Annual Ride of Silence aims to improve safety and visibility for cyclists in Salem

The eight-kilometer journey is part of an international event that aims to make cycling a daily part of road traffic that must be handled safely. Cycling supporters say Salem has taken steps to make the city bike-friendly, but could do more.

Attendees of 2021 Ride of Silence, an event designed to educate cyclists on the roads, wore posters pinned to their backs in honor of Ken Haigler, a Salem Health nurse who was killed while riding a bicycle. (Courtesy / Mary Schmidgall)

As a regular Salem bicycle commuter for almost 20 years, Jim Ross said he has been involved in several crashes. He remembers years ago he was pulled over on the bike path at the intersection of Kubler Boulevard and Lancaster Drive Southeast when a semi-truck trailer crashed into his rear wheel and left him with a broken leg.

He said a police officer saw the accident from his vehicle. The officer who approached him immediately wondered if Ross was wearing a helmet.

“Officer, this is my leg,” Ross recalls. The driver of the truck did not receive a ticket, he said.

Last week, around 30 cyclists took to the streets of Salem in hopes of preventing future accidents like his. On Wednesday, May 19, the Salem Bike Club hosted their annual Ride of Silence, an international event that began in 2003 in Dallas, Texas, after an endurance cyclist was killed after being struck by the mirror in a passing school bus.

The hike takes place during National Bike Month and aims to educate motorists, law enforcement and city officials that cyclists have a legal right to the road.

“I focused on safety rather than blame,” said Ross, who helped organize the event but was unable to ride due to an injury.

The Salem Bicycle Club has been running the event since 2004 (except in 2020 when it was canceled due to Covid). Ross said the event aims to increase the visibility of cyclists and their acceptance as a daily part of road traffic that should be handled safely.

In most years, the hike attracts 15 to 20 runners. But Ross said it attracted more cyclists this year probably because people were eager to get out after being locked in during the pandemic.

As in previous years, cyclists used the same eight-mile commute that started in a downtown state employee parking lot and traveled through the northeastern neighborhoods of Salem as well as Wallace Marine Park and Riverfront Park before to come back to where it started.

Mary Schmidgall, who participated in the race, said motorists’ reactions were patient and courteous, recalling how a van had made room for cyclists as they made their way to Sunnyview Road.

“Bikes on the road should be a common, everyday thing,” she said.

According to the club, participants do not drive faster than 20 km / h, wear helmets, obey the rules of the road and remain silent during the journey. The runners, many of whom wore fluorescent tights and vests, were divided into groups so as not to disrupt traffic.

The ride also pays tribute to cyclists killed or injured on the roads. In Salem, some riders wore posters of Kenneth Haigler pinned to the backs of their shirts. Haigler was a Corvallis cyclist and nurse at Salem Health died after being hit by a van driven by a 17 year old on a road between Lebanon and Sweet Home.

Most recently, Blake Saville, 25, of Salem died after being struck by a vehicle on Lancaster Drive Southeast in February.

Joleen Braasch Berry, cyclist and bookseller at The Book Bin, died last October after being hit by a car while riding a bike.

According to Oregon Department of Transportation numbers As of 2018 (most recent available), there have been 55 accidents involving bicycles in Salem, including one fatal. The previous year there were 52 accidents involving bicycles and no fatalities. In 2010, there were 51, including one fatal.

A 2018 analysis of nine years of accident data from The Oregonian / OregonLive found that Salem had had three accidents involving bicycles per 1,000 residents. That’s higher than Keizer’s rate of 2.14 per 1,000 people and lower than the 3.63 accidents per 1,000 people recorded for Eugene, which has a similar population size to Salem.

Ross, who has lived in Salem since 1982 and has ridden more than 50,000 miles on his road bike in the past 20 years, said the town of Salem has become more bike-friendly. The city has made improvements to infrastructure for cyclists, such as stop lights at busy intersections, he said. Ross highlighted a recent initiative to create a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian lane on Union Street.

Salem City Councilor Tom Andersen said the city was moving in the right direction but could do more to reduce accidents involving pedestrians or cyclists. He said lower speed limits would make collisions less deadly and bike lanes with a physical barrier to the road would protect cyclists. He said he was pushing for a protected bike path as the city redeveloped McGilchrist Street.

Andersen, who said he has been riding his bike to every city council meeting since 2015 regardless of the conditions, said the city could become more bicycle and pedestrian friendly by developing a plan to cut emissions from greenhouse gas.

“Of course we need a ride of silence,” said Andersen. “In general, our company is too invested in single occupancy vehicles.”

Participants in 2021 Ride of Silence, an event designed to educate cyclists on the roads. (Courtesy / Mary Schmidgall)

Participants in 2021 Ride of Silence, an event designed to educate cyclists on the roads. (Courtesy / Mary Schmidgall)

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @ jakethomas2009.

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