Pedestrian Hit By Bicyclist Last Month on the Embarcadero Dies

Dionette Cherney. Photo: Caring Bridge

A 67-year-old Washington D.C. woman who was hit by a bicyclist on the Embarcadero at Mission Street last month has succumbed to her injuries. Dionette Cherney, a real estate expert who had been visiting San Francisco with her husband, was pronounced dead at 5:20 this morning, said SFPD Sgt. Mark Sullivan of the department’s hit-and-run detail.

Cherney had been a long-time volunteer for Score, a non-profit that counsels entrepreneurs and small businesses, said Arnie Westphal, a volunteer at the organization’s D.C. office.

“I really loved her,” he said. “We volunteered together for 10 years.”

Westphal said Cherney’s husband set up a page on Caring Bridge.org to keep her friends and colleagues updated on her condition. This morning, a woman named Melissa Cherney broke the news of her death online.

“We are so very sad to let you know that Didi passed away this morning,” she wrote, adding that family and close friends were by Cherney’s side at San Francisco General Hospital. “Your loving thoughts and prayers have helped so much over these terrible last four weeks. We still can’t believe that she is gone.”

Sgt. Sullivan told Streetsblog that the case is still being investigated and it will ultimately be up to the District Attorney’s office to decide what, if any, charges will be filed against the 25-year-old bicyclist who caused the July 15th collision.

Police said Cherney was walking in the crosswalk around 8:30 am that day when the bicyclist, identified only as a Bay Area man, ran a red light and struck her. He stayed at the scene and cooperated with investigators, according to reports.  Police have said that he could face the same charges that would be considered for a driver.

Pedestrian deaths caused by bicyclists are extremely rare. While drivers remain by far the greatest threat to pedestrians (811 people were injured by drivers last year, 18 people were injured by bicyclists, according to SFPD data), “the fact remains that a lot of seniors are scared by people on bikes. Ultimately, people on bikes should yield to people on foot,” said Elizabeth Stampe, the executive director of Walk San Francisco.

The mainstream media, however, usually jumps on these types of cases in an attempt to color bicyclists as rule-breaking scofflaws. The number of bicyclists in San Francisco has soared in recent years, and Market Street looks a little like Copenhagen or Amsterdam during commute hours. It’s exciting that so many people are riding bikes in the city, say advocates, but Cherney’s death is a reminder that we need more respect on the streets, especially as the numbers continue to grow.

“In some ways it’s really great that so many people out there are riding bikes and that people complain about them all the time and people perceive them as a big, powerful thing,” said Stampe. “I feel like we’re at a tipping point and that we have reached Critical Mass with bikes, and with power comes responsibility.”

Leah Shahum, the executive director at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said “this tragic incident is a stark reminder that everyone – whether you’re biking, driving, or walking — has an urgent responsibility to be safe and respectful on our shared streets. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition will continue to remind the growing number of people biking of their responsibilities and rights through our popular Bike Education classes, as well as working with the police to educate all road users.”

SFMTA Board Director Cheryl Brinkman, who rides a bike and is a longtime advocate, felt compelled to write Streetsblog this morning, after hearing yesterday that Cherney was near death.

Cyclists violating the pedestrian right of way is what I hear about most often in response to any discussion about adding cycling infrastructure. It is such a tough issue; are cyclists being held to a higher standard then car drivers, or is it the nature of the violations that catch people’s attention? It’s not hard for a cyclist to stop at a crosswalk, and cyclists should treat pedestrians the way they wish car drivers would treat them, but the answer is not to wish for fewer cyclists, or to deny bike improvements. I think the answer is to add more cyclists, particularly females in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.  The more women of a certain age we have out there the more we take the macho out of cycling.  We change it from the few and the brave, to an everyday mainstream activity.  As Gil Penalosa said, some of the men out there on bikes ride as if they have no family that loves them and no one that they love.

If you’ve ever been in a country with a recent surge in automobile ownership you see similar behavior.  The first drivers and owners tend to be men and they tend to drive like aggressive idiots.   We have created a culture of road warriors on bikes due to our lack of infrastructure and I think they only way to tame it is to add more bikes and more infrastructure.  That ill-behaved cyclist will not be able to violate the pedestrian right of way when he is stuck behind 20 or 30 other cyclists at the light.  And he will learn that he is part of the mainstream and there is nothing macho about riding a bike in this city. It is simply one more transportation choice, and it’s as safe as you choose to make it.

My heart goes out the family of the poor pedestrian, and I hope that we all learn from this to just slow down, to watch for the pedestrians who really are our most vulnerable road users, and to be aware that we cyclists should not be one more thing for peds to worry about.  We should be the calming influence, we should help tame speed and aggressive behavior by our very presence on the roads.