I’ve titled this sad post the same as the ride for Anthony John Diaz, because it was very similar. A bunch of people show up at a pre-arranged place, they chat, there are some announcements, and the ride begins without people speaking unless needed for safety. The group rides around East Austin with leaders stopping car traffic or the riders as needed, and eventually it arrives at the scene of the victim’s death. There is a bike painted all white: a ghost bike. Somber words are spoken, people reflect, and the ride continues. It then ends at a park after about 10 miles, where people are thanked and more words are spoken. It’s sad, and it’s supposed to be, like a funeral procession. But now what?
Survive This / Just Keep Livin’
For family and friends, there is the grieving, of course. Picking up the pieces of her life. Dealing with stuff like Jessica’s bank account, her belongings, student loans, and all the other loose ends of a person’s life when it ends abruptly and unexpectedly. I can’t imagine what that must be like. The five stages of grief are well-known: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. What’s less known is that people cycle back and forth amongst those stages and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross originally described the steps as applying to terminally ill patients. (See this article from Psychology Today.)
For those of us who didn’t know her, we don’t have the same depth feelings, but we still feel something, or else 150 of Jessica’s fellow bike riders would not have shown up. For me, it’s sadness, confusion, empathy, and yes, anger. As I wrote in my previous post about Jessica, I’m pissed off at the City for not taking care of vulnerable road users years ago.
But who is the City if not just government employees and politicians, but its residents, tasxpayers and voters? I’m angry with them, too. And of course, let’s not forget car drivers who act like they own the road and demand more and more roads at whatever cost, including the cost of protected (or any) bike lanes. I’ve got plenty of feels for you people. In fact I yelled at a guy driving poorly in a parking lot who was texting. But I’m not above fault, either.“We have met the enemy, and it is us,” Pogo said in a cartoon.
New Information About the Crash
According to Social Cycling Austin (who did a great job making this happen), the best guess about what happened is that Jessica was trying to get off the busy street with no bike lanes or shoulders and a choppy sidewalk. I hadn’t noticed it much, but there is a very prounounced and noticeable hill at that point where she was hit. (My photograph of that hill at dusk didn’t come out well.) She had cross into the opposing lane to get off the road when the car came up on her too quickly for her to avoid it. It seems likely Jessica couldn’t see the car and the car couldn’t see her until it was too late. The speed limit is 40 and it was dark. The fact that she was not wearing a helmet doesn’t matter, because the impact was very severe and she died soon after in the hospital. A bike lane would have meant she didn’t need to cross the road.
I heard from a former boyfriend and also a family member after my first post, thanking me for it. It was the least I can do. I’m not sure how this post will help much either, much like I wonder what the Ride of Silence did. Because people would yell or cheer as we passed, but we were silent, and since we were without any signs, they had no idea what we were doing. Sure, we were not there to garner attention, but yet we were. Bike riders are people too. We’re fragile. Please don’t kill us, even if we mess up.
I also feel there was a missed opportunity to harness some of the anger and sadness and channel it into effective political action. Why not have everyone sign a letter to City Council and the Mayor? There was some media coverage, but I can’t find it yet. And an unfortunate related side note, the University has already removed Anthony’s ghost bike. Jessica’s was parked next to a state cemetery, but not locked to the gate. Hopefully it will be allowed to remain as a place for people to remember her.
Pray for the Dead & Fight Like Hell for the Living
As an agnostic athiest, prayer isn’t my jam, but for some that’s just semantics. Since I had actually missed the beginning of the ride, I went straight to the ghost bike to wait. While there, I took some photos, and I took time to ruminate. I thought of Jessica, tried to imagine what she was like, and what she would become if this tragedy hadn’t happened. Notice, I don’t use the word accident. It was a crash. It wasn’t the car driver’s doing in this case. That hardly seems important, though.
Anyway, some would say I was praying, but whatever you call it, I was in a meditative state. Something inspired me to go look for some wildflowers, which I found and put on the ghost bike erected in her honor. Even now, I wish it was all some cruel hoax, and she would appear, unscathed and smiling, with maybe Ashton Kutcher of the TV show Punk’d fame or Criss Angel magic trick from Mindfreak. But that’s not reality. A woman who rode her bike is dead, and she is not coming back. Not in the flesh, at least.
All we can do is advocate for better laws and infrastructure, be the safest cyclists we can and ride defensively. If we’re car drivers, we must share the road. But we all can and should also remember a young life lost. You can’t remember someone you didn’t know, but I hope through my little blog, a sliver of her memory reaches someone else. And in that collective mind, she lives on through the lives she touched, her words and deeds. Surely she was not all saintly and perfect, but human. And we humans are capable of mistakes, and bad deeds, but also some pretty great stuff. Tacos, roller coasters, and bicycles come to mind.
Next time you go cycling, or have the idea to, here are some things you can do:
- Think of this 28-year old woman, and be adventurous, smart, fun-loving and kind like her.
- Write all your Austin City Councilmembers at once to demand PROTECTED bike lanes on MLK Street NOW!
- Send a letter to the editor about the need for more safety on our streets.
- Look at these League of American Cyclists Smart Cycling bicycle safety videos, and follow their advice.
- Go buy a helmet, brighter lights and a safety vest, and use them!
- Vow to leave earlier in your car and speed less, and text never.
Each of us taking a few little actions will add up and will change the world. We can’t save Jessica, but we can save someone else. It starts with each of us. It begins with YOU! As Mohandas K. Gandhi said,
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Donate to Bike Education in Jessica’s Name!
According to her obituary, Jessica was buried in Bandera, Texas last week. A donation may be made in Jessica Saathoff’s name to the Ghisallo Cycling Initiative at www.ghisallo.org. Ghisallo’s mission is to educate and develop youth riders into cycling experts who integrate bicycling into their daily lives.
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3 thoughts on “Ride of Silence to Ghost Bike for Jessica Rae Saathoff: ¡Presente!”
Thanks for the post and thanks for posting Jessica’s picture. What a beautiful person. I was on the ride and now I feel I know her a little bit better. I was also on the ride for Anthony Diaz and I’m sadden that UT is so callous to take down his ghost bike but not surprised. The powers that be at UT are all motorist and they don’t want to be reminded of the true cost of our deadly diseased obsession with the cars-first transportation system.
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