Sunday, May 20, 2018

Ride Rode Ridden

Relatively flat and ridiculously puny Rhode Island may well be the nation’s epicenter of bicycling culture. In decent weather within a work shift you can ride a bike from Watch Hill to Woonsocket Hill, which represents state’s longest cross. Besides genesis of Labann’s Bike&Chain: The Ultimate Guide to Bicycling Culture, denizens of Providence’s art and music scene routinely haunt its West End by bike. League of American Bicyclists (originally Wheelmen) was founded in Newport, nowadays tourism central; some of The 400 began Good Road Movement to advocate road improvement, long before cars were common, and denied membership to non-whites. The City by the Sea was once a prefect venue for public bicycling on neatly paved streets before distracted gawkers in busses and cars invaded. It still hosts local shop and reliable purveyor Ten Speed Spokes should you opt to spin out to Brenton Point.

Population density increases death statistics. After monitoring carefully for over a decade, must caution that one bicyclist dies on average every 2 years among Rhode Island’s 5 counties, particularly within a new season and these 2 cities. Despite national trends, all but one were adults, not teens.

In September of 2007, 41 year old real estate developer Frank Cabral of Oakland Beach, while recreational cycling in the wide breakdown lane alongside US-1 in Charlestown, was struck dead instantly by a Mercedes SUV. Driver excused herself with sun in her eye after politely swerving onto road edge to answer a cell phone while continuing at speed. “Couldn’t be helped,” so no charges were filed. Since incident occurred in an obscure spot where few would notice, a ghost bike was deployed for a year in Frank’s hometown honor at Hoxie 4 Corners [shown], a persistent impediment to bicyclists defying Federal Code of Regulations, then displayed with reverence at Procycle 2009, a curated art show in which bicycling was depicted by 75 works in every medium, first of its kind in New England attended by thousands.

This senseless example of privileged contempt for mankind did inspire unprecedented legislation aimed at protecting vulnerable road users. Frank’s Law, largely unknown but named after Cabral, demands that motorists only pass bicyclists and pedestrians when they can maintain a distance of more than 3 feet, or pay a $75 fine. However, no arrests or tickets have been reported in the decade since bill was passed. Motorists rather pay insurance companies to assume liability for any fatality. Frank’s was the only demise to occur in Washington County, popular with cyclists given reduced traffic count, served by NBX and Stedman’s shops.

Rhode Island's unenforceable Hand's Free Cell Phone Provision takes effect next month. Hard to stay safe bicycling or walking while motorists, bored by driving, can't resist talking, texting, and worse behaviors when they're supposed to be obeying laws to continue slinging around tons of legal steel. By taking a license motorists agree to put other road users above own convenience. Drivers are obliged to let pass, stop for, and watch out for bicyclists and pedestrians, not pass them unless they can do so without coming within a meter, a yardstick. Self driving vehicles represent a worrisome development; in March of 2018 a prototype Uber taxi killed a Tempe bicyclist after failing to recognize her as a human.

In January of 2008, 21 year old Amanda Lynn Benge lost her promising vivacity near the Providence Art Club on Thomas Street between Benefit and North Main. A winter ride down a steep hill could explain it, but cause was never disclosed. Imagine she was a college hill student, but whoever knows didn’t have anything to say on incident’s 10th anniversary. People rather forget and seldom discuss such tragedies. Makes it hard for public to celebrate vibrant lives of victims slain, mostly commemorated by local Dash and Legend shops, Providence Bicycle, and RI Bicycling Coalition.

In May of 2009, 66 year old Victor Rodrigues Porter of Providence’s West End was found near intersection of Cranston Street and Niantic Avenue by police, who heard his anguished cries after being struck by a hit-and-run driver. He did not survive his injuries. This cold case crime, within blocks of Cranston Police HQ and Washington Secondary Bike Path, remains under investigation, though will probably stay so forever. Nearby Olneyville’s Red Shed educates youngsters to bike safe, repair own, and steer clear of mortal despair.

Nevertheless, in November of 2010, 13 year old North Smithfield Middle School student Scott Wright, while in crosswalk at the intersection of RI-5 and RI-102, was mowed down by a minivan. Those who commented in driver’s defense speciously say damage to side of her vehicle and lack of police arrest prove she was blameless. Might made her right. Only juvenile to join Providence County’s list of sacrificed cyclists in this century, Wright must’ve been wrong. With a sigh, Blackstone and Circuit bike shops serve cities north of Providence.

With no reports in Bristol, state’s smallest county, focus shifts to Aquidneck Island. In March of 2012, 42 year old submariner systems engineer Michael Strickland went down on Purgatory Road near Tuckerman, in Middletown. He planned to return home to Perth, Australia, after completing his defense industry contract. Details again were sketchy: assumption of bicyclist’s error, blinded by setting sun, and so on, stupid excuses heard all too often.

Later, in October, 64 year old retired naval officer then capitol city dentist Elliot Kaminitz was struck on Memorial Drive near Old Beach Road in Newport. He’ll be missed by his bereaved family and entire community in which he was very active. Family established a ghost bike as a further memorial, which still can be seen; most don’t survive long. Residents typically resent such reminders to be kind and share public thoroughfares responsibly.

Update: Somehow overlooked sad story of able seaman, Middletown grandfather, and Naval electronic technician Art Weekley, who died of injuries sustained after colliding with a deer charging across Ocean Drive near Goose Neck Cove at 7:15 AM on June 9th, 2014. Art had been an avid cyclist since 1990. A ghost bike has been installed in his honor and for service to his country. Figures that Newport would account for more than its share, with distracted tourists, heavy traffic, and narrow streets.

Kent Country account for last two. In July of 2015, political aide to both governor and senator Chafee, 64 year old Charles Hawkins of North Providence, was vetoed down on Bald Hill Road (RI-2) just North of College Street by a 4 decade old Datsun. Ironically, avid cyclist Hawkins advised on energy and transportation approaches, which probably included peddling pedaling. “Charlie was unique and special," Lincoln Chafee emailed to NBC 10 News. Reports suggest he was returning from beach in late afternoon, walking his bike in gore area to cross 4 lanes of incessant high speed traffic, wanting to reach bike path just blocks away in direction he was headed. Have personally witnessed pedestrians and wheelchair users struggling without crosswalks and sent letters in protest to state officials prior to accident. Who’s really to blame?

In June of 2017, 36 year old Christopher Ziobrowski of Chepacet, while attempting to switch lanes, collided with a white Nissan SUV at Coventry’s 2400 Block of Nooseneck Hill Road (RI-3), then succumbed to injuries days later. Can’t find much more to relay about this eager light snuffed out way too soon.

All appear to have been wearing helmets; so much for protection they allegedly afford. Feel-good laws that both affected folks and law enforcers forget negligibly increase safety. The fastest way would be if more drivers licenses were denied, revoked or suspended, and traffic laws were enforced, which even police admit aren't 90% of the time. Had officials heeded activists and reacted accordingly, would some of these deaths have been avoided? Actually, eight bicyclist fatalities in 2 decades represents relatively few versus hundreds of motorists who die every year on Rhode Island roads. Bordering Massachusetts, denigrated for its dangerous drivers, buried thirty-three bicyclists since 2015.

Fear and inconvenience are why so few adults ride bikes. There's far more to fear from motoring, unsafe in countless ways and horribly inconvenient. You must annually work on average 4.5 months to clear $9,000 needed to drive. You're rewarded by abusive traffic, big deficits, crumbling bridges, no parking, poor health, and stress. Motor collisions are the nation’s 3rd leading cause of death, more than gun violence and infectious diseases combined. Nationwide, NHTSA notes as many motoring fatalities (~40,000) each year as bicycling has seen in total since The Civil War when first bicycles appeared.

As America’s smallest state, why isn’t RI leading in road design? Why are we only 29th in bike friendliness? Why steal shoulders for cramped lanes that cause more accidents? Why install controls that don’t work for cyclists? Highways and railroads cut off routes and don’t post signs to guide cyclists around, although they’re supposed to. Bad intersections, bridge bans, and brutal traffic create detours and intimidate riders. RI's cyclonet has been an unsafe afterthought since automotive expansion during 1970's. Motorists wouldn't stand for this. Bicyclists shouldn’t either!

Your sense of safety will never compel official decisions; distance, hazards, hills and ice persist for which cyclists must prepare. Nonprofits will capitalize on your feeling exposed to criminal behaviors and crushing vehicles. Yet you’ll always be safer cycling than driving.

When states make it difficult or impossible to bike or walk, they illegally restrict those who’d choose to. State Chapter 31-19 grants bicyclists access to all bridges and roads, and, where impractical, mandates parallel accommodations. Illegally, 25% of RI’s roadnet is either bike unfriendly or clearly dangerous. Every road 24’ or wider must either facilitate cycling or factor in a nearby bikeway or bikeable road. They can’t just construct bridges and highways restricted only to motoring. This also implies zoning codes that deny malls and stores permission to locate on busy roads if they neglect bike access from adjacent neighborhoods. Planners need to reconsider; complete compliance involves less than 5% of roadnet and usually only after repaving segments and repainting stripes, which must be done anyway. Costs little, yet cures many problems.

USDOT spends $250,000 on automotive transportation for every $1 on bikes. RIDOT diverts dollars so visitors can zoom though state at the expense of resident safety. State is suffering a billion dollar deficit with unsustainable road construction a main drain. Better bike infrastructure would address this waste. Bikeways return their investment 20:1. Separate street lanes make a statement: Bicycles belong. Make it safer, as FHWA demands, and more might bike than drive, since an average trip either way is only 3.5 miles, <30 minutes for even the slowest cyclist.

Once the worst place to ride a bike in a hundred mile radius, Providence has made numerous updates over the last decade. Public embarrassment and relentless advocacy played a part, plus electing a mayor who rides. Striped lanes were added during each road redevelopment. But they don’t make up for bikenet losses in Newport and Warwick. New $100 million Apponaug Circulator exemplifies federal code neglect by further limiting both bicycle and pedestrian access.

Traffic code is for regulating deadly momentum of cars, not bikes, originated specifically to protect those on bike and foot. Driving is a privilege to be earned and kept. A license obligates driver to obey laws and share roads. Impatience is the main reason air conditioned, comfortably seated motorists can’t wait and deprive others. Under numerous restrictions, motorists sought road dominance. In 1920 they coined fake term jaywalking to counter real complaints of joyriding. The following year Providence Boy Scouts, deluded by automotive lobbies, summoned jaywalkers to a school for careless pedestrians for reeducation. Be angry with traffic planners for negligence, not cyclists, other motorists, and pedestrians, who consequently happen to be in your way.

Bicycling or walking is an inalienable right, one of basic mobility. You’re entitled to: Go outside, improve health, reduce carbon footprint, ride anywhere public roads go, and skip motoring altogether. Bicyclists are not obliged to stay in gutters or on sidewalks, may legally assume lane and cross anywhere, and supposed to ride in travel lanes. Shoulders are what allow them to ease over and let cars pass. Despite slower pace, they do not have to give up lane, rather proceed unimpeded.

But freedoms aren’t free. You have to act responsibly and fight to keep them. Open your eyes! Don't be marginalized! Speak up; otherwise, officials sworn to serve you have no idea things stink. A Statewide Bicycling System will only happen if you demand it. Attend Transportation Advisory Committee and town meetings. Tell them, "Adapt roadsides, build bikeways, paint bike lanes... NOW." With cost of driving higher than minimum wages can afford, why have politicians forsaken the poor? Next election, vote velorution! Until then, bike and be seen.

Update: Ethan Simpson, 21 years old, was mowed down by an SUV at Arrowhead and Willet Avenues in East Providence in August, 2017. Mary Wilk, 22 years old, died after overtaken on Rt. 1 near Jerry Brown Farm Road in South Kingstown in July, 2016. Assailants were both women. No charges were filed.


  1. Six year old kindergarten graduate Mason Sterne will never enter 1st grade at Chace Street School in Somerset, Massachusetts after being mowed down by a Canton, Connecticut motorist while crossing Poppasquash Road on the East Bay Bicycle Path in Bristol during a family outing. Mason was the third child killed in the same location, according to a retired Bristol Police captain, after 4 years of complaints about near misses and overgrown bushes there. State and town officials pledged to investigate all crossings for similar safety issues, and since trimmed branches and foliage at this spot. The purpose of having a bike path was to minimize chances of such bike-driver collisions along East Bay and provide a safe venue for family recreation, which thousands enjoy daily with few other incidents for its 30 years of use.

  2. For some time there has been a red bike at the corner of Cumberland Hill Road and Hamlet Avenue in Woonsocket. Usually ghost bike memorials are entirely white, not red. Does anyone know the purpose of it?

  3. Brown Graduate Student Jeffrey Schlyer crashed in badly cordoned construction at Massasoit Avenue, East Providence on January 11th, 2023

    Twenty year old Francisco Sosa was t-boned by a dump truck on Webster Avenue at Plainfield Street, Providence, on July 17th, 2021.

  4. A segment of bike path in Colt State Park is named as a memorial to Charlie Hawkins.