He doesn’t remember the exact street he was on when he flew into traffic. But Najari Smith does remember riding in a shared lane—a section of road without a bike lane—when a truck behind him honked incessantly, signaling frustration with Smith’s slower speed. Smith tried to speed up, but his chain slipped off the gears, causing the bike to abruptly stop, flinging Smith off the bike and into the road.
The truck slowed down for a few minutes, but sped off before Smith crawled out of the road to check for damage to his body. “The disregard of myself, that was enlightening, eye-opening,” he says. “I wouldn’t want that to happen to anybody.”
After that, Smith, who was already an avid cyclist, started retelling his story to other bikers. “It’s intense how many different stories you hear as you get more involved,” he says.
That was Smith’s impetus for helping organize the Ride of Silence, which honors cyclists who have been seriously hurt or injured by cars, and promotes safe traveling. The annual ride is a national event, and this year will be Richmond’s third time participating in it. This Wednesday, cyclists will ride in silence from Civic Center Plaza to the Point Richmond Farmer’s Market.
They will pass the location where Juan Godinez-Garcia was hit and killed by a motorist in April of last year. The motorist responsible for Godinez-Garcia’s death have been found and prosecuted, says Joey Schlemmer, the Richmond Police Department’s traffic sergeant, but remembering him will help highlight safety concerns for cyclists in Richmond. Last year in Richmond, Schlemmer says, there were 18 injuries caused by collisions between motorists and cyclists, resulting in three deaths. So far this year, there have been three reported collisions and no deaths in Richmond.
“The purpose of the Ride of Silence it to try to bring bicycle and safety awareness to the motoring public, but at the same time its also a reminder to the bicycling community that they need to follow the same laws as the vehicles on the road,” Sclemmer says. “That includes riding your bicycle on a sidewalk.”
The laws vary from city to city, but in Richmond, it is illegal to ride your bicycle on the sidewalk. A bicycle on the sidewalk presents a challenge to pedestrians who may not expect a quick-moving bicycle and to cars pulling in and out of driveways and parking lots. “There becomes a conflict between bicycles and pedestrians tried to utilize the same 4-feet-wide piece of real estate,” Schlemmer says.
It’s important for motorists to understand that they must legally share the lane with cyclists when there are no bike lanes, says Schlemmer. But bike lanes are preferable, Smith says, because they create a safe zone for cyclists to ride where cars can’t travel.
Richmond is planning to add bike lanes by slimming down four-lane roads to three lane roads, in order to slow traffic and increase the space for bikes.
“I am very excited that we have a Master Bike Plan that is being implemented in Richmond. Having designated bike paths throughout the city helps improve bike safety,” says Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who will participate in the Ride of Silence. “We of course also want every bicyclist to be aware of safety rules, and the motoring public to understand that cyclists have a legal right to share the road with motorists.”
Another dangerous obstacle for Richmond cyclists can be the condition of the roads. Debris and potholes can create hazardous situations says Adrienne Harris, a member of the organizing committee of the Ride of Silence and a long-time Richmond resident who has been riding bicycles for 53 years. “There is glass and debris that tends to blow to the side of the road where cyclists tend to ride on,” she says.
Riding while inebriated is also incredibly dangerous and illegal, even though it seems like a better idea than driving home from a bar drunk, says Robert Prinz, education coordinator for the East Bay Bike Coalition. “Riding while inebriated, while it’s still better than driving while drunk, it’s still not safe,” he says.
Schlemmer says he has no problem arresting cyclists who are riding while drunk, which carries a conviction at the very least of a fine for $250.
When there is a collision between a motorist and a cyclist, the most dangerous outcome is severe head trauma, said Schlemmer. Wearing a helmet is an easy step for cyclists to protect themselves and it is required for the Ride of Silence. “It’s a solemn ride, so we ride emphasis riding in silence,” Smith says. “Helmets are required.”
About 50 or 60 people participated in each of the last two Ride of Silence events in Richmond, and Smith expects the same turnout this year. Richmond police officers will escort the crowd. The mayor, Schlemmer and other local politicians and police officers will also join the event.
Showing visibility for cyclists is step towards greater safety for cyclists, said Harris, because motorists can’t forget about cyclists when they are in the roads, en masse—and she also hopes the ride will encourage more people to cycle. “When you see a gray-haired lady on the road, more grey-haired people think, ‘I can do that,’” she says.
The Ride of Silence will Wednesday, May 15. On June 1 from 10 am – 3 pm at Lincoln Elementary the EBBC will offer a children’s bicycle safety class and a family-oriented bicycle rodeo.