When a cyclist is killed at an intersection in Portland, Ore., fellow bikers memorialize her life by painting the bike white. The bicycle, like its fallen owner, can go no further. Often, the bike is mangled, broken or in pieces. The vehicle is then chained to the closest lightpost to remind all who pass that someone died at the intersection — aptly named a “ghost bike.”
I didn’t know David Sherman, the cyclist who was killed on his bike by a hit-and-run driver last month. Sherman was an avid cyclist riding on North Church Street late in the afternoon when his life was cut short. Sherman was active in the Greensboro cycling community. And brought out almost 600 to a memorial ride a week ago Sunday. The News & Record has done a good job covering the accident and all of its developments.
The case highlights a growing list of people injured and killed while cycling. This growing number of has become more known to me these past two years. One of my best friends was hit by a wayward car door on Elm Street and was subsequently sued; another was unconscious for almost two days, having to endure months of pain and rehabilitation.
Both of these friends were hit by cars, and both were being safe — using the appropriate lights, helmets and cautionary standards for most of us whenever we get on a bike.
I am a fair-weather cyclist. My red Cannondale is limited to weekly exercise and weekend jaunts downtown. Nothing major, but I take safety seriously even on my short rides. Initially I wanted to write about the importance of bike safety. How helmets, lights, awareness and following the rules are essential. But as I read more about Sherman’s case — it being a hit-and-run, the seeming lack of concern even after the accident — and the more I thought about my own friends, I realized all of these cyclists were being safe.
What I am left with is the illusion of safety when you get on a bike. A good friend reminded me that you must ride defensively, but that ultimately on a bike “you are invisible.” You have to ride as if cars do not see you at all — a chilling prospect as I get on my bike, even during daylight hours.
What I am left with is the reality of lack of understanding of cycling. This entitlement is complex, but can be traced to culture clash, lack of attention and the specifically American feeling of cars owning the road. This anger is expressed by cursing at having to pass a cyclist, jeers to “get a car” or just downright ignoring that another vehicle is on the road. For most of us, this is a minor annoyance and aggravation. Some, like Sherman, pay the most serious price for this continued antagonism.
I’m not sure what to do with the swirling emotionssurrounding David Sherman’s death. I feel such anger at such callousnegligence and sick bravado for leaving a man to die on the side of theroad. I cannot imagine what his friends and family are grappling with.Even his daughter, Beth Sherman, wrote that regardless of how the legalcase resolves, “None of us are ever going to be satisfied with theoutcome.” Even if the woman charged is found guilty and serves jailtime, the loss of a life so carelessly and violently taken can nevercompletely be understood or resolved.
Perhapswe can make a ghost bike for every cyclist killed in the Triad fromthis day forward, so that their lives will not be forgotten, to showthe most tragic and severe consequences of ignoring the other vehiclesand, more importantly, people, on the road. Like wooden crosses on theside of interstates noting the victims of car accidents, they could bememorials to lives lost, reminders of our responsibility when we getbehind the wheel. And, maybe, hopefully often, drivers stop at thatintersection and takes their driving a bit more seriously. I know thatnext time I pass a cyclist while driving, I will construct a ghost bikefor David Sherman in my mind.
David Sherman’s case will be heard Wednesday, Dec. 2 at the Greensboro Courthouse.