Sunday, March 29, 2009

Memorial held for fallen cyclist in Sparta

The memorial for fallen cyclist Bent Rasmussen, 78, was held this Saturday in Sparta, NJ.

About 50 riders took to the narrow streets of Sparta around Lake Mohawk to celebrate the avid cyclist's life.

Organized by Andreas Meyer who grew up a few doors down from Rasmussen and his family, the group traveled 3.5 miles from Beach 6 along Lake Mohawk, to the center of town to the location where Rasmussen was hit and killed on March 1 of this year.

Meyer was joined by his sister Sandra, Rasmussen's daughter Karen, and a host of friends, family and acquaintances who came to pay their respects for the man who used to be seen every day on his bike.

Local officers from the Sparta Police Dept., sealed off major roadways with flashing lights so the cyclists could pass through big intersections and not be subjected to the same dangerous conditions that Rasmussen encountered on that day.

His accident occurred in front of the Sparta town hall on Rte. 181 where traffic calming "neckdowns" into the roadway had recently been built.

Though Rasmussen was said to be aware of the "neckdowns" some friends have said the driver of the school bus that hit him did not give Rasmussen enough space when it passed.

The roadway in that location--and over much of the town of Sparta-- is so narrow as to require that any car passing would have to move out into the other lane over a double yellow line. "That would be illegal," noted Sgt. Beebe of the Sparta Police, though he acknowledged that the school bus driver that hit Rasmussen should have slowed if it had been unsafe to pass.

When Rasmussen was allegedly hit by the bus's mirror, it threw him several feet, and he died at the scene of the accident from head injuries. The accident is being investigated by the Sparta Police Dept. and the Sussex County Prosecutor's Office, said Beebe.

Meyer was the first to speak in front of the ghost bike he had constructed at the scene. Describing his friend he said, "He was always running, on the boat, on the lake...We had a lot of fun with our families together."

But turning to the seriousness of his accident, Meyer said, "But it is unfortunate that something like this should happen to someone so vibrant and full of life."

He also spoke about how accidents like Rasmussen's are becoming more the norm when instead it should be getting safer for cyclists. "It's only getting worse," said Meyer. "In 2008 cyclist deaths In New Jersey increased by 100%. This is the main road to the school, I mean your kids ride this road."

Rasmussen's daughter Karen also spoke as she fought back tears, "It really touches my heart" to see everyone here, she said. Beside her stood her partner, Karen Schuler Hill and their son Miller Rasmussen.

One of Rasmussen's neighbors, Gabriela Arnold, who was there with her husband Chris, said her four sons were inspired by the dedicated cyclist. especially her youngest son Pablo who is 16 who started riding a bike because of the elder cyclist's example. "We saw him every morning on his bike, and every time I saw him I said to myself, 'Okay, I have to go exercise today,'" said Arnold.

But despite the bucolic character of the area about 50 miles west of the George Washington Bridge, which is surrounded by tree-lined streets of picturesque lake houses, the roads are very dangerous she said. Majestic homes ranging in price from $300,000 to $3.0 million line the 8.5 mile perimeter of the lake, many of them with the red shutters and wooden trim reminiscent of Swiss and German chalets.

Birds flying overhead evoke a European vacation spa, but the speeding drivers along the perimeter are more like Mario Andretti, the race car driver whose name became synonymous with speed according to Wikipedia, at the Indianapolis 500 during his glory days.

Although the West Shore drive of the lake is dotted with speed humps, they are the American variety, low and long, and possibly ineffective compared to international versions which are steeper and shorter. (A site called TrafficCalming.org, deems speed humps effective, but also details a long list of complaints, among them, damage to cars. The site also says they can be dangerous to cyclists, but on the contrary, traffic humps become less effective the smaller the vehicle, and we rode the west shore and used the humps for "wheeing".)

Along the East Shore of the lake, where the Meyers and Rasmussens live, there are no speed humps, and there were no visible traffic calming measures in Sparta town other than the noted "neckdowns".

"There is no space," said Arnold. Even when she walks along the East and West Shore lake roads, where the speed limit is 35 mph, she said "the cars go too close, and they don't slow down." She said that last year a woman walking with a baby carriage was hit by a car that came too close.

"Sometimes we just want to give them the finger," she said. Arnold said that the dangerous conditions mean that many residents won't let their kids ride bicycles.

Nan Humes, a neighbor said she always saw Rasmussen on his bike so when she heard about his accident she was in shock: "I just didn't understand how it happened," she said.

Hotvelociti donated a red bike jersey called, Arrestado por el amor al ciclismo. The jersey was passed around and friends and neighbors signed their good-byes to Rasmussen. Karen Rasmussen said she would take the jersey home and frame it as a memory of her father.

Sgt. Beebe of the Sparta Police who was helping guide the event and insure rider safety pointed out the spots on the pavement where Rasmussen had landed, which were boldly spray painted in green. "It was a terrible tragedy," said Beebe, who had known Rasmussen his whole life. "The roads are very congested and it is the responsibility of everybody to drive safely," he said, referring also to cyclists.

When asked if he thought a new law recently introduced into the state legislature that would require motorists to give cyclists a minimum of three feet when passing, would help safety in Sparta, Beebe said, "Anything would help."

Indeed, if the school bus had given Rasmussen three feet, perhaps he would not have been hit said some who attended the memorial.

Andrew Besold who traveled over one and a half hours from New Brunswick came with his folding green Brompton. He introduced the memorial riders to a new organization, Walk-Bike New Jersey that he hopes will help push the safe-passing law through both houses. After the event, cards were exchanged, and email messages sent:

"Can you send me info on how to help pass the bills? " wrote Gabriela Arnold to BBB.

Here is their address: ajbesold@yahoo.com

The following bill was introduced by Senators Oroho (Sparta) and Stack:

AN ACT concerning the operation of motor vehicles in certain cases and
supplementing Title 39 of the Revised Statutes.
Requires motorists operating vehicles to maintain minimum three foot
safety distance when overtaking bicycles.
AN ACT concerning the operation of motor vehicles in certain cases and
supplementing Title 39 of the Revised Statutes.
BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New
Jersey:
1. The driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the
same direction shall leave a safe distance between the motor vehicle
and the bicycle of not less than three feet until the motor vehicle
has safely passed the bicycle. Any person violating the provisions of
this section shall be subject to a fine of $100.
2. This act shall take effect immediately.
STATEMENT
This bill would require motorists to maintain a distance of at least
three feet when overtaking a bicycle that is travelling in the same
direction. The bill provides for a fine of $100 for violating the
three foot minimum distance requirement while overtaking cyclists.
Requires motorists operating vehicles to maintain minimum three foot
safety distance when overtaking bicycles.

For more pictures to this event, please go to Picasa:
Bent Rasmussen's Memorial in Sparta, NJ March 28, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

Armstrong crashes and is injured

Lance Armstrong has crashed in a race in Spain, and has broken his collarbone, according to the Associated Press.

The seven-time Tour de France winner was pictured looking gaunt and pale in a USA Today article on his accident. His mouth pursed, Armstrong appears to be in pain.

He was competing in first stage of the Vuelta de Castilla when the crash occurred about 12 miles from the finish line, said ABCNews. A spokesman for his Team Astana, Phillippe Maertens, said that Armstrong would be flying back to the United States for surgery on the collarbone.

The 37-year-old cyclist returned to competition in late 2008, and has said he will be riding to raise funds for cancer awareness. Maertens said that Lance can be back on his bike in a month, and ready to ride a race in Italy in May, and the Tour in July. But Armstrong was quoted by the Associated Press saying, "I think for the Tour it's a very big problem."

Apparently, this is the cyclist's first broken collarbone, and he noted that it was very painful.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Another Cyclist Dies in New Jersey

Memorial ride to be held in Sparta, NJ next Saturday, March 28.

Bent Rasmussen, 78, was hit by a school bus in the town of Sparta, NJ when he was riding on Friday, February 27. After being airlifted to Morristown Memorial Hospital, he died on Sunday, March 1, from severe head injuries related to the accident.

Although the exact cause of the accident is not known, the driver is said to have not known he hit Rasmussen, and left the scene of the accident. By some accounts, it appeared as if Rasmussen had been hit by the bus's mirror and was either dragged or thrown some distance when it hooked to his jacket.

Rasmussen was an avid cyclist who rode every day, and a childhood friend and fellow cyclist of Andreas Meyer who informed BBB of the accident. Meyer was the cyclist who searched out, painted and installed the ghost bike for Camille Savoy after he was hit and killed by a motorist along Rte. 9W late last year. Meyer did not even know Savoy.

Meyer will now be obtaining another ghost bike for his dear family friend. The sign on his bike will read:
Bent Rasmussen
Accident - Friday Feb 27th
Died - Sunday March 1
Age - 78
Avid Cyclist and Sparta Resident
Hit and Run by School Bus on Main Street Sparta NJ

Meyer is planning the memorial ride on Saturday the 28th which he said will be about 3.5 miles from the beach area around Lake Mohawk, in Sparta, NJ, to the location where Rasmussen was hit in the center of town. Sparta is about 50 miles west of the George Washington Bridge.

Rasmussen was born in Sonderup, Denmark and came to the United States in 1959. He was a 1962 graduate of Yale Graduate School, with a master's degree in engineering. He and his family lived in Whippany from 1962 to 1965, before moving to Sparta, according to the New Jersey Herald.

In 1976, Rasmussen became a U.S. citizen. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made in his memory to the Lake Mohawk Country Club, where a lasting enhancement to the boardwalk is planned as a tribute and memorial. He was also a longtime member of the Sparta Zoning Board. Ironically, even with his community involvement, the bus driver did not give Rasmussen enough space to pass.

Currently the New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council is formulating plans to help change New Jersey law regarding the amount of feet allowable for safe passing by a motorist when over-taking a cyclist or pedestrian. Currently, no number of feet is defined in New Jersey traffic law. The BPAC law committee is hoping to propose that the New Jersey legislature create a half lane minimum when passing cyclists.

Such a law would probably have saved the lives of both Savoy and Rasmussen, and in the event that those drivers had not given either rider enough space when passing, under the proposed changes, they would be liable --possibly with criminal penalties--for not doing so. But under current law, there is no standard cited other than a degree of reasonableness.

Bent is survived by his daughters, Ann Rasmussen and her spouse, Donna O'Meally, of Easthampton, Mass., and Karen Rasmussen and her domestic partner, Karen Schuler Hill, of Sparta; and his grandchildren, Marcus and Maja O'Meally and Miller Rasmussen, said his obituary in the New Jersey Herald.

Here are the details of the ride:
Memorial ride from Beach Six, Lake Mohawk, Sparta (end of Maple Parkway and East 
Shore Trail), to the accident site: Main Street, Sparta, front
of Municipal Building.
9am Start time, rain or shine. Distance: 3.5 miles.
Cyclists will be followed by those in vehicles that cannot ride.
Cyclists are asked to ride no more than two abreast and follow all traffic laws.
The ride will be lead by myself and family members of
Bent Rasmussen to the site of the accident. The return ride will NOT be organized.
Any questions, feel free to contact me at this email address:
andreas@meyer-media.com

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pine Barrens threatened by Motor Vehicles

Today I received an urgent email from the Pinelands Preservation Alliance asking for my help to stop overland road vehicles, (ORV's) from trashing the Pine Barrens. On March 16, the New Jersey legislature will be voting on whether these vehicles should be restricted from areas like the back roads of Batso Village in Wharton State Forest in southern New Jersey.

I highlighted this area as a nice, peaceful place to ride, on or off road on Valentine's Day (see below).

But if ORV's are allowed to run amok in the forests, smashing roots, running over animals (they always do,) and killing the air, you can be guaranteed of one thing, a terrible bike ride next time you head down to the Pine Barrens. "Illegal riding of off-road vehicles is damaging over 300,000 acres of state park, forest and wilderness each year, and is costing the State and taxpayers almost a million dollars each year in damages without the ability to assign that loss to the responsible parties," said the PPA in their email.

Therefore, the organization is asking that you call your legislator and members of the Senate Environment Committee and ask them to support S2055, sponsored by Senator Bob Gordon, as legislators in the Committee are preparing to vote on Monday, March 16th!

The bills that are being introduced, A823 and S2055, would establish mandatory registration and tagging of off-road vehicles in order to help conservation officers, law officers, and residents hold illegal riders responsible for their damaging activities.

The bills also increase fines for illegal riders, creates stricter penalties for repeat offenders, and help to establish a fund that can be used for the creation of ORV parks and maintaining these parks to support those legal, responsible riders.

Below are members of the Environmental Committee. You can also call your state legislator.
Bob Smith - Chair - District 17 - Piscataway - (732) 752-0770
Jeff Van Drew - Vice-Chair - District 1 - Millville/Vineland - (609) 465-0700
Christopher Bateman - District 16 - Somerville - (908) 526-3600
James Beach - District 6 - Cherry Hill - (856) 489-3442
Andrew R. Ciesla - District 10 - Brick - (732) 840-9028
Robert M. Gordon - District 38 - Fair Lawn - (201) 703-9779

Monday, March 09, 2009

Weekend of Savage Motorist Behavior

Everyone in town is talking about an article written by a New York City cyclist in the New York Times this past weekend.

Entitled The Wild Bunch, and written by Robert Sullivan, the article says that cyclists and motorists are at each other's throats, and that pedestrians in particular "hate" us.

The mail--mostly against-- has been furious this morning. Sullivan himself is not even a known entity in the cycling advocacy world, and his words although passionate seem more geared to get attention than to ring true. I think "hate" is a very harsh word for any relationships between the multi-users.

More likely drivers know that they can do as they like because the traffic and criminal laws favor them. In most instances, the death of a cyclist is rarely even met with a traffic ticket--and for legal reasons police cannot issue tickets except under special circumstances.

Accidents with motorists that result in a cyclist's or pedestrian's death may not be recorded by police unless a follow up report is made with the hospital they are sent to, said one New Jersey department of transportation official off the record.

Such lack of follow up was also documented by Charlie Komanoff, co-founder of Right of Way in his 1999 study of more than 1,000 fatal cyclist and pedestrian accidents over a period of years in New York City. In many cases, the drivers were not even ticketed, his study said.

Therefore the better characterization is, "off the radar screen."

Case in point: this weekend was exemplary for savage behavior of motorists against cyclists who were riding in the so-called safe zones of roadways, the shoulder outside of New York, in the New York to Nyack corridor along Rte. 9W and elsewhere in New Jersey.

No less than four cars came speeding by me at 60 mph in a 40 mph area, passing with only 2 feet, an act called "buzzing". I received numerous accounts detailing similar buzzing from other cyclists, some of it mere miles away from the last fatal accident of a cyclist by a motorist driving on the white line.

Yesterday the motorists seemed to be doing it on purpose. Probably because legally they can. New Jersey law is not specific about the number of feet they are required to give cyclists when passing. At the time I passed, a police patrol was sorely needed, one specifically hidden from view to watch the scofflaws passing within inches of my head.

I did call Capt. Beckman who heads the operations in Alpine, NJ, and according to one cyclist he did send a car there. Beckman confirmed that he personally came to the location and watched but did not observe any further buzzing by motorists. He also noted that another police vehicle was parked nearby when he arrived.

But cyclists still complained that in other areas of the 9W roadway, north of the Alpine intersection, they experienced motorists coming too close, including Richard Conroy who was riding a tandem with a friend.

Reports from cyclists riding in other sections of northern New Jersey, further west and closer to the Franklin Lakes area, said they experienced an abnormal level of buzzing. "It was really scary," said Jen Laurita, who is a board member of the recently formed New Jersey Bicycle Coalition. That organization will be spending more time working on legislation and other issues that affect cycling safety in northern New Jersey.

Though some cyclists have also recently said they were targeted for passing through red lights in the Alpine area, the local police department has defended its record in the area, pointing to not only their record in assisting cyclists, but also in enforcing traffic regulations and even improving safety by asking for changes from the state legislature.

Beckman who was instrumental in helping the Bergen County Prosecutor's office investigate the death of Camille Savoy in November of last year said that his department patrolled a combined total of 102,729 miles, investigated 72 motor vehicle crashes and issued 1,293 summons in 2008.

He also noted that they continue to be involved in the planning and facilitation of the yearly MS Bike Run that traverses Route 9w every fall. In addition to the assistance of Savoy, Beckman noted that two Alpine Police Officers saved the life of a cyclist following a heart attack by use of an external defibrillator and emergency CPR.

"The Alpine Police Department, along with its governing body, petitioned the New Jersey Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit from 50 mph to 40 mph and eliminated many of the passing zones," added Beckman.

Unfortunately, that kind of help from the police department is slower or perhaps more complex in New York City, according to Sullivan.

Sullivan's recommendations include one that says cyclists should at least engage in what has been called the Idaho Stop, which means stop at the red light, look and go.

But the Idaho Stop raises a number of challenges should the cyclist be hit--they are not likely to get any legal coverage if they go through a red light.

Other cities that really encourage cycling have contiguous bike lanes that weave between roads and bikeways, such as in towns in Switzerland, and there, cyclists are not required to stop at red lights except when the structure of the bike lane intersects with a big road.

Also, NYC has installed a couple of bike first lights that allow cyclist to go first when the light turns, while traffic has to wait. That's a good idea.

But even better is to continue to transform portions of major avenues into bike only lanes, such as Fifth Avenue, or Broadway. This would make stopping and going, which is not easy for cyclists, less of a necessity.