If you’re a bike rider, be it mountain, road, commuter or occasional, you know the joys of speeding down a hill, or pedaling hard to make it up that hill, or even pulling on your raingear before biking home through the monsoons.
You also know the terror of nearly being hit by an oblivious driver, or the fear that you’re often invisible to vehicles with four or more wheels.
As news flew through town about the six bicyclists who were hit by a tow truck late last month, we all cringed. And when we heard that 29-year-old Joanna Wheaton was killed, most of us shed tears for the young activist known as Jo. Meanwhile, four other riders were injured and are still in the hospital at the time I’m writing. In a tragic irony, the group -- reportedly about 70 riders -- was taking part in a bicycle safety event hosted by the FLG Bike Party, a local bicycle group whose mission is to promote bicycle advocacy and safety, community engagement, as well as fun.
The accident occurred on the Friday evening of Memorial Day Weekend, when the truck driver ran a red light and plowed through the riders. This holiday weekend represents the beginning of summer, a time of lovely transitions and happy dreams. And particularly this year, after nearly 15 months of pandemic shutdowns, we all crave lightness and good news.
And while darkness found us again, the efforts to support these riders is inspiring. Individuals and businesses are coming through for them. GoFundMe efforts are underway, and businesses donated some of their profits to the riders’ recovery during the holiday weekend, and perhaps beyond.
Whether you ride a classic Klein, a refurbished Schwinn, or a funky folding bike, it’s time to come together and support these riders and their families. And it’s also time to push for rider safety. The corner of Butler Avenue and Beaver Street where the accident occurred is notorious – as are so many Flagstaff intersections – for blind spots and vehicles trying to beat the lights before they turn to red. Many communities paint their bike lanes bright green, be that throughout the city, or at dangerous, confusing intersections. Others have wide bike lanes with substantial dividers between bikes and vehicles.
Since I moved to Flagstaff 35 years ago, the biking scene has changed. We now have more bikers, some on speedy electric bikes -- not to mention skateboarders and scooters whizzing along, all which change the mix of what’s on our narrow streets.
When I’m out on two wheels, I feel a mixture of emotions -- glee that I’m getting another ride in, and hypervigilance due to my own vulnerability. We on bikes are tiny and fragile compared to cars and trucks. Over the years I’ve ridden my bike on many days to teach at NAU. Milton Road is a nightmare, and crossing the train tracks on Beaver Street is nerve-wracking. I’m always aware of the dangers lurking. Many times I’ve ridden through the intersection where this accident took place.
Years ago, as I was biking on Lake Mary Road early one morning, a van coming from the other direction crossed the lane line, nearly plowing into me and my fellow rider. We hopped our bikes over the metal railing at the edge of the road, and the vehicle swerved back. The driver stopped to check on us. It was a newspaper delivery person, who admitted to dozing at the wheel due to normal wee-hour risings. I haven’t ridden on that road since.
For the riders of the May 28 accident and their families, Flagstaff is here for you -- from our best wishes and prayers, to warm food, to cash. We’re thinking of you, fondly. Now let’s get the City of Flagstaff to take action for you, for all of us.
To donate to one of the GoFundMe accounts, go to: https://www.gofundme.com/f/flg-bike-party-emergency-fund/donate or https://www.gofundme.com/f/accident-relief-fundraiser-for-flg-bike-party/donate