No reason for cyclists to die on city streets

No reason for cyclists to die on city streets
	By L.A. Chung, Mercury News Staff Columnist
San Jose Mercury News | Thursday, 30-Nov-2000

If there is any comfort that Lauren Robertson can take, it might
be that her big brother Chris died doing what he loved,
surrounded by friends.

But I doubt she feels much comfort at all.  Not for the world
would anyone want her brother to go that way, that night, that
occasion.  It was too senseless.  Too unnecessary.

He was, after all, only 30.  And he still had scripts he wanted
to write.

Chris Robertson died after being run over by a big rig Nov. 17
on Fourth Street, not far from the new ballpark and the Caltrain
station.  He was part of a large group of cyclists traveling in
a bunch in the roadway as they returned from a funeral.  Early
on, published reports speculated it was a case of road rage.
Cyclists physically restrained the driver of the truck from
leaving the scene.

Chris Robertson's considerable circle of friends -- bike
messengers, recreational cyclists, bicycle commuters, customers
of Rainbow Grocery where he worked -- have been trying to make
sure that his death is not chalked up as just another
unfortunate ``accident'' in the war between cars and anything
smaller and slower -- like bikers and pedestrians.

In this city, tensions between bicyclists and drivers in a hurry
have been ever-present since the Critical Mass bicycle movement
began taking up city streets a day each month during rush hour.
Plenty of tempers flare when masses of cars are blocked at 5
p.m. on Market Street, but this particular ride was no muscle
flex of pedal power, no act of protest.  It was a funeral
procession of cyclists at night, in a lightly traveled part of
town that is an in-between land between Potrero Hill and the
bustling part of the South of Market district.

The police report remains, strangely, lost in the system, but
the sketchy police version is that Reuben Espinoza, the driver
of tractor-trailer, apparently became annoyed that the
procession of some 40 cyclists had ``taken the lane,'' as it's
called in public safety parlance, and threw a block of wood at
them.  Words were exchanged.  And in the end, Chris Robertson
had been run over.

``How stupid can you be to put your 150-pound body in front of a
tractor-trailer?'' Lauren Robertson asked, the day after she and
her parents had returned to New Orleans from her brother's
funeral in San Francisco.

She is sure that the answer is that he wasn't, and he didn't.

``We will never, ever know that driver's intent.  But I know
Chris was a very safe bicyclist, and he wasn't stupid.''

This column isn't about intent right now.  That's up to the
district attorney's office and the police to determine, now that
they're acting with some alacrity.

It's about stopping this madness.

District Attorney Terence Hallinan has a chance to step up and
be a leader.  He can do his job with the investigation, and he
can do what DA Paula Kamena did in Marin after two cyclists were
killed by cars last year:  start a bike-car safety task force
with law enforcement and cyclists and endorse its educational

Kamena's been meeting with the group once a month since last
winter.  And you can see the difference.

Marin's Share the Road campaign began last June and has turned
into a full-blown campaign in its six short months.  All the
major police departments, the California Highway Patrol, the
Marin County Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's
office support the campaign.  Signs saying ``Share the Road,''
indicating a bicycle and a car, have gone up in 23 locations in
the county.

``When you're out there bicycling on the road every day, there's
a general mood out there,'' said Debbie Hubsmith, executive
director of the Marin Bicycle Coalition.  ``In general, people
have been more respectful.''

And what's that?  Drivers need to understand -- really
understand -- that bicyclers are legally on our streets whether
it's convenient for cars or not.  (Please see page 48 of this
year's California Driver Handbook; it's the same laws for bikes
and cars, and they've been on the books all these years.)  And
cyclists need to assert their rights in a fashion that's not

The bottom line is that I've never known the car driver to come
out dead in a car-vs.-bike collision.

We could be talking about this anywhere you find bikes and
cars on the same roadway -- Santa Cruz, Fremont, Palo Alto,
Berkeley -- but this happens to be San Francisco, thank God.

Because it's an activist community.  And that's what you need
right now.

Enforcing safety rules

Hubsmith said the Marin County bicycle coalition had been
working on a Share the Road effort, but it only took off because
Malcolm Foster, a friend of Cecy Krone, one of the dead
cyclists, turned it into a real campaign with bumper stickers,
water bottles, and road signs under an ``adopt-a-sign'' program.

The Marin program hinges on courtesy, cooperation and safety.
But it also contains some teeth:  enforcement.

`Accidents' are avoidable

``One of the most important aspects of the `Share the Road'
Program,' '' Hubsmith wrote in a letter faxed to Hallinan on
Wednesday requesting a full investigation and prosecution in
Chris Robertson's case, ``is the knowledge that law enforcement
agencies in Marin will uphold bicyclists' and pedestrians'
rights to our public roadways and they will prosecute when
drivers are negligent or intentionally harass bicyclists and

Lauren Robertson just wants to see appropriate charges brought
against the driver who ran over her brother.  It won't change
the fact that her brother is gone, but it may help change the
tone in this city that these ``accidents'' are unavoidable and

``Nothing that happens to this man is going to bring him back,''
she said.  ``But my brother isn't the first and he won't be the
last killed in this manner.''

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