On a Friday evening in November, just after dark, a young Asian teenager was riding his bike in North Austin. The road dead-ended into a very fast, four-lane road with a median. He made it half-way across, and then for some reason, didn’t stop to yield to traffic that had a speed limit of 60 miles per hour. A blue Toyota hit him, and the driver stayed at the scene. The victim, whose name was Minh-Tan Pham, died later in the hospital. Another young life was extinguished in mere moments due to more traffic violence. He was the 67th traffic fatality on Austin roads in 2018… so far.
Ignoring Traffic Signs is a Good Way to Get Killed (But It Still Sucks)
I didn’t write this post immediately, hoping that more information would come out, but little has. We may never know why he ran the signs. Could it be he was an immigrant with low English skills? Was he altered in some way? Was he an inexperienced cyclist? Did his bike have a malfunction? Did he just not see the car or underestimate its speed? I’ve ridden in this area and didn’t feel safe in the daytime. Look at this overhead Google Maps image of the intersection.
Viewing the scene, you can see how one must cross two lanes, stop and yield, then cross again. I’d guess Pham was going to the shopping center. What do you notice about this intersection?
- No street lights.
- No crosswalk.
- No bike lanes.
- No signs saying slow down, pedestrians or cyclists crossing or reduce speed on the curve.
- No other nearby ways to get from point A to point B.
- Posted speeds of 60 mph are that of a highway, and this is a suburban street.
The infrastructure is a major factor in this. Why is it so poorly lit, marked and the speed so high? Even so, Pham’s ignoring the basic stop and yield signs that there were was 100% the cyclist’s fault. He didn’t have to die, but for some reason he made a bad decision. It would be his last.
Vision Zero, What Say You?
My previous post (2018 World Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Traffic Violence: Texas Vision Zero Vigil) was about the coalition of groups working to prevent future traffic deaths. On the site for VisionZero ATX, there is an entry for this crash. It calls it “Car v. Car,” which is clearly incorrect. Copying from the City website announcement from Austin Police Department, it also provides an added detail confirming what appears in the photo:
“As Pham began to enter the left lane of westbound traffic, a stretch of roadway with a 60 mph limit, he crossed in front of a blue, 2012 Toyota Camry.”
–Vision Zero ATX
So he was turning left, but the details are slight. It’s mystifying to me why he would do that. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and some bad decisions, but nothing so crazy to pull out directly in front of a car going 60 mph (although we don’t know the exact speed of the Toyota, it was going too fast to see Pham in time to stop). Reporting on this is limited and a member of the public cannot get more information — you need to be a family member.
So now what? What exactly will VZATX or any of the policy wonks, police, transportation department staff etc. actually do? Will there be a white bike erected in Tran’s honor? Probably not, since he likely wasn’t a “member of the biking community.” (I pointed out the racism in reporting comparing the coverage of the deaths of a white and a Latino cyclist.) I doubt there will be an honorary ride in his name. Will anybody that didn’t know him who is in a position to make improvements care enough to change things? I’m skeptical. Blame had been placed on the victim, not the infrastructure, or rather the lack thereof.
This doesn’t mean that we who are white cyclists don’t care. If Pham didnt participate in bike shop rides, charity rides, didn’t use Strava, frequent bike shops, belonged to a bike group, or wasn’t known to a number of cyclists, then unless we knew him or hear new details, we are limited in our response. But something SHOULD be done by the City and every other entity dealing with roads, traffic, and cars killing cyclists. What about his school? Will they get involved? Will the driver be sued? Too many questions.
No Easy Answers
We don’t really know. In the end, we must continue to try to be safe cyclists and demand that vulnerable road users be given the benefit of the doubt by motirists. Eucating and changing drivers behavior seems unlikely, if noy impossible. To wit, the ugly vitriol against bicyclists that has reared its ugly head in my neighborhood app Next Door again. I’ve chimed in, urging restraint and respect, to little avail. “Haters gonna hate.”
If there’s anything good to come out of the death of this young man, it’s that more awareness should be paid to that particular road’s speed limit and infrastructure. And it’s a sobering reminder that you can never let your guard down for even a second when you’re on a bike, on foot, or in a car. There is more need for educating bicyclists, especially kids, which I hope to do at some point with my League Cycling Instructor certification, once finally completed. Maybe one person will read this and slow down and avoid a crash.
Stay safe out there, everyone. Rest in Peace, Minh-Tam.
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