Three years ago today, 21-year-old Dylan Mitchell was riding his bike east on 16th Street when a garbage truck traveling in the same direction turned on South Van Ness and collided with him. He died at the scene–a scene where flowers were left during Thursday night’s “Ride of Silence.”
Mitchell was one of almost fifty cyclists killed while riding the streets of San Francisco who were remembered that evening. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when one tries to sum up the pain caused by San Francisco’s deadly combination of unsafe streets and twisted priorities, where street parking is given weight over human life and limb.
Riders started to assemble in the Sports Basement on Bryant around 5:30 Thursday night. Despite the nature of the meeting, spirits were generally high. People were there to enjoy the company of other survivors, it seemed, as much as remember the dead. Devon Warner, the event organizer, stressed that everyone “gets used to close calls” riding a bike in San Francisco. Every rider knows it’s just a matter of luck who gets killed and who survives.
Perhaps nobody is more cognizant of that fact than Midori Egi, who was hit by a car last year at Post and Scott. “I was riding in the bike lane, the light was green, and a car coming from the opposite direction turned left into me.” Egi stressed that it shouldn’t matter, but she had a “bright light, a yellow jersey–I don’t know what else I can do to be visible!” She was badly injured and needed surgery. She can no longer run–she used to do half-marathons–and it took five months before she could ride a bike again. She’s convinced the driver was texting. “The cop just made a report–didn’t check her phone or what she was doing,” she said. “I want to know what happened.”
Certainly, enforcement would help, but getting smashed into by a left turner is exactly the kind of crash that could be minimized by phased signals and proper infrastructure, such as Dutch-style protected intersections. But only one exists in California.
There were some thirty riders who collected at the Sport Basement for the event and ride. Lauren Sailor and Warner, the event’s organizer, prepared bundles of flowers.
Warner placed them at the different locations during the ride, which took the group throughout the city. Sailor handed out leaflets to onlookers, some wondering what the event was about. SFPD motorcycle cops stopped traffic and worked hard making sure nobody on the ride itself became another victim. They zoomed loudly to each intersection, making sure cross traffic was stopped.
Of course, the streets of San Francisco are what they are. The group encountered bike lanes blocked by parked cars. At one point, a motorist on Octavia, apparently frustrated by the traffic jam caused by the ride, let loose some expletives out of his car window. Sailor rode over calmly and handed him a leaflet that explained what the ride was about. The man behind the wheel stopped shouting and seemed to get that wherever he was going, it wasn’t really so important.
The ride also lived up to its namesake. Barely a word was spoken.
Meanwhile, back in the lower floor of the Sports Basement, during the presentation that kicked off the ride, Warner expressed particular indignation at people who ask “were they wearing a helmet?” when a cyclist is killed; there was a cameraman from the local NBC affiliate shooting the event. “There is no helmet made [that could protect you] if you are run over by a bus,” she said. “I wish news organizations would stop reporting that.”
Paul and Julie Mitchell, Dylan Mitchell’s parents, were also there. “Being able to tell our story and talk about my son is actually very therapeutic to me, but also I want to help raise awareness so that my son’s death isn’t just another number, as we have been made to feel by the police and the city,” Julie Mitchell wrote in an email to Streetsblog.
Road violence is especially horrific when it strikes down the young. Adam Greenfield, a blogger who also attended the event, lost his girlfriend to a car-on-car crash. “I was 24, she was 22,” he said. “It just doesn’t fit. It destroys the future,” he said. Nicole Ferrara, executive director of Walk San Francisco, also attended, along with Janice Li, Advocacy Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
Near the end of the presentation, Warner invited people to come to the podium and share their thoughts. Adam Vanlandingham, a young friend of Mitchell’s, was one of the speakers. He spoke briefly, perhaps a bit tenuously, but one thing was clear for him, and for all the survivors. Even though Mitchell died three years ago, “Not a day goes by I don’t think of my friend,” he said.