Growing danger keeps bicyclist off Bay Area roads By L.A. Chung, Mercury News Staff Columnist San Jose Mercury News | Monday, 30-Apr-2001 At one time, bicycle riding in the Bay Area was a joy. I've been on busy roads all over -- along Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road from Cupertino to Los Gatos, on Portola Avenue between Capitola and UC-Santa Cruz, along Page Mill Road en route to Stanford, all along Grizzly Peak Road in Berkeley. And on The Embarcadero in San Francisco. Before helmets and road rage and the abandonment of driver education in the public schools in California, one could reasonably expect drivers to know the rules of the road. And one could reasonably expect to be safe riding a bike on the road. All that went out the window. Long before the death of 24-year-old Michelle Lynn O'Connor on Franklin and Oak streets in San Francisco Friday, before the death of 53-year-old Trudy Heskett in Fremont ... even long before a judge threw out felony charges against the trucker accused of killing Chris Robertson last November, I stopped riding my bike most places. I'm a motorist. Not because I'm lazy. But because I'm afraid. I'm fortunate enough to make enough money to have choices in how I get to work and how I enjoy my spare time. And I choose not to ride. Is it any wonder that people correctly predicted the Critical Mass on Friday night would carry more edge, more bottled-up frustration than in previous years? Is it any wonder -- with another death Friday on the streets of San Francisco -- that police braced for a raucous ride? The last-Friday-of-the-month ritual ride at rush hour has taken on more significance because people feel unsafe, at risk and frustrated. We're all targets on the road. It's not because motorists are evil. But the need for education is obvious. ``We would have been happy if it had gone to trial,'' said Jean Davis, a friend of Robertson's who worked hard on getting felony manslaughter charges pressed, only to see a judge reduce them to misdemeanor assault charges that could still result in trial but are more likely to simply be plea bargained. ``The defense said it was politically motivated. But what else are we supposed to do? Someone dear to us has been killed.'' Look, let's be honest. Do we really care about Chris Robertson? Or Cecy Krone in Marin? Probably not. Most of us don't know either of them. But all of us care about our friends, our parents, our siblings, our colleagues ... our children. So we should care about the Chris Robertson. As an idea. As a brother, son, friend, colleague, our own selves who could be at risk someday. Sometimes it's the biker's fault. Sometimes it's the motorist's fault. Sometimes, it's no one's fault. But anyone who has been on city streets and Bay Area highways knows that there's no patience out there. Everyone is in a hurry, everyone thinks he or she has the right of way. And everyone seems to shave the margin of error down to nil. ``It was an accident,'' is really more like, ``It was a crash waiting to happen.'' Behavior on the roads, whether there are bicyclists on them or not, has gotten to the point where cutting people off, speeding and making dangerous lane changes are the norm. Robertson's friend, Eric Murphy, wonders whether rowdy Critical Mass events, like the massive action three years ago that created a huge traffic mess for motorists, help or hurt the effort to get respect for the bicyclists. ``But what do you do?'' he asked with despair. ``You try to use the court system; you can't get police to enforce rights of bicyclists. What's left to do except some sort of agitation?'' Sometimes, I think the answer is so simple it's breath-taking. ``The prescription is basic courtesy and respect,'' said San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno, addressing the protesters at City Hall on Friday. Sometimes, I think it wouldn't be such a bad thing if gas prices went sky high. The roads might be a little less congested, people might recalibrate their expectations and we might appreciate the privilege of driving a little bit more. ________________________________________________________________ Contact L.A. Chung at email@example.com or 415/394-6881.
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