One Year Later, Remembering Tess Rothstein

Friends and safety advocates gather to mourn a cyclist killed on Howard one year ago

Tess Rothstein's ghost bike at Howard and 6th. Her friend Norna Ross is seen kneeling. Photo: Stephen Braitsch
Tess Rothstein's ghost bike at Howard and 6th. Her friend Norna Ross is seen kneeling. Photo: Stephen Braitsch

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One year ago, Tess Rothstein was cycling to work on Howard Street, riding in a conventional striped bike lane alongside a row of parked cars. Just before the intersection with 6th, a parked motorist threw open her door without looking, forcing Rothstein into traffic and under the wheels of a passing truck.

The death of another young cyclist sparked outrage and grief among her friends, family, and the thousands of people who share the risk of her fate every time they get on a bike.

Norna Ross, a friend of Rothstein's and one of the organizers of the ride, at Embarcadero Plaza. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Norna Ross, a friend of Rothstein’s and one of the organizers of the ride, at Embarcadero Plaza

A mix of some 40 friends of Rothstein joined safety advocates at a memorial ride on Sunday to remember her and that horrible day, as well as note some of the progress made in making streets safer. Norna Ross, an organizer of the event, was one of the first to show up at Embarcadero Plaza where the ride began. She recalled the last time she had dinner with Rothstein. “You always figure there will be a next time. And then she’s lost in the blink of an eye,” she told Streetsblog. “If only we’d hung out a little bit more.”

Eva Orbuch, center, helped organize the ride and led the memorial ceremony. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Eva Orbuch, center, also helped organize the ride and led the memorial ceremony

The mourners stood in a circle around an incense pot and flowers. Eva Orbuch, who also helped organize the memorial, said they had gathered for friends to remember Rothstein and for people to think about the “lack of regard for the lives of bikers.” She turned to the many advocates who had joined the group, including Claire Amable of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and said she was “deeply grateful to the people who work every day on safety. We want to honor their work.” Orbuch gave all the mourners a chance to speak and reflect.

A incense pot and flowers served as a focus point and shrine for the mourners. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The simple shrine that served as a focal point for the mourners

Amable said that what happened to Rothstein was the predictable result of unsafe infrastructure. “It was not a freak ‘accident.'” Anthony Ryan recalled his own crash in Ingleside and the injuries he suffered, noting that the roulette spin of traffic violence gave him a second chance. “I was hit. I lived.” Others talked about the comity they feel with other cyclists and advocates. “I’m always grateful for a chance to be with this community,” said Adam Long, another of the participants and long-time advocates.

Mourners and advocates came to remember Tess Rothstein. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Mourners and advocates came together to remember Tess Rothstein

Orbuch added that she valued the ritual of coming together, especially in a time of fear of the COVID-19 epidemic. “The world wants us to stay in our homes and be isolated,” she said, adding that riding a bike is also a source of fear. “I don’t feel safe.”

But even those unaccustomed to biking in San Francisco felt significantly safer riding as a group, they said. The group headed off together, briefly riding down a newly ‘car-free’ and calmer Market Street, and then turning left and heading to Howard for the ride to the site of Rothstein’s ghost bike. Along the way, they navigated down Howard towards 3rd Street on a section that, a year after Rothstein’s death, still lacks a protected bike lane.

HowardBetween2ndand3rd
Howard Street, between 2nd and 3rd, still without a protected bike lane

The group then continued west past 3rd, where a three-block section of protected bike lane was added last year in reaction to Rothstein’s death.

IMG_20200308_152423
The group of advocate/mourners between 5th and 6th, on their way to the location of Rothstein’s ghost bike

The group arrived a few minutes later at the intersection of 6th and Howard and stopped at Rothstein’s ghost bike. They parked their bikes and stood in silence, jotting down thoughts and feelings in chalk on the sidewalk around the spot, and leaving flowers.

Mourners wrote in chalk and left flowers. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Mourners wrote in chalk and left flowers

It’s important to reiterate that Rothstein died within sight of a protected bike lane, a street configuration that makes the kind of crash that took her life impossible, just on the other side of 6th Street.

Rothstein died in sight of this protected bike lane on the other side of 6th
Rothstein died in sight of this protected bike lane on the other side of 6th

A protected bike lane to the west of 6th was installed in 2018, after the death of Kate Slattery, another young cyclist, at Howard and 7th. At the time, advocates were frustrated and concerned that the city’s reactionary response of building a small segment of protected bike lane, instead of continuing all the way to the Embarcadero, would lead to another serious or fatal crash.

Map and timeline chart from SFMTA
Map and timeline chart from SFMTA

Sadly, that’s what happened. And the city quickly added another block of protected bike lane after Rothstein’s death. But as of today, the stretch from 3rd to the Embarcadero is still without protection, although that should, finally, be remedied this spring. Folsom, along with many other streets in SoMa, is also not protected along its entire length.

Advocates and friends stopped at 6th and Howard Sunday afternoon to remember Tess Rothstein
Advocates and friends stopped at 6th and Howard Sunday afternoon to remember Tess Rothstein

Ross said she is frustrated that the city is unable to move quickly enough to bring down traffic fatalities, as evidenced by the spate of recent pedestrian deaths in the Tenderloin and elsewhere. She’s upset that little to nothing tends to happen unless advocates demand it.

“Within the week that she died, the city stepped up,” said Ross. “I’m happy things are better now, but there are still so many key spots that are not protected.”

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