Bicycle Solidarity in Santa Cruz

[[image:sc.jpg::left:1]]Outside the city of Santa Cruz, many Californios and out-of-staters view the popular beach destination as just another tourist town. Inside though, things look a little different…

Published August 16th, 2007 by CICLE
Contributed by David Espinoza

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Outside the city of Santa Cruz, many Californios and out-of-staters view the popular beach destination as just another tourist town. Inside though, things look a little different – laws to protect the delicate sensibilities of the middle class are constantly enacted against the homeless population, the city is locked in a battle to slow the construction of more buildings at the University of California at Santa Cruz (or at least make it pay for more of the infrastructure), and until recently, an unspoken tension has been simmering amongst those who choose a bicycle over an automobile as their primary form of transportation. All that came to the surface the morning of Tuesday, August 7th.

Riding north on Mission and Bay, a.k.a. Highway 1, a.k.a. one of Santa Cruz's main corridors to UCSC, the beach, and the freeway, a young school teacher named John Myslin was struck by a semi-truck making a right hand turn onto Bay. According to video footage from a nearby surf shop, Myslin was heading north on Mission when a 60-foot semi-truck, riding alongside, made a right turn and hit him. Myslin was pulled underneath the truck and died at the scene – he was 25 years old.

To say Santa Cruz's Mission and Bay is a busy street for automobile traffic is an understatement – many locals use the street to get to work, school, where-ever and the quantity of people who drove by the aftermath was considerable. Only a few hours after the accident occurred, the online version of the local paper the Santa Cruz Sentinel, as well as Indymedia were hopping with postings:

"Mission is horrendous for cyclists and I don't understand cyclists making the choice of using Mission when adjacent streets are much safer." – Niall

"The truck is at fault. bikes are considered 'vehicles' and the same laws apply – a bike going straight has right of way over a vehicle turning right." – John

"Cars never go the posted 25 mph, and every time I cross a cross walk where there's no traffic light, cars either slam on their brakes or go screaming by me."

"Bicycles should be banned from Mission street or a dedicated bike lane should be opened and respected by drivers."

"Just because you are on a bike or are walking does not mean that you can just go where you want on a whim, making everyone else watch out for you."

[[image:p1010008-1.jpg::left:1]]By Wednesday morning, a total of almost 200 postings had been published on both sites – a heavy amount even for a cyber-savvy town like Santa Cruz. But if the cliché that actions speak louder than words still holds any weight in a increasingly digitized world, the proof of where the community stands lay in a more or less spontaneous gathering the night before.

Responding to an emergency call to action, close to 40 bicyclists of all stripes converged on the corner of Mission & Bay Tuesday night to express their grief, outrage, and solidarity – less than 10 hours since hearing of Myslin's death. As one rider put it, "I ride this way all the time, that could easily have been me."

With a bike-powered microphone provided by local sustainable transportation advocacy group People Power, a couple of folks (myself included) offered their thoughts on Myslin's death. As the crowd gathered, I shared what I'd seen when I rode by the site of the accident during my lunch break – the bicycle Myslin has been riding sported two panniers and a city-issued license – Clearly, John was no casual rider and most likely not the scofflaw many non-riders were already assuming him to be.As the sun began to set, a moment of silence was observed, and flowers and signs of support were laid out by a nearby streetlight. Petitions for a bike boulevard, which would ban non-residential cars from an adjacent street were passed around. As cars continued to zoom by, we took turns spray painting an old bike white, and then with the owners permission, hoisted it outside the surf shop only a few feet from where Myslin died. A few folks took pictures of the "ghost bike" while others hugged each other for support. After about an hour and a half of our spontaneous vigil, we said our good byes, and rode off into the night. If that's not solidarity, I don't know what is.