- Posted by Mikail Price
- On August 17, 2015
- Ride of Silence, Ride of Silence 2015, san francisco, SF
Written By Howard Williams of the MAC Team:
On Wednesday evening, May 20, about 70 bicyclists participated in the 3rd annual Ride of Silence, a bike ride that remembers cyclists who have been killed in traffic. The Ride of Silence is an international event held each May in over 300 cities across the nation as well as on every continent (even Antarctica). Cyclists follow traffic laws and ride slowly and quietly (although testimonials are made at stops along each route). This year’s San Francisco ride started a little after 7 PM from the Sports Basement on Bryant Street. An escort of San Francisco Police Department motorcycle officers accompanied us to ensure safety.
Our first stop was just a few blocks away at Bryant and Division where 78-year old Cheng Jin Lai was fatally struck on October 18, 2013 becoming the fourth and final cyclist killed in that year. From there we rode on Folsom to the corner of 6th Street where Amelie Le Moullac was killed on August 14, 2013. The initial police report absolved the motorist for her death. However, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition obtained a video of the incident showing that the driver was at fault. Although the District Attorney did not press charges, Ms. Le Moullac’s family sued the driver and his employer and won a significant judgement in a jury trial earlier this year. Amelie Le Moullac’s death and the subsequent activism and legal case brought needed emphasis to the dangers faced by cyclists in San Francisco, especially on South Of Market (SOMA) streets. Over the years, relations between the police and cyclists of San Francisco have been uneven but on this evening all agreed that the police escort was a beneficial presence.
But even a police escort can’t repair street surfaces. In a city notorious for torn up streets, SOMA’s one way racetracks are among San Francisco’s worst. Even with the police escort, we had to stay alert for potholes and other dicey conditions. A bad road surface was a factor at least one of the deaths of people we remembered. Getting hit while avoiding a deep crevice in the street or hitting a pothole and then losing control of the bike are common threats to San Francisco bicyclists. Like all cyclists, MAC riders must be aware of each street’s physical condition while paying close attention to traffic.
From 6th and Folsom, we ascended Rincon Hill to the corner of Bryant and Rincon Alley, between 1st and 2nd Streets. There beneath the western terminus of the Bay Bridge, we observed a moment of silence for a cyclist whose identity still remains unknown after his death in 2014. It would be an obvious exaggeration to say that urban cycling is war. Still, there are some similarities and just as the inscription at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier states that the entombed soldier is “known but to God,” so there is in San Francisco a fallen cyclist whose unidentified body remind us that urban cycling is so often deadly.
From Rincon Hill we descended to the Embarcadero and rode along Herb Caen Way, the promenade named after the late San Francisco news columnist who championed cycling and bike messengers. At the foot of Mission Street, we turned onto the City’s longest street and rode to the corner of Fremont Street where a moment of silence was observed for Nancy Ho, killed there in 2011 at the age of 25. Then we rode about a block and a half to 2nd and Market. Market Street between 1st and 2nd was probably the deadliest block for San Francisco cyclists in the last century. On September 27, 1994, bike messenger Thomas Meredith was fatally injured there when he was sandwiched between two buses. Less than three years later, on the last week of August 1997, Pauline Caluya and bike messenger Casey “Area Code” Moe were killed in separate incidents. Seven years later when Pauline’s boyfriend killed himself in his home, her photo was on his bed.
We then rode west on Market Street toward Civic Center where we stopped twice for two cyclists killed in that area. Then we proceeded to Franklin and Oak where two people had been killed at that intersection in separate incidents. We returned to Market Street and at Octavia where cars come off the freeway, we stopped to observe a moment of silence for Renata Gonzales who was struck there in 2008. The impact of the car broke 24 of her bones and immediately killed her dog Ari. Ms. Gonzales valiantly struggled to live for three more years before finally succumbing to her injuries in 2011.
The last three stops memorialized cyclists killed within three blocks of each other. Dylan Mitchell, 21, was killed in 2013 at 16th and South Van Ness and Harold Swaggard, 55, was killed in 2014 at Folsom and Erie. Our last stop was to remember the most recent loss for San Francisco cyclists; Charles Vinson, 66, was killed last March 3 at Folsom and 14th just a few yards from where Mr. Swaggard had been fatally hit less than 5 months earlier. When you see an all white bike parked on the street in San Francisco, it is there to commemorate a cyclist who was killed there. A white bike was parked where Mr. Vinson was killed.
Although all of the Ride took place in and near downtown, cyclists have been killed all over San Francisco. The short distances between the locations of these fatal incidents, the number of cyclists remembered along with the number of those who were killed in recent years all combine to illustrate the growing severity of the issue of traffic safety for cyclists and pedestrians in San Francisco.
As the Ride neared its finish, many of us felt emotionally drained yet the testimonials we heard often brought tears to the eyes of some riders. And by the end of the ride, as if to join us in our sorrows for these tragedies, even San Francisco’s drought hardened sky shed a much needed gentle rain on our City.
The reader may have noticed the absence of the word “accident.” Most of the motor vehicle drivers involved in these fatal incidents acted unintentionally. Nevertheless, the fact that at least 30,000 people are killed every year in US traffic incidents strongly suggests that our city’s and our nation’s unnecessarily dangerous traffic systems – what cyclists often call the Autocracy – are at fault for the deaths of these thousands of people.
Acknowledgements to Devon Warner and Anthony Ryan. Without their help, this article and the Ride of Silence itself would not have been possible. Patrick Traughber’s website (https://medium.com/improving-