On December 1st, 24 year-old Chelsea Norman was riding her bike home from her shift at Whole Foods in Montrose – an area of Houston just west of Downtown. She lived only roughly two miles from work but in that short distance she was struck by a car from behind. The driver didn’t stop – just left Chelsea laying broken on the side of the road. Someone did find her shortly thereafter but the damage was done. Three days later she died in the hospital. Houston police still have no suspects.
Last night, the 11th, hundreds of cyclists showed up at that Whole Foods parking lot for a memorial ride for Chelsea. They rode down Waugh Drive, the street where Whole Foods is located. From 7:30-9pm cyclists rode in a loop up and down the length of Waugh drive in packs of about 30 riders to honor Chelsea and raise awareness of the indefensible cyclists all over the city.
In addition, attendees stood at intersections handing out fliers to passing motorists explaining the event, and hoping to find someone who has some information about the hit & run driver.
Houston is a particularly vehicle dense city, especially given how sprawling it is. But the safety issues are echoed throughout the country, and around the world. The US has incredibly poor cycling infrastructure. Mixed with apathetic and impatient drivers it creates an incredibly dangerous situation for cyclists.
In March, Houston passed a “Safe Passing” bill, making it the law for motorists to give at least three feet when passing a cyclist on the road (trucks six feet). Thus far there have been zero citations issued. Bike lanes in the Houston area are jokingly called so. In most areas the ‘bike lane’ is a small 2 1/2 foot wide shoulder on the main road. Aside from the fact cars are constantly driving in it, it is also plagued by immense potholes, all kinds of debris, drainage grates, and other dangerous obstacles. I believe city planners literally said “Sure we can make a bike lane – just paint a line near the curb a few feet wide and bingo! Bike lane!”
So, next time you see a cyclist on the road, slow down, and please give them as much room as possible when passing. Remember, bicycles are allowed on the road as legal vehicles in every state. Sharing the road is the law. Many times it is also more safe for a bike rider to “take the lane,” as it’s called, than to hug the shoulder because being out in the lane (which is legal) forces drivers to go completely around (usually). But staying off to the side encourages motorists to try to sneak by and end up getting to close, clipping the the rider or causing enough alarm to have them veer into a ditch or a curb or maybe even another parked car. Don’t ever try to squeeze by, please.
Try looking at it from a cyclists perspective:
Imagine yourself riding a bike on a fairly trafficked road. Now, think about what you are: incredibly vulnerable. Besides a helmet you have nothing protect your body or bike from an impact.
There are no airbags.
There are no seatbelts.
There are no crumple zones.
There are no five star crash test ratings.
You are out there. Naked and vulnerable.
Now imagine barreling up the road behind you at 45 mph is a medium sized sedan – let’s say a Honda Accord. The car itself is a behemoth of metal and speed weighing roughly 1-2 tons (for the math disinclined, that’s between 2000-4000 pounds). How much room is this giant pile of death metal supposed to give you? Three feet.
One. Single. Yard.
Go grab a yard stick (or a meter stick for our metric friends) and lay it on the ground perpendicular to your foot. This is exactly the minimum distance a car is supposed to pass you going at a high rate of speed. If you aren’t instantly terrified, then, well, you’re lying. Now while you’re standing there realizing that if you reach out your arm over the yard stick you can almost reach the end (so basically nearly touch the car that’s zooming past you), imagine that person driving the Honda is distracted for a split second by his cell phone or the radio and begins to drift a little in his lane…
Doesn’t exactly have much room to drift before you’re DEAD, does he?
Now what if it was a large SUV, or a pick-up truck? Or a Semi, or a dump truck. While larger vehicles are required to give you six feet you have to remember most drivers aren’t even aware the law exists. Others ignore it.
Don’t be impatient. Slowing down because you are behind a cyclists is easily fixed by getting into the other lane to pass when you can, or waiting for oncoming traffic to stop so you can safely go around. You will still arrive at your destination on time. You won’t notice the difference if you’re a few seconds later (yes that’s all it translates too).
Please remember cyclists are going someplace too. To work, to the store, to a friends, the bank, or just going home. Cyclists have families, too. It’s true. When you hit and kill one, why is it any less tragic than when a car accident occurs? Cyclists are dropping all over the country in exponentially increasing numbers.
Please, drivers, be careful.
Share the road.
Save a life.
Chelsea was only 24.