Seattle Cyclists Hold Memorial Ride for the Fallen

by on September 25, 2011

(Photo: Jonathan Dean)

Special to The SunBreak by Jonathan Dean, who has been biking around Seattle for ten years now. Four years after getting rid of his car, he had saved up enough money to buy a house. With a view of the Mountain and the Sound, as he will be sure to tell you.

Following Saturday’s “Moving Planet Seattle” rally, a group of nearly a hundred cyclists rode through South Lake Union and up to the University District, past the memorials commemorating the recent deaths of three Seattle-area cyclists.

You were supposed to show up at the Moving Planet Seattle rally in some colorful form of non-automotive transportation. Bicycles were the most popular choice: Several hundred bikes were in Lake Union Park when I arrived.

Bicycle safety has become a matter of life and death in Seattle, something that concerns anyone who takes to the streets, on a bicycle or car. Kudos to Tom Fucoloro of Seattle Bike Blog, who organized this afternoon’s “Safe Streets Social” ride, honoring those who lost their lives in the three recent fatal Seattle bike accidents.

When we passed the corner of Dexter and Thomas, where Mike Wang was killed on July 29 by a hit-and-run driver of an SUV, our long line of cyclists—80 to 100 of us, I’d estimate—cried out “Wang! Wang! Wang!” to a group of well-dressed people who, it seemed, were his widow, children, and elderly father.

The sight of the father’s prolonged, deeply respectful bow was one of the saddest and most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. [Tweet from @VeloBusDriver: "Haunting image of the day: Mike Wang's widow crying by his ghost bike as we rode by. Can't get her face out of my head."]

Next, we biked to the memorial for Brian Fairbrother, who crashed on August 30 and passed away nine days later. All three of these memorials have ghost bikes now, non-functioning bicycles at the site of the accidents, painted white, where people can leave flowers and memories. At Brian’s, I heard the following conversation on the bike-with-child’s-tandem-trailer next to me:

Father: This memorial marks the spot where a cyclist died not long ago.
4-or 5-year old daughter: Why did he die?
Father: He didn’t see that the sidewalk suddenly went down a staircase. He had an accident.
Daughter: Is that his bike, up in that tree? How did the bike get in the tree?
Father: No, that isn’t the real bike…that’s a memorial, a statue of a bike, so we can remember this man.
Daughter: (pauses, thinks) What was his name?
Father: Brian.

A #70 bus wants to pass our long line of bikes heading north on Eastlake. You drivers—before getting impatient with us because we’re getting in your way, try to understand this situation from a cyclist’s point of view: a) there’s no bike lane on this street, b) there’s a really steep hill, and c) there’s no other road through this neighborhood. (Photo: Jonathan Dean)

All of us slowly biked up Eastlake and across the University Bridge to the intersection of the Ave with Campus Parkway, where Robert Townsend was killed on September 10 by a car turning left. A truck with a Jimmy John’s logo passed by as we gathered near Robert’s ghost bike, a fitting memento for Robert—known as the fastest sandwich delivery cyclist at Jimmy John’s on the Ave.

Although it may sound like a grim afternoon, it was in fact a pleasant, social ride on a nice—maybe a wee bit muggy—day. The participants were a diverse group: Some were white-collar bike commuters; others work closer to the gears and grease. Almost everyone had a story of the bike accident that nearly killed them. Everyone was deeply moved by the three ghost-bikes.

Tom Fucoloro of Seattle Bike Blog closed the event on a positive note, pointing out that according to the most recent census, the growth of Seattle’s bike community has been astronomical. We’re now second only to Portland when it comes to great cities for cycling. This is wonderful. But no one needs to die for people to get where they’re going.

I’d like to offer two bits of unsolicited advice. CYCLISTS: Always imagine you’re invisible—they can’t see you. Never assume they know you’re there. If you get in their way, you’re the one who’s going to be hurt. DRIVERS: Be careful when you’re turning left—that’s how these two guys got killed. And please lock your emotions in the trunk when you’re driving a car. Your impatience, road rage, and sense of outrage and violation—“What are these bikers doing in my lane?”—are no more necessary to functional transportation than anyone’s death.

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