Tom Epstein: For the Safety of Cyclists

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The tragic death of a Bay Area cycling legend reminds fellow cyclist Tom Epstein that the mix of bikes and careless drivers is fraught with danger.

I was saddened by the news that 86-year-old Bay Area cycling icon Joe Shami died in a collision with an SUV in Lafayette last month. Shami had ridden to the top of Mt. Diablo 615 consecutive weeks, a phenomenal feat for a cyclist of any age.

A former marathon runner, Shami began serious biking in his 50s when his knees started hurting. For nearly 12 years, he rode 40 miles round-trip to the 3,800 foot summit of the Bay Area’s highest peak every week, regardless of heat, high winds, rain and even snow.

As a casual cyclist in my late 60s who reached the summit of Mt. Diablo just once, I was amazed to learn of his achievements. One of my regular routes takes me through the traffic circle where he died.  A fatal crash for such an accomplished rider was a potent reminder of the risk of cycling among cars and trucks without a metal shell and air bags to protect you.

I’ve had a few recent accidents, one from a large pothole and another when a careless cyclist cut me off. Fortunately, I survived without serious injury, but the fear of another fall has made me more cautious. In the past, I’d run some stop signs and speed downhill.  Not any more.

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Since I love cruising on two wheels through the scenic East Bay hills, I’m determined to keep riding despite the potential danger. That said, we can all do more to improve safety for motorized and human-powered vehicles.

According to Caltrans, more than 60% of fatal bike crashes were caused by distracted drivers hitting cyclists, even when riders used bike lanes and observed traffic laws. Earlier this month, I had the right-of-way in the circle where Shami died when a motorist sped up to the circle from a side road with a phone in his hand. I swerved to avoid him, but he stopped in time.

If you are driving as you listen to this, please consider the tragic loss of the remarkable Joe Shami, and resolve to keep an eye out for cyclists every moment you’re on the road.

With a Perspective, I’m Tom Epstein.

Tom Epstein is a writer and community volunteer who lives in the East Bay.