Tag Archives: bicycle

What You Need to Know about Life, Death, and the Stories We Tell

Ghost bike placed in memory of South Christian High School teacher Rod VanDyke.
Photo: Karen Dunnam. This is a ghost bike, placed in memory of Rod VanDyke. Do note that this is only near the site of the accident – there was no sidewalk where he was hit.
Rod VanDyke was killed doing what he had done many times before: biking in to school for a day of teaching. In spite of Mr. VanDyke having lights on his bike and being in a highly-visible position on the road, the driver of a car coming up behind claims not to have seen him and hit him from behind at speed. What caught my eye, and made my heart sink, was discovering that the man who had been killed was part of my broader community, a colleague of my once-roommate’s husband. The headline read, “Police: Teacher killed in crash had lights on bicycle, was wearing dark clothing.”

Any child of God deserves to have his life treated with dignity, to have the story of his life – and of his death – told with integrity. But this doesn’t always happen. It’s time for us to have a conversation – about life, about death, and about the stories we hear and tell.

Telling a story well can be uncomfortable. So can hearing a story well. Rather than receiving the story as it’s told, we may need to look a little more deeply into our own souls and re-examine what are sometimes ill-considered knee-jerk reactions. This is all the more essential when the “characters” in our stories are flesh and bone.

An excerpt from the story mentioned in the headline above:

A South Christian High School teacher who died after he was hit by a car as he rode his bicycle early Tuesday morning was wearing dark-colored clothing but had lights on his bike, Ottawa County sheriff’s officials said.

Rod VanDyke, a math teacher and girls varsity golf coach, was riding southbound on 36th Avenue near Jasper Drive in Georgetown Township when he was struck from behind by a 1999 Acura also traveling south. The crash occurred shortly before 6 a.m. Oct. 7.

Sgt. Steve Austin said investigation showed VanDyke was riding in the road, more than 8 feet from the edge. He was wearing black and gray clothing, and his bicycle had lights on the front and rear. Deputies found an MP3 player and headphones near him at the crash scene, Austin said. He was wearing a helmet.

***

Last year, a similar tragedy happened when a teacher on his way to Hamilton High School was killed in a collision with a a semi outside the Tulip City Truck stop. His name was Josh Hoppe.

The crash was described this way:

Hoppe was driving about 6:20 a.m. south on M-40, south of the I-196 interchange, when police say a truck pulled out into his path from Tulip City Truck stop.

He died at the scene after his 2009 Ford Fusion hit the trailer, near the cab of the truck driven by 54-year-old David St John of Wellston.

As the community grieved over Joshua Hoppe’s death, the public conversation was quickly filled with anger and determination. People called MDOT, filled City Council meetings, demanded traffic studies, reminded the powers-that-be that others had died here, too.

The community honored his life and demanded an accounting for his blood. What they didn’t do was question his decisions or character.

Incidentally, the community’s efforts were successful. MDOT is planning to make safety improvements to the road in 2016.

***

In researching this story, I read over a hundred media reports of car crashes involving bikes and pedestrians. I was encouraged by how many of them were neutral, including only the clear facts of what had happened.

But many were not. Too many followed a predictable script, script that reinforces our desire to believe our world is fair and orderly, and that tragedies like this are either inevitable or crushingly just. But this script quietly argues for a status quo that sees valued members of our communities and families unnecessarily killed every day – and then blames them for dying.

We don’t need to accept a script that far too often condemns the dead. On the contrary, this is a script that needs to be rewritten, and we have a right to insist that it is.

This is the first in a series on the stories we tell about the people who use our common roads in ways that our culture considers unconventional. Next time, we’ll look at how to identify the specific scripts we hear so we’re better able to push back against them when appropriate.

Announcing… BIKES IN HOLLAND!!!

It give me great pleasure to announce this year’s spring event:

BIHposter - draft 2

I could hardly be more excited.

This spring, Professor Lee Hardy of Calvin College (my alma mater) will take us on a fascinating ride through the streets of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, two of the world’s leading cities for bicycling.

Professor Hardy
Professor Hardy

Professor Hardy’s inspiring multimedia presentation demonstrates how these cities make way for people on bikes and help them get around in a way that’s fun, easy, and affordable – for everyone!

After he answers your questions, we’ll turn our attention to our own community here in Holland, Michigan. Elisa Hoekwater, author of the greater Holland region’s new non-motorized plan, will offer a brief update on where things stand around here. Your input is welcome!

Delicious cookies and coffee from Simpatico Coffee will be available for you to enjoy.

The event will be held in Fourteenth Street Christian Reformed Church’s brand-spanking-new fellowship room. It’s cozy in the best kind of way, and you’re going to love it.

Join us on Saturday, May 10 at 7:00 p.m. to celebrate Bikes in Holland!

Tickets are $10 and are available online now!

Few things are ever accomplished by one person working alone.

I need YOUR help! Here’s what you can do:

  • E-mail a friend today. Take just a second right now to copy this link – http://wp.me/p2MikN-BQ – and send it to a friend. It will bring them to this page, so they can read about this great event for themselves.
  • Join the Event Team. There’s still plenty to do, from publicity to event set-up to considering ways to help these ideas gain traction in our community.
  • Put us in contact with potential sponsors. I would still like to have a few more sponsors to help underwrite this event. Our primary sponsorship levels range from $50 to $250, and we also have a low-cost ticket sponsorship option.
  • And of course, buy your own tickets right away! Here’s the link again:
  • Contact me at tulip.lane@outlook.com with any questions or for more information. This is going to be so much fun – I hope to see you there!

    Mistakes You Can’t Take Back

    There’s a parenting group that I’m part of on Facebook, a group of exceptionally thoughtful women and men who discuss everything from (not) sleeping through the night to endless potty training to what risks we let our kids take. It’s a good place.

    This morning I was part of a discussion on what sort of risks we allow our kids to take, and I just loved what one of the parents said: we draw the line at mistakes you can’t take back (thank you for that verbiage, Janet). Falling out of a tree, okay. Falling off a swing, okay. Running in front of a car, not okay. Our actions have consequences regardless of our intent, and sometimes consequences are grossly out of whack with what we intend. This is one of the things we have to teach our kids.

    This qualifies as Not Okay by any imaginable definition.
    This qualifies as Not Okay by any imaginable definition.

    Sometimes it’s one of the things we have to teach ourselves, as well.

    In our country, we’re setting ourselves up for failure by creating spaces for mistakes we can’t take back.

    An article on Bicycling magazine’s website has gone gangbusters since it was published on Tuesday, and it takes a really interesting tack in discussing this. (You can find it here.)

    In this country, “I didn’t see the cyclist” is the negligent driver’s universal get-out-of-jail free card…When the driver says, “I didn’t see the cyclist,” that’s usually enough for everybody to call it a “tragic accident”—and we don’t want to hold people accountable for accidents, do we?…

    You want to know what’s really tragic? We allow this to happen. We make excuses, and offer up empty condolences, and don’t hold negligent drivers accountable, all because we’re afraid that we, too, might be held accountable for not paying attention. For not watching where we are going. For fiddling with the stereo, or shaving, or texting, or just daydreaming while driving, and not seeing what we should have seen, had we only been paying attention.

    This resonated deeply with me. As I go from car, to bike, to car, I find myself so frustrated with the careless driver rolling through the intersection… only to find myself forgetting to double-check a sidewalk before I turn. It really could happen to any of us, and the fact that I am not exempt from that is deeply sobering.

    In the crash I witnessed this spring where the police officer pulled out in front of a woman in a minivan, the woman in the minivan was ultimately considered at fault. The crash occurred on a high-speed STROAD with multiple lanes. Visibility was poor, and – by design – cars were traveling too quickly to have time for an adequate response. Both of them were set up for failure, and the result was a mistake that neither can take back.

    So what do we do?

    I love it when a solution to a problem already exists.

    [I]n the Netherlands accident investigations are required for every bicycle fatality…The intersection where [a child] was killed was closed by accident investigators, who painstakingly recreated the crash, as reported in the Boston Globe:

    Along with clipboards and cameras and measuring tape, they brought with them an 18-wheeler and a child-sized bicycle. Over and over, they maneuvered the two around the corner, recreating the all-too-common “right hook” accident in slow motion, each time adjusting the truck’s mirrors or the angle at which it struck the bike.

    …The Dutch response to the fatality didn’t end there. Remember that painstaking accident reconstruction? The intersection where young Hananja Konijn had been killed was redesigned within a month of his death. A mirror was installed beneath the traffic light to help drivers see approaching cyclists. A bike box was also installed, so that cyclists would be able to cross the intersection before a driver could right-hook them. And the bike lane was doubled in width by removing an automobile lane, and painted bright red.

    How many people have been killed in the last two years on US-31 and Chicago Drive*? How many children have been hit near schools that we’ve never heard about because they didn’t result in death? How many of those deaths and collisions could have been prevented if we took a Dutch approach?

    I think that perhaps we need to begin to care in a new way when these things happen. It’s clearly just not enough to care in the sense of feeling sad when we hear about yet another person killed on our streets, or even care in the sense of saying a prayer for the family or bringing over a casserole if we know them personally. (I’m not saying that we should stop doing those good things, of course.) But what if, the next time we heard about a person who has been killed, we go to our next city council or township board meeting and request an investigation? What if we called our legislators and asked them to sponsor legislation that would do exactly this?

    What if we stopped viewing all these egregious tragedies as unavoidable side effects of the modern world, when they’re not?

    The law holds us liable to see emergency vehicles who are running their lights and sirens because it’s not okay not to see them. One of our responsibilities, as drivers, is to SEE. Legislators have decided that it’s not okay for us to not see emergency vehicles, so we’re charged with the responsibility of seeing them. We could, pretty easily, extend this precedent to cover vulnerable road users (that would typically be people walking and biking and wheelchairing) as well.

    That would be something that I would like to see.

    *I should note that Chicago Drive has seen some recent safety improvements that reduce conflicts between people using the sidewalk and left-turning vehicles. This is AWESOME.

    Walkabout Weekend in Grand Rapids

    A weekend away from the kids, in the city where I used to live?

    Swanky.
    Swanky.

    Yes, please.

    We committed to parking the car for the weekend and getting around like city folk.

    Well, hellooo, camera!
    Dear Grand Rapids: I love you. Also, you need more road diets. That’s a whole lotta asphalt for downtown!

    We walked a few blocks over and caught the #13 bus up to the East Hills neighborhood…

    Catching the #13...
    Catching the #13…

    For the record, we had no idea what we were doing. The Rapid has a trip-planning tool on their website, but I couldn’t figure out how to read the timetables on my phone worth a darn. And although I used to ride the GR bus when I was in grad school, this system has changed a LOT in the intervening years. We made our best guess, asked people waiting at the stop with us, and talked to the driver. It worked. (All that is to say that I’m nobody special here. If you haven’t been on a city bus in a while – or ever – I encourage you to embrace it as an adventure and give it a shot. If it doesn’t work out, you can always call a cab. That was our back-up plan!)

    Anyway, our ride went smoothly and brought us to…

    Oh, Grand Rapids. How I love you.
    Bicycles and beer. LOVE.

    A newish brewery in an oldish church that channels the brewhouses of Europe. Or so I’m told.

    We enjoyed Solitude, of a sort…

    Beverages.
    Beverages.

    and delicious Belgian frites, sprinkled with truffle oil and served with garlic mayonnaise…

    Frites.
    Frites.

    Alas, I was too occupied by enjoying the bread pudding to photograph it. It WAS my birthday, after all. My twenty-ninth, of course… I’m getting really good at this one.

    It had somehow escaped my attention that Husband does not wear knee-high furry boots from November to May…

    Whoops.
    Whoops.

    But he was very gracious. It was a beautiful evening…

    Snow.
    Snow.

    for a wintry walkabout.