Cyclist's death spurs talk about sharing the road

Cyclist's death spurs talk about sharing the road

PORTLAND, Ore. - Accidents involving cyclists and motorists in Portland do not often turn deadly, but when a truck driver accidentally ran over 19-year-old student Tracey Sparling this week, it renewed the debate over how the two groups can share the roads more safely.

Friday night's memorial ride for Tracey Sparling brought hundreds of cyclists to Burnside Avenue in downtown.

"It affected a whole bunch of people. It could have been anyone," said participant and friend Betsy Marineaeu.

On Saturday afternoon, pedestrians continued to stop and look at the flowers and candles placed on and around a ghost bicycle, painted white and mounted against a pole on the corner of 14th and Burnside.

Some say the accident is a reminder that bike lanes are not always visible to drivers.

Ben Johnson took his three kids to the scene to teach them a lesson about defensive riding.

"The drivers and the riders need to watch out for one another," Johnson said.
   
In life, Sparling inspired others.

In death, her story re-ignites a community discussion.

"We're on the verge of being forced to make big changes," said Jonathan Maus, the man behind BikePortland.org.

He says the number of cyclists using the roads continues to grow - and so does the need for education about bike safety.

"A big issue is visibility and blind spots," he said, adding that more signs would help.

Other ideas include creating more bike boxes at intersections.

Bike boxes are clearly defined spaces for cyclists that exist in front of stopped vehicles at traffic signals rather than on the side of vehicles. An example can be seen here or by visiting the corner of 39th and Clinton in southeast Portland.

Located throughout Europe, the idea is to have cyclists congregate in front of drivers and to eliminate any blind spots.     

Lt. Mark Kruger of the Portland Police Bureau's traffic division disagrees, saying big boxes may not be the most feasible idea because they take up so much space and would require a massive amount of work.

Kruger told KATU News he recommends following California's lead by allowing drivers to turn into a bike lane within 200 feet of an intersection. That could lower the chance of a driver hitting a cyclist while making a right turn. Kruger said such a rule could have saved Sparling's life.
    
So far, none of these ideas have gained enough traction among cyclists and non-cyclists.

Tracey Sparling's death may be a rare occurrence but some hope her story can lead to bold action.

"We've done a lot already," said Maus. "But some will have to balance their perspectives with others and improve the safety."

Maus suggested other options could include painting more bike lanes a different color or physically separating bike and car lanes with some kind of buffer.