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Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition Board Responds to Kalamazoo Tragedy

We on the WBWC Board were shocked and sickened by the news in June that an impaired driver had plowed through a large group of experienced cyclists riding in Kalamazoo, killing five and injuring four. There was, of course, an immediate sadness for the riders and their families. Many of us also felt an uncomfortable sense of our own vulnerability and the notion that cycling advocacy sometimes seems futile. Indeed, this tragedy occurred on a road with better and wider paved shoulders than many in Washtenaw County. But it was also a reminder about the importance of the work we do and why we do it.

We have reasons, even in our grief, to be optimistic about the future of cycling in our state. First, law enforcement authorities are treating this incident in Kalamazoo seriously and responding with appropriate charges. It is being investigated and prosecuted as a criminal act, not simply as an “accident.” The driver, Charles Pickett Jr., has been accused of five charges of operating while intoxicated causing death, five counts of second-degree murder, and four charges of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury.

Second, the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB, is investigating this crash. This will be the first time in many decades that NTSB has investigated a crash involving cyclists. There is growing recognition through this process, and the adoption of Vision Zero locally, that we must analyze crashes and look for opportunities to improve the safety of our transportation network for everyone-- not just those driving cars.

Third, the outpouring of support for these cyclists and their families across the state and the nation has been striking. The hundreds of cyclists who rode through Ann Arbor in the Ride of Silence show the strength of support for cyclists in our community, but they also suggest a shift in our cultural awareness and expectations. It is when people stand up together that real change becomes possible.

Finally, we can be hopeful because state and local governments are starting to prioritize investment in facilities for cyclists and pedestrians. Although investment is nowhere close to what we believe to be appropriate, we are seeing growing recognition from planners, engineers, politicians, and public health officials that our transportation system is fundamentally broken. It is no longer simply cycling advocates who are at the table calling for change.

However, the growing commitment to infrastructure, policies and community support is tenuous and fragile. There are things you can do to ensure that progress is not lost and that the rate of change increases….

  • Join us at WBWC as a member and volunteer to support our local projects. We can not effect change rapidly without a robust membership and volunteer base.

  • Join the League of Michigan Bicyclists to support their advocacy and education efforts around the state.

  • Pay attention to your local council, supervisor and representative races and be sure to vote.

  • Write your elected officials and ask them to prioritize investments related to cycling and walking infrastructure (see the “No More Kalamazoo’s” story in this edition for a link to contact legislators).

And, just as importantly, get out on your bike and ride -- safely, responsibly, and with conviction that we can reshape our streets to make them safer, healthier and more enjoyable for everyone. Best wishes from the WBWC board and our families for a safe and fun summer.

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