by James A. Bacon
Authorities recorded 92 fatal bicycle accidents in Virginia between 2004 and 2011, but it wasn’t until Lanie Kruszewski died in a hit-and-run a week ago that bicyclists displayed what could be construed as a political consciousness. For the first time in my memory, large numbers of cyclists are getting assertive, insisting upon the right to ride safely on Virginia’s streets and roads.
Riding home from work around 10:30 p.m., the 24-year-old Kruszewski was struck near the Huguenot Bridge on River Road. She was wearing appropriate night-riding reflectors and lights at the time. Roughly 100 friends and cycling enthusiasts gathered last night to ride through the City of Richmond in her honor.
“Lanie was doing everything right,” Steve Carter-Lovejoy, who also commutes to and from work along River Road, told the Times-Dispatch. “When you’re doing it right, you should be able to expect that people see you and drive appropriately.”
The event in Kruszewski’s honor was not overtly political. But the banding together of cyclists to protest a needless fatality is essentially a political act. The number of cyclists in the region seems to be increasing exponentially. A decade ago, it was rare to see one on River Road, a narrow road with no shoulders that should be every cyclist’s worst nightmare. Today, you see one or more almost every day. Cyclists are a more common sight in the City of Richmond, where the streets are far safer.
Tom Bowden, chairman of Bike Virginia (and recently profiled on this blog) told the Times-Dispatch that he hopes the General Assembly will pass a law to require motorists at least three feet of clearance when passing cyclists. He plans to call it Lanie’s Law.
Virginians have lived so long in an auto-centric society, in which streets have been designed for the movement of automobiles, that it’s hard to imagine any other way of doing things. But there once was a time, in the 19th century, when bicycles and pedestrians predominated. The width of streets, the number and width of lanes, the presence of bike lanes, rights of way, crosswalks, the curvature of street corners, driving rules and regulations and dozens of other features embedded in zoning codes and state law reflect the victory of automobile drivers over cars, pedestrians and bicycles over the years.
But as cyclists grow in numbers, they are demanding more respect. They are developing a group consciousness. Mark my words, Kruszewski’s death marks a turning point in that endless tug of war between bikes and cars.