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Must Dark Days Precede Bike Infrastructure Gains?
NYC bike box. Photo by Nate Baird.

NYC bike box. Photo by Nate Baird.

Following all the excitement of Walk 21,  where the advantages of walking and bicycling infrastructure frequently took center stage, it’s a bit sobering to take note of what happens in the absence of such facilities.  BikePortland.com linked yesterday to a somber piece by Bob Mionske of BicycleLaw.com.  Here’s what happened two years ago this past Sunday:

Tracey Sparling was an art student at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, in Portland, Oregon. She had transferred there after her freshman year at Syracuse University, because she was homesick. On October 11, a typical autumn day in Portland, Tracey was on her bike, riding back to school after taking her lunch break at home. As she approached the light at West Burnside and SW 14th, she slowed and came to a stop next to a cement truck. When the light turned green, the driver turned right, knocking Tracey to the ground, killing her within moments of the crash. She was 19 years old.  (Complete article here.)

Mionske goes on to detail a roller coaster of sobering events, including another right-hook fatality, maddening legal shortcomings, police bias, and a community moved to action.  The intersection at which Tracy died now features a prominent bike box, a piece of bicycling infrastructure that puts bicyclists in a better position to be seen by motorists. In the example above, from NYC, bicyclists are put ahead of motorists waiting to proceed straight or turn left from a one way street.  The box provides some insurance that bicyclists continuing through the intersection will be visible to turning motorists.

While the box is not a cure all, used in tandem and systematically with other kinds of bicycling infrastructure, it’s a tool that can help make cities much safer, and encouraging, for bicyclists.  See the latest study from John Pucher, Jennifer Dill, and Susan Handy for more on this (pdf link via Streetsblog and Copenhagenize).  In this light, we ought to continue to advocate for the measures that can prevent the kind of death suffered by Tracey.  For how long must bike infrastructure gains be preceded by tragedy?  Bob Mionske finishes his piece with this update:

Two years ago, a young cyclist died when she stopped where the city expected her to stop. Her death, and the crashes that followed, set in motion changes that have made the city safer for cyclists. And for two years, Tracey’s ghost bike has stood, memorializing her to all who pass. Now, feeling that the time is right, Tracey’s family plan to remove her ghost bike next weekend from the intersection where it has stood for two years.

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