Upon arriving to work on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 30, I received a message from a friend alerting me that a cyclist had been killed the night before on Foothill Boulevard in San Luis Obispo.
A search online confirmed the tragic news. Later in the day, updates to the sad story informed the community that Kennedy Love, a 22-year-old Cal Poly student, had been struck and killed by a car driven by a 17-year-old Los Osos resident who fled the scene of the crash. The driver later admitted to police that she had been drinking prior to hitting and killing Kennedy.
At almost the same time that Kennedy was struck and killed, two Central Valley residents were killed in a single vehicle crash on Cuesta Grade. The two passengers were ejected from the car when the driver lost control and the car went up the embankment. They were then struck by several cars and killed. The driver of the vehicle was arrested on suspicion of DUI.
On Wednesday afternoon, I stopped by the location on Foothill Boulevard where Kennedy was killed. I placed some flowers nearby and thought about the reasons behind the needless deaths of three young Americans. Looking at the place in the road where Kennedy breathed his last breath, I spent some time thinking about what would have broken the chain of events that led to his death. My first thought was that protected bike lanes—which place a physical barrier between cyclists and motorists—on Foothill might have prevented his death. Protected bike lanes on this stretch of road have been discussed, and this event highlights that now is the time to make them a reality. In conjunction with other Safe Routes to School projects, protected bike lanes on Foothill and elsewhere will help make cyclists and pedestrians of all ages safer.
In the Marine Corps, and particularly in Marine Corps Aviation where I spent most of my military career, each member of the organization is charged with recognizing when they need to act to break the chain of events which can lead to a mishap. So how can we each work to break the chain of events that can lead to tragedy in our daily lives?
We start by obeying the rules of the road. The vehicle code is there to protect us and to make our roadways function as efficiently as possible.
If you are a pedestrian, please employ all the senses you were given by the good Lord in order to help you survive; watch where you are going, don’t look at your phone while crossing the street or train tracks and don’t use ear buds when, for your own personal safety, you need to be aware of your surroundings.
If you are a driver, be focused solely on the task of operating your car or truck; please give cyclists the three feet of clearance the law requires and give that motorcyclist in your rear view mirror a little room to pass.
If you are a cyclist, please obey traffic signals and signs, and if you are riding on a road without a bike lane, don’t ride two abreast. It does nothing to improve the relationship between drivers and the community of cyclists to which you belong.
Consideration for all road users is a must to ensure safety. If you are a cyclist, respect the driver pulling a load of hay, grapes or horses; he or she is likely just trying to get home after a 14-hour day to see the kids for a few minutes before trying to get a couple hours of sleep.
If you are a driver, please keep an eye out for motorcyclists and pedestrians, and please keep in mind that the cyclist riding down the road with you may be the ER doctor who eased your child’s pain last week; the manager of the winery across the valley where you had such a great time last weekend; a retired police captain who leads bike rides to help people stay active and healthy in retirement; or an old Marine helicopter gunship pilot who moved to the Central Coast after a quarter century of serving his country in peace and in war, and just wants to get a little exercise with his wife and friends. He’ll be the one giving you a smile and a wave and hoping for the same in return.
Mike Bennett is executive director of Bike SLO County and a retired Marine lieutenant colonel.