UW News

May 11, 2006

Ride of Silence on May 17 to quietly remember bike accident victims

When Duane Wright heard about the Ride of Silence, a national event honoring bicyclists who have been injured or killed while cycling on public roadways, he thought it was a nice idea and that someone ought to sponsor a Seattle ride.

“But I realized that hoping someone would do it probably wouldn’t get it done,” he said, “so I decided to do it myself.”

That was last year. Wright, a systems analyst programmer for the UW’s Washington State Transportation Center, signed up to be the Seattle coordinator and listed the event on the Cascade Bicycle Club’s calendar. He didn’t promote it further, and as luck would have it, the day of the event turned out to be rainy and windy, so only a handful of people showed up.

They rode anyway, at a slow pace and in silence, as the ride’s originator intended. And this year, Wright has been joined by about 15 people who have helped him plan Seattle’s Ride of Silence. It’s scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 17 — one of about 120 rides nationwide.

According to the Web site (http://www.rideofsilence.org/main.php), the Ride of Silence is a free ride that asks its cyclists to ride no faster than 12 miles per hour and remain silent during the ride. There is no brochure, no sponsors, no registration fees and no t-shirt. The ride, which is being held during Bike Safety Month, aims to raise the awareness of motorists, police and city officials that cyclists have a legal right to the public roadways. The ride is also a chance to show respect for those who have been killed or injured.

Chris Phelan organized the first Ride of Silence in 2003 in Dallas after his friend, endurance cyclist Larry Schwartz, was hit by the mirror of a passing bus and was killed. One link on the site includes photos of cyclists who have died along with the date and location of their deaths.

Wright, who has been commuting to campus by bicycle for more than 20 years, hasn’t personally lost anyone to a cycling accident, but he says that all regular cyclists “know somebody who knows somebody” who has.

He’s also had a few close calls himself. In the most serious, he was riding on Highway 9 north of Snohomish with some friends when the road’s shoulder abruptly became the turn lane. A car plowed into the group and Wright was forced under a guard rail and down an embankment.

He escaped with only a concussion, but says he’s “aware of the frustrations of riding a bike in traffic.”

The Ride of Silence will begin at Gasworks Park and travel 14 miles from there through downtown and back to the park. Part of the route goes through the University District. With no special t-shirts to advertise what they’re doing, riders plan to wear black armbands, and one of the organizers will ride last, pulling a trailer with a sign on it. Participants are warned not to drive to Gasworks Park to begin the ride because the lot there is often full.

Because there is no registration required, Wright has no idea how many people will participate. But he and his co-organizers have promoted the event with employers, politicians and bike shops and clubs, and they’re hoping for several hundred. Last week Mayor Greg Nickels declared May 17 “Be Aware of Bicyclists Day.”

“The vast majority of drivers in this community are really considerate,” Wright said of the ride’s purpose. “And cyclists try to encourage each other to be ambassadors and promote good will with drivers. We hope this ride will remind both groups to be gracious and share the road.”