In the last few weeks, two cyclists were killed in bike communities that I really care about – Sebas Munoz in Quito, Ecuador and Elyse Stern in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Elyse was hit by a drunk driver, and Sebas was hit by a driver going over 100 mph in a 30 mph speed limit zone. Both drivers abandoned the scene.
Both of these sad deaths have gotten me to think a lot about those communities, bike safety, and what happens next. I am feeling far from both those communities, but especially far from Quito and wanting to be with friends there, because Sebas was a friend, and co-bike organizer.
Some people I’ve spoken to in Quito are struggling with mourning their friend’s untimely death, while simultaneously feeling inspired and motivated to organize around his death. Sebas was one of the organizers of the collective Andando en Bici Carajo (ABC), which has been the main group in Quito to install ghost bikes and organize rides to raise awareness around cyclist fatalities. But I don’t think ABC ever imagined that they would be doing these same events for one of their own.
Some people from Quito have asked me what other bike groups around the world do in reaction to cyclists killed on the road. In response to this question, I’ve been keeping track of what people in Quito and Minneapolis are doing to commemorate Sebas and Elyse. Similarly both communities are organizing rides, ghost bikes, and campaigns of public awareness.
I think these rides and ghost bikes are important, and help to constructively organize a community around a loss, but recently I’ve also become interested in the route of legal action (which is not normally my preferred form of action). After reading this article in Urban Velo about the logic of drivers blaming cyclists, I’ve been thinking about how to change the law to better protect cyclists and pedestrians.
For example, here in Germany whenever a person driving hits a cyclist the driver automatically receives at least 30% of the blame for the accident. Regardless of whether or not the cyclist was blatantly at fault, the driver will receive at least 30% of the blame, and in most cases, where the cyclist is not obviously at fault, the driver will receive 100% of the blame. Now that shows a societal commitment to cyclist safety.
I have never felt as safe riding a bike as I do riding in Berlin. Almost every street has separated bike lanes that have consistent bike traffic, and it is remarkable how cautious and aware drivers are of cyclists. I am normally nervous when I am going straight in a bike lane, and see a car about to turn right, but every time this has happened here, the driver has slowed down, looked up the bike lane to see who is there, and then reacted appropriately. Now I think there are many factors contributing to this, mainly the number of cyclists and their visibility, but I also think that a legal framework that protects cyclists encourages cautious driving.
In the case of Elyse, the police were able to find and arrest the driver, but last I heard the police in Quito have yet to find the person who killed Sebas. If these drivers are brought to court, what will happen? In the US and Ecuador the legal precedent is not encouraging. So as Minneapolis and Quito react to the deaths of fellow cyclists, I think it’d be good to use the momentum of community action to also pressure politicians to change laws to better protect cyclists. And yes, I realize I am saying that like it’s an easy task, which it’s not.
Here is a link to a video about Sebas. Quito lost one of their most quietly determined organizers, a talented artist, and a loyal friend.