choice words before veering off again. And slowing down helps if you're trying to toss a wooden block from a moving vehicle at a moving vehicle.

Sentencing on the assault with a deadly weapon charge is tomorrow, Tuesday, November 12th.

Even if every driver were kind-hearted, respectful, and fully alert and capable at all times, cycling on roads with cars would still be an activity with some risk. We accept that. We also accept that at times, we are to blame, at least in part—though often on closer examination, a blanket "the cyclist swerved in front of me" gets many a negligent motorist off scott-free, without further investigation of their actions.

Interesting data about cycling accidents can be found at Ken Kifer's Bike Pages. The Scorcher agrees that the answer is not to create a fear of cycling, and that cyclists need to be careful and respect traffic laws. I've been on group rides where the unsafe riding habits have astounded me.

But anyone who spends any time bicycling on the road knows the deal: the attitude of way too many people in cars ranges from cavalier to peeved to negligent to malicious. The safety of the cyclist is way down the list, well after saving 3 to 5 seconds of the motorist's precious time. Heaven forbid they wait a moment or two until it's safe to pass. What the hell are we doing on the road anyway?!

We don't seem to be making a lot of headway.

There is only one answer, and that is political clout, and that means money—lots of money.  Money to get the money due to us, money to develop educational programs for drivers and for young cyclists. Money to lobby for increased penalties for poor or reckless driving. Money for better infrastructure and planning for bicycles. Money to promote cycling so that more motorists are also bicyclists.

The cash is there. But to paraphrase, it takes money to get money. There aren't many players in the bicycle industry with the kind of money it takes to get things done in the world today. That means we need to raise money and think creatively together.

Together means racers who log thousands of open-road training miles a year, everyday commuters, messengers who ply the streets for a living, and families who enjoy riding the bike path. It means bicycle manufacturers and retailers, and the bicycle press, such as it is. It means advocacy groups and local clubs and racing federations.

Bikes Belong is working to accomplish many of these goals at the industry level. (Next time you buy a bike or bike accessory, you might check to see which companies are paying dues.) Joining and supporting your local advocacy group is where the grass roots take hold.

It's been said before. It may sound idealistic, but fighting for safer roads must be done or we will continue to be consoled by the fact that our friends died doing what they loved.



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