Last month Pittsburgh lost another urban cyclist to a hit-and-run on Penn Avenue. According to news accounts, James Price was an inspirational figure. The 46-year-old had taken to bicycling in an effort to fight back against diabetes, and it seems that he was winning. He lost over 100 pounds in two years, and had begun encouraging his family to follow his lead. He was improving his mind, as well, so he rode early in the morning in order to make time to attend classes.
According to his relatives, James wore a helmet and used lights and reflectors. Unfortunately we all know that ordinary safety precautions become insignificant when a reckless driver enters the equation. And according to witnesses, the white car heading inbound just after 5 am was traveling at about 60 mph—about twice the posted speed limit.
I visited the roadside memorial shortly after the accident, just a few blocks from the house on Penn that I used to live in. It didn’t take long to remember why I avoided riding on that stretch of road. Although it’s lined on both sides with residences, it’s also a four lane speedway where cars jockey for position between stoplights. As I stood there reading the notes written to James Price, I couldn’t shake the notion that he might still be alive had he simply chosen another route.
A few days later I learned that another cyclist, Anthony Green, had been hit just a stone’s throw away from where James Price was killed. This time the driver didn’t leave the scene, but reports say that she did not have a valid driver’s license. And although Green soon died of his injuries, as of now nobody has been brought up on charges.
As if to prove the point that motorists are wreaking havoc on Penn Avenue, two days later a Pittsburgh police officer was struck on the same stretch of road while patrolling on his motorcycle. He had been specifically assigned to enforce bicycle safety.
By this point in time, every major news entity was reporting on bicycle safety, and some published op-ed pieces that weren’t exactly well received by the cycling community. Worse still was the response by many members of the non-cycling community, whose comments seemed to portray the bike community as a legion of disrespectful, self-important road hogs with no regard for traffic laws or their own safety.
Meanwhile the local advocacy organization stepped up and demanded that the city do more to protect cyclists. In response, the mayor asked Pittsburgh cyclists to avoid Penn Avenue and ride on one of the parallel streets with significantly less traffic and much more room for bikes and cars to coexist. And the district’s city councilman echoed the mayor’s suggestion, and added that while Penn Avenue is not a highway, it is part of State Route 8, a major thoroughfare.
I don’t believe either politician meant to imply that cyclists don’t belong on Penn Avenue, they’re just trying to offer a common sense solution to a public safety concern. But the fact remains that cyclists have a right to ride on Penn Avenue—it’s the fastest and most direct route to downtown—and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a law that requires drivers to pass cyclists at a four-foot minimum. Lest we forget that there are speed limits and mandatory license, registration and insurance laws, as well. These laws weren’t set in place just to inconvenience motorists, they need to be enforced in order to ensure the safety of all road users. That means cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike.