The day before the annual Ride of Silence on Wednesday (May 21), Lorenz Worden was loading bikes onto a car-top bike rack. But these bikes were not for riding; they were “ghost bikes,” bikes painted white to mark the site of a bicyclist fatality. The car-ported ghost bikes accompanied the bicyclers as they silently pedaled from one memorial site to the next, from downtown Albany to Guilderland. “We want to memorialize these people who were killed on the road, and in so doing, to bring comfort to their families and friends,” said Worden, who retrieved the bikes from OGS (the ghost bikes had been removed from their sites as part of a citywide initiative to reduce memorials).
Worden is the spokesperson for the Albany Bicycle Coalition, which has been part of the national Ride of Silence since it began about a decade ago. “We got involved because we have access to a wide range of bicyclists in the area, people of all different bicycling abilities and interests,” he said. “It’s important to remind bicyclists, pedestrians, and operators of motor vehicles that we all need to be careful and considerate of each other on the road.”
The mission of the national Ride of Silence is “to have motorists realize their legal obligation to share the road in mutual harmony with cyclists’ legal right to use the road,” and to remind cyclists of their “obligation to use the roads responsibly” and obey all traffic regulations, as well as to memorialize those who have been killed while riding.
Fatalities involving bicycle and motor vehicle collisions in New York state average about 57 cyclists a year, mostly in urban areas. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 726 pedalcyclist (all nonmotorized cycles including tricycles) deaths nationally in 2012, a 6-percent increase from the year before. However, this number is appreciably lower than a decade ago, and probably reflects the higher number of bicyclists now using roadways.
“Awareness is more important than ever, not just because there are more people on the road, but because there are more people on the road who are not experienced bicyclists,” said Worden, who added that just being able to ride a bike is very different from being able to ride a bike in traffic.
“There is much more to it,” he explained. “Knowing the rules of the road, how to be assertive in traffic, knowing when to take the lane, where to position yourself in the lane, these are things that are becoming increasingly more important as there are more bicycles on the road. And people in cars, and pedestrians, will have to be aware that there are more bicyclists. For a lot of drivers, it’s a new experience to see five or six bicyclists going to work or wherever.”
But even experience is no guarantee of safety, and Worden mentions David Ryan, an exceptionally experienced cyclist who was a member of the Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club. In 2004, Ryan was hit and killed by a speeding teenage driver. At least four of the other nine cyclists honored in this year’s ride were killed by drunk drivers.
Worden’s top safety tip for defensive cycling is to “Always obey the rules of the road,” along with one he borrowed from motorcycle riders: “Always assume you are invisible to other drivers.”
And as public health officials point out, bicyclist fatalities are minuscule compared to the number of deaths from inactivity-related heart disease.
The New York Bicycle Coalition is co-sponsoring Traffic Skills 101 sessions for new bicyclists and parents of child bicyclists tomorrow (Friday, May 23) and Saturday (May 24) in Albany, and on June 4, 11, and 18 in Schenectady. For information, visit www.nybc.net.