Grief and a Fierce Call for Change

I am devastated to share that, since becoming Executive Director last month, four people biking have been struck and killed by drivers in the East Bay. In three of the locations where these collisions occurred, Bike East Bay had already been advocating for street improvements that may have prevented the crashes or decreased the severity of injuries.

 

And yet, our East Bay cities did not fix our streets soon enough or safe enough and people died.

 

The tragic deaths of John Wheeler, Christopher Bunag, Deontae Bush, and Martin Nelis in the past month are part of a larger, troubling trend. Increasing numbers of people across the Bay Area—and in particular, people walking and biking—are being severely injured or killed in traffic collisions. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Vital Signs report released in the December 2017 found that traffic fatalities have increased 45% between 2010 and 2016. The report pointed to a booming economy and increasing vehicle miles traveled—meaning people are driving more and for greater distances—as a possible cause.

 

As a bicycle advocate, I have to point out what is NOT happening. Our cities and counties in the East Bay have not stepped up to build safe streets for people walking and biking quickly enough. John Wheeler, Christopher Bunag, and Deontae Bush all died on streets where Bike East Bay has been pushing to slow cars to safe speeds and to build safer infrastructure with dedicated crosswalks and bike lanes.

 

In Concord, 60-year old John Wheeler was struck by a pickup truck on San Miguel Road just one mile south of Concord BART station, where Bike East Bay and Bike Concord have been working to add bike lanes and improve safety around the station. While the street has a bike lane on the northbound side, John was riding southbound, where the street has only a sharrow symbol instead of bike lanes.

 

In Crockett, 42-year old Christopher Bunag, a member of the Hercules Cycling Club, was killed in a hit-and-run while riding on busy San Pablo Ave near the entrance of the Carquinez Bridge. This location is a known gap in a regional bikeway and Bike East Bay has long urged Contra Costa County Public Works to build a protected bike lane to improve bike access to the bridge.

 

Three days after the collision in Crockett, 34-year old Deontae Bush was killed while bicycling on 35th Avenue across from Life Academy School in East Oakland. The driver reportedly ran a red light before colliding with Deontae. Yet, despite being a known high-injury corridor, the latest version of the Oakland bike plan lacks bike lanes or traffic calming measures for the street, which may have lessened the severity of injuries or prevented the collision.

 

And just last Thursday, 54-year old Martin Nelis, the public information officer for the City of Pleasant Hill was struck and killed by a big-rig truck, again in a hit-and-run, while bicycling on his lunch break. Nelis was riding on Reliez Valley Road, a popular recreational cycling route near Briones Regional Park.

 

Safe streets for biking and walking are possible. Bike East Bay calls on all East Bay cities to swiftly implement safety measures on all high injury corridors, which include 35th Ave in the East Oakland neighborhood where Deontae Bush tragically lost his life.

 

We ask our cities and decision-makers to close gaps in bike networks, including the bikeway gap leading to the Carquinez Bridge where Chris Bunag was killed.

 

We demand protected bike lanes, high visibility crosswalks, and quick-fix protective barriers on all streets near transit centers, including on San Miguel Road where John Wheeler was struck from behind just one mile from BART.

 

And we call for signage and traffic calming measures along popular cycling routes like the one where Martin Nelis lost his life while enjoying a lunchtime bike ride.

 

Bicycling is a fierce joy. You know, as I do, the feeling of freedom and lightness of traveling on our own power through the beautiful roads and fantastic communities of the East Bay. And we also carry such weight as part of a movement calling for safe streets and a more just and sustainable transportation system.

 

Together, we must channel our both grief and our joy to create systemic change. As a society, we can no longer tolerate streets that prioritize moving as many cars as fast as possible over the lives of people biking and walking.

 

I promise, in my role as Executive Director of Bike East Bay, to build a fierce movement for change. I ask for you to stand with me for safety and justice in our streets, and equitable transportation investments across the East Bay. In the coming months, Bike East Bay will be stretching our resources as we respond to these tragic collisions, even as we continue pushing systematically for safe and bike-friendly streets across the East Bay.

 

Your incredible support as members, volunteers, and fellow advocates will make this work possible. Bicycling is a fierce joy and I am proud to stand beside you as a ten-year member of Bike East Bay and a leader among many leaders in our movement.


Join the movement at BikeEastBay.org/Join or sign up to volunteer at an upcoming event.