Monday, December 08, 2008

Hundreds Ride in Frigid Weather to Honor Fallen Cyclist

Over 100 cyclists honored Camille Savoy yesterday in a memorial of his life by riding to the site where he was hit and holding a small ceremony.

The sanctity of the event was marred only by the lack of clarity among New Jersey citizens about the rules of the road--and the law--when it was reported later that the police report showed that the motorist and cyclist shared fault for the incident.
Photo of Savoy this past Septmber at wedding of Jerry Zoppi's daughter
With temperatures hovering at a wet and chilly 34 degrees, cyclists from all parts of the New York and New Jersey region gathered at the George Washington Bridge, and rode to the site where Savoy was hit last November 9 by a motor vehicle.

Savoy survived multiple hits to his body, but he died later due to severe brain injuries on November 26.

Friends like Van and Betsey Gothner, both also cyclists, got up at 5 a.m. to travel from Massachusetts to help lead the ride for their dear friend. Other friends who preferred to drive behind the group, like Jon Tulis who traveled with his family from Philadelphia, patiently motorcaded behind the cyclists at an average speed of 10 mph to the site 6 miles north, near Rio Esplanade in Alpine, NJ.

Cyclists from the New York Cycling Club, Strictly Bicycles of Fort Lee, NJ, Major Taylor of NY, NY, the Ave A Razorfish Cycling Team, Third Nature of Teaneck, NJ, Jay’s Cycle Center team of Westfield, NJ, and others bundled up in multi-layers of lycra to make the trip.

At the scene, Andreas Meyer had placed a ghost bike that he constructed (with help from Strictly Bicycles) and painted on Saturday, which he chained around a handmade wooden cross made by Savoy's good friend, Jean Claude Garcia.

Garcia who was with the group on Sunday, had attached a copy of his painting of a man cycling through the woods, and underneath he had written, "Race to heaven my friend."

Ellen from Ghost Bikes brought a stenciled sign that reminded us of Savoy's life--and that at this spot he was killed.

BBB spoke of the importance of Savoy's life, and asked that everyone present now were being knighted bicycle change agents--to prevent incidents of this kind from occurring again.

She also said a tree would be planted in his memory--something the New Jersey Department of Transportation could not remove from behind the wall.

Van and Betsey Gothner spoke of their long time friendship with Savoy, and how they had often enjoyed riding with him in Masschusetts where Savoy had a home. "He would not even have been here in this cold--he didn't even own a pair of tights, or go out if there was a drop of rain," Gothner noted. On the ride up Betsey Gothner noted that Savoy maybe was enjoying this unusual tribute to his memory, ironically in weather he would never have ridden in.

Savoy was hit and killed on a perfectly clear day--the only obstacle to his safe ride, a driver with a bad driving record who drove close to the line and ignored New Jersey motor vehicle law--to move around cyclists traveling in front of them.

Jon Diamond, his voice choked with emotion, spoke with his wife by his side, she with tears trailing down her pink-with-cold cheeks.

Diamond spoke about how Savoy would come to his jewelry shop in the diamond district every day to talk about everything and anything. Not even an experienced cyclist, Diamond had donned a helmet--at first backwards--swathed himself in warm street clothes, and mounted a steel frame street bike to make the trip for his friend.

Charles Hamley also spoke of his friend who enriched his life. Clarence York, who said that he and Savoy had been very close, choked back tears and said he was unable to speak.

Another friend, Gerry Zoppi said that Savoy was a very cautious rider, and used to warn him not to ride when the conditions weren't good. "We called him Monsieur Mama," said Zoppi.

Another friend offered almonds from a bag that was saved from Savoy's apartment before it was cleaned out: "He would have liked everyone to have one," he said.

Meanwhile, in a sting to Savoy's memory, local news reports of the event said that the police report "backed by an eyewitness – said that the Englewood woman and Savoy were apparently both at fault for riding two close to the white line." Such an assertion cannot be made until the Bergen County prosecutor's office has completed their investigation.

Even so, the statement is also a reminder of the collective ignorance of New Jersey vehicle and traffic law--perhaps a mental block among New Jersey residents---which says that motorists are responsible for moving around cyclists who are ahead of them--regardless of conditions. The reason for this is simple: cyclists are not even technically supposed to be in the shoulder--unless it is a designated bike lane. They are only required to be as far right as possible. But if they have to move out--and nothing in the accident report said Savoy did move out--the driver behind is supposed to slow until they can pass safely or they are supposed to give ample room to the cyclist when they passed.

In a previous post by a reader to BBB, when Savoy was still alive and struggling for his life in the hospital, the reader (possibly a motorist) wrote (no corrections made to their post):
This article speaks of NJ MV Law (title 39). Yes, a bibyle is a vehicle and has just as much right to the roadway as a motor vehicle (MV). However, just like when another MV is attempting to change lanes, it has to yield to the MV already in that lane. The driver cannot just pull into another travel lane and expect other MV's to stop. The MV attempting to change lanes needs to let traffic clear and make sure it is safe before it can change lanes. THIS IS THE SAME TO BICYCLES. This article is bias and places blame only on the motorist who struck the bicyclist. I wish nothing but a fast and healthy recovery for the cyclist, but lets be fair and just.
Cyclists at the event complained bitterly that motorists routinely speed and ignore basic traffic laws, cutting them off at intersections, and coming within inches of them when they ride.

As cyclists began to leave after the ceremony, they were barked at by the police officer through a loudspeaker system. Although it is standard operating procedure for officers to use the car's PA system for crowd control, because they are not in cars, the sound is jarring. It's also a reminder of the secondary status they often assume on our nation's highways and byways.

Not that the Alpine Police Dept. had not been sensitive to Savoy's plight: they assisted in every way possible to make the memorial safe, sending their officer there to sit for over an hour.

Lt. Michael LaViola of the Alpine police also spent hours with BBB assisting in the identification of the spot where Savoy was hit. LaViola is no stranger to pain: his 20-year-old son died this year of cancer. Later, two Bergen County police officers heading his son's funeral procession on motorcycles crashed on the State Line hill going north on 9W, and one lost his leg.

But if only the state took more care in addressing the NJ motor vehicle manual, which does not even specify how to drive around cyclists; or in preventing the driver from renewing her license when she had a bad driving record. (Turn to Chapter 8.)

And if only such police vigilance could have been present that day when Wha Kim struck Camille Savoy, barking at her to stay away from the white line ---perhaps he might still be alive today.

Something to ponder for the inventors among you, an automated white-line, motion response barking tool, manufactured for all highways and roads that have spaces dividing motorists from cyclists and pedestrians. A pressure sensitive reader embedded in the white line using micro-chip technology could also send a message to the local police station alerting them that some nudnick motorist is driving on the line.

Please email jbenepe@msn.com with your photos and comments.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, there seems to be some confusion between what is law and what is recommended driving practice per the NJ Driver manual. The Driver manual is not law. It does represent good, proper driving technique and etiquette, but it is not the law. NJ MV law says nothing about passing a bicyclist, other than by inference to safe passing of another vehicle (as in bicycles are granted all of the rights of other vehicles). So while the driver may have been hugging the white line and the cyclist allegedly was riding to the right of it and then swerved into the path of the car, the law does not explicitly require a motorist to provide "X" distance from a cyclist (or half a lane, etc.)that cyclists would all agree is safer and less tenuous. Until the law is changed, we must argue for what the reasonable driver would do, or "safe passing".

Jen B, said...

That's wishful thinking on your part. Unfortunately, it is the law. The number of feet that you need to give a cyclist is not specified, but going around them is. In addition, there was nothing in the accident report that said the cyclist "swerved,"--not anywhere. Therefore on both points I am afraid, you are not correct.