Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 1st, 2006 at 11:08 am
On Monday afternoon, while at the Coast enjoying some time away, I received a voicemail from Anita at KATU TV. She said two cyclists had been hit out on Highway 47 and she wondered if I could post details about the crash in hopes of finding out their identity.
They’ve since been identified as Darrel and Sheryl McDaniel. They were both killed in the crash when Patricia Suhrbier let her Saab veer into the shoulder, striking them from behind.
Good coverage can be found on the BTA Blog, in the Portland Bike Forums, and in this solid bit of reporting (click the video link) from Brian Barker at KATU. Barker (check out his blog) is a cyclist himself who has actually ridden that same stretch of highway many times.
According to the Sheriff’s department, Suhrbrier hasn’t been charged with anything yet, even though she veered into the shoulder at 50-60mph and killed two innocent people.
I’m sure she had no criminal intention and that she simply made a horrible mistake that she will regret the rest of her life. So should we have any pity for Suhrbrier? Or, should we condemn her for this negligence and demand that she be punished as harshly as possible?
Where exactly does an innocent mistake end and criminal negligence begin?
Some people in the bike community feel that once you get behind the wheel of car, you give up all claims to innocence.
I can remember many years ago – after a long day as a construction crew laborer – I was driving on a rural highway out to a mountain bike ride and was very sleepy behind the wheel. I’ll never forget the moment I veered into the bike lane for a brief second. I could have killed someone myself.
I wonder if it’s just impossible to think we can share these types of roads. Perhaps it’s time to look at roadway design and reconsider what we define as an acceptable bikeway?
A strip of paint and a few feet of shoulder directly alongside fast-moving highway traffic is not my idea of an acceptable bikeway.
Should we demand more bike-specific safety infrastructure on rural roads and highways?
In this case, the Forest Grove Chamber of Commerce website has this section Highway 47 listed as part of a recommended bicycle tour.
I have posted about this in the past and I think we’ll continue to have more tragedy on rural roads and highways in the future if nothing changes.
On most rural roads there’s plenty of shoulder room to create a safer bikeway. That might mean a much wider shoulder or added safety features like big reflector bumps (like the ones that separate MAX tracks), more rumble strips, or even completely separated paths whenever possible.
Perhaps lawyer Ray Thomas’ new watchdog group can find the money for these things in the Bicycle Bill which is supposed to give 1% of highway projects to bike infrastructure (how much did that strip of paint cost?).
In the end, ultimate responsibility falls onto the person behind the wheel (or the handlebars). The solution to safer roadways lies within each of us and can’t be solved with signs and speed bumps. However, changing behavior and turning the tide against our car-centric, speed-loving society are monumental tasks.
In the meantime we need to send a clear message to motorists that a little mistake can have tragic consequences and encourage elected officials and transportation planners to do more to ensure the safety, convenience and comfort of all road users.