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Cyclists take ‘Ride of Silence’ to make a statement

By Staff | May 4, 2012

Ride of Silence is a national event, organized locally by the Sanibel Bicycle Club, that honors fellow bicyclists who have been killed or injured in cycling accidents. The ride on Sanibel begins quietly at 7 p.m. May 16 at Sanibel Community Park.

It was nearly 20 years ago when Dallas resident Larry Schwartz was killed by the side-view mirror of a school bus as he was riding his bike along the road. The tragedy led his friend Chris Phelan to organize a Ride of Silence in memory of Schwartz. This one-time event has turned into an annual tradition across the globe making a statement as they cycle in silence.

Every year on the third Wednesday in May, bicyclists participate in a nearby “Ride of Silence” to honor their fellow cyclists who have been killed or injured in cycling accidents. The ride, held locally by the Sanibel Bicycle Club, also brings attention to the need for motorists and cyclists to safely share the road.

“A bicycle is a vehicle and has the right to be in the road,” said Patti Sousa, Sanibel ride coordinator and past bicycle club president. “If you want or need to pass, obey the State of Florida’s 3-foot law; it means if you pass, leave three feet between your car and the cyclist.”

The Sanibel ride is one of the bicycle club’s many initiatives to advocate for safe cycling. Club members will ride as a group, leaving promptly at 7 p.m. May 16 from the Sanibel Community Park. The ride will proceed slowly and silently along the 8-mile route from the park on Periwinkle Way to the Causeway Islands and back.

As they ride in silence, cyclists will pass a roadside memorial or “ghost bike” in memory of Fort Myers resident Tracey Kleinpell who was killed while riding her bike along the Causeway in May 2011. These roadside memorials remembering victims of car crashes dot communities’ roads across the globe. Ghost bikes are placed at crash sites as poignant reminders to share the road.

“Wear a helmet and watch for cars,” Sousa recommended as ways to protect yourself from injury or accident while riding along the road. “A helmet is an inexpensive way to protect your head The Girl Scout motto ‘be prepared’ comes to mind for me. “

“All it takes is three seconds,” noted Sid Simon, an avid Sanibel bicyclist who knows the importance of wearing a helmet because accidents can happen. “I heard the cement; I felt the cement; and without a helmet I most likely would have been found there, bleeding, sometime that night, by someone else who had come to mail a late night letter.please wear a helmet.”

While there are an estimated 700 deaths annually as a result of bike-related injuries, bicycle safety is taken seriously on the islands. In 2010, the City of Sanibel was designated a “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists. It is an honor only awarded to 158 communities out of 400 applicants.

Today’s 23-mile shared use path system on Sanibel began as a result of citizen efforts in the 1970s that envisioned the island as a bicycle and pedestrian-friendly community. By 1996, the path system was completed. With support from the Sanibel Bicycle Club, formed in 1998, the city spent three years developing a comprehensive shared use path master plan, which envisions further improvements in the system.

“Sanibel has done a magnificent job of maintaining and expanding the shared use paths throughout the island, as well as increasing their safety by separating the paths from automobile traffic and adding new paths to the system,” said Claudia Burns, a Sanibel resident who has been riding her bike from one end of the island to the other since the 1980s.

To participate in Sanibel’s Ride of Silence, arrive by 6:45 p.m. at the Sanibel Community Park. Helmets are required and lights are recommended. Riders with a light may stop for dinner at Jerry’s Restaurant following the ride.