A lone, painted white bicycle sits at the side of Usery Park Road near Bush Highway.
Where wheels once spun under the power of a rider, flowers now rest.
The bike recognizes the spot where Clare Kirby, a Mesa mom, wife and avid cyclist, was struck and killed in April.
Members of the Valley-based Not One More Foundation place the bicycles when they can to not only remember riders and remind drivers of the need to share the road, but to renew the message of the shared responsibility needed to make sure not another cyclist is hit or killed while doing the sport so many love.
With the Valley’s noted weather and scenic outdoors, more people are hopping on bicycles. At the same time, drivers are finding every more ways to be distracted — from cell phones to GPS systems to even eating in a vehicle.
It’s a dangerous mix, explained Not One More co-founders Sterling Baer and Dara Schulenberg.
Schulenberg should know. In 2005, she was struck by a distracted driver while riding near her north Mesa home. The accident landed Schulenberg in the hospital with 40 broken bones and dual closed head injuries.
“I was doing everything you’re supposed to. I was wearing bright clothing, riding in a small group,” she said, recalling the accident.
It was another cyclist’s accident that brought Baer and Schulenberg first together in 2008. Both were trying to reach out to a female cyclist who had been seriously injured after being struck by a car.
It turned out that the injured cyclist was the Mesa mom of two young boys, Dee Scott, who lives not far from Schulenberg.
Knowing that Scott and others involved in horrific bicycle accidents would need help emotionally and monetarily, Not One More was created. The organization raises funds to sponsor injured cyclists and their families, as well as be a voice of advocacy. Through work with different groups, such as the Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists, they try to get legislation passed to protect cyclists and punish those who injure them.
During the current Arizona legislative session, the group tried to push through legislation that would make roadway harassment illegal, limit texting while driving and create a “vulnerable user” law like one that exists in the state of Washington, Baer said. Washington’s law gives an automatic fine and 90-day driver’s license suspension to drivers who commit a traffic infraction that causes the death or serious injury to a vulnerable roadway user.
“We’ve had multiple incidents of cyclists hit or run off the road or hit because of texting, phones or people fiddling with GPS,” Baer said.
Right now, a law that came about in 2000 mandates drivers to stay at least 3 feet from cyclists on the road when overtaking them. But it’s rarely enforced, Baer said. Anyone who violates that an injures a rider can receive fine, up to $500. If the rider is killed, the fine is up to $1,000.In the 2013 rankings of states as “bicycle friendly,” by the American League of Bicyclists, Arizona is No. 10. Last year it was No. 14. Arizona’s bicycle-safety plan is in place, but the group believes Arizona needs a statewide ban on texting, as well as the “vulnerable user” law Baer wants to see passed. “The goal is to reduce the number of bicyclist fatalities and injury crashes with motor vehicles,” Michael Sanders, Arizona Department of Transportation’s bicycle and pedestrian program coordinator, stated in a release by American League of Bicyclists. “We ‘crash-typed’ nearly 750 reported crashes that occurred over a five-year period to better define the sequence of actions leading to the collision. For example, we found that over half of all crashes occurred while a motorist was making a right turn. The Plan consists of action items addressing potential changes to policies and education programs, or new tools, such as bicycle road safety audit guidelines, to improve bicyclist safety.”
Too many headlines
The same day as Kirby’s death, a cyclist was injured in a hit-and-run in Casa Grande. The 59-year-old cyclist suffered a broken back, according to news reports. A week later, two cyclists were injured in an accident in Scottsdale.
In March 2012, Shawn McCarty of Scottsdale was killed while riding his bicycle in north Scottsdale. The next month, three cyclists were seriously injured after being struck in Mesa.
Those headlines come too close to home for George Esahek-Gage.
On Nov. 11, 2006, while riding home with his wife to their then-Ahwatukee Foothills home, Esahek-Gage was struck by a vehicle that ran a red stop light on the I-10 off-ramp for Chandler Boulevard. Esahek-Gage was thrown 50-feet. The force of the hit caused the car to spin and hit George’s wife, Jane, before crashing into a traffic signal pole, knocking it down.
Emergency crews arrived quickly on the scene.
“They went to Jane first because she looked like she was stirring. I looked like I was dead. My body was in an unusual position. My bone in my leg was sticking out,” George Esahek-Gage said.
But then, he moaned.
Esahek-Gage’s injuries went beyond the physical ones that could be seen, including 23 broken bones. The vein to his heart was severed and, though he wore a helmet, the force of his head hitting the pavement caused traumatic brain injury.
He lost much of his ability to retain short-term memories. He suffered from aphasia and would use the wrong word when trying to speak. He had to relearn his multiplication tables.
“That eventually ended my legal career,” he said.
Esahek-Gage completed 16 Ironman races, including eight world championships in Hawaii prior to the accident. But even with the stiches, staples and wounds, it never entered Esahek-Gage mind that he would give up cycling. “I think I was in a state of denial about the extent of my injuries,” he said. “In an odd way I didn’t even think I wouldn’t be able to do things again. … It was a real surreal experience. I don’t think anybody who has a traumatic injury … I don’t think they think it’s going to happen to them.”
Esahek-Gage said he is “blessed.” A friend who suffered a similar accident – being hit by a red-light runner – is now in a wheel chair. Another cycling friend died from injuries in an accident.
“It’s a blessing. It’s a miracle I’m all in one piece.”
From hurt to hope and advocacy
Today, Esahek-Gage trains tri-athletes, those who compete in running, swimming and cycling. He splits his time between Arizona and Boulder, Colo. In April, he was the “dedication recipient” of the El Tour de Mesa.
“I think what I like most about cycling is you can move under your own power without the aches and pains you have running and you see things you might just miss,” he said. “You see the wildlife … it’s a nature-loving kind of thing. I just enjoy that and you can cover a lot of territory”
But the “car culture” of his home state keeps him indoors most days while in Arizona. He won’t ride during the week because of the traffic. He won’t ride on Saturdays, because that’s the day of the week he was hit.
“I still don’t feel real safe all the time riding around here. I still spend a lot of time on a stationary bike,” Esahek-Gage said.
Sunday mornings, he and his wife head out from their now North Scottsdale home and into the mountains.
“I think that just makes common sense, but I think it’s too bad. I grew up out here. I rode my bike for many, many years. It feels like my world is smaller now,” he said.
Sharing the message
Esahek-Gage delivers bicycle safety messages to students and through the Gage Safer Streets Foundation.
Some solutions, Esahek-Gage believes, may come from education, he said. Others may come from legislation.
“If you watch people weaving back and forth, lane to lane in a car, and you think of being out there on a bike, you get really concerned about that,” he said. “People will just do things they don’t realize aren’t safe. That just concerns me that we don’t seem to care that much.”
Two events that help bring awareness of cyclists injured r killed are the annual Ride of Silence and then the event Baer and Schulenberg began, the Ride of Honor.
While the two like the idea of the Ride of Silence – a worldwide event held at the same time globally on the third Wednesday of May, be it 3 a.m. in Africa or dusk in Arizona – it doesn’t always fall at a safe time for Valley cyclists, Baer said.
At least one Ride of Silence will take place in the East Valley. It begins 7 p.m. Wednesday at Mesa’s Mountain View Park.
Through such events and constant work with the public, these three riders hope there will be fewer stories of cyclist injury and death in the future.
“Cycling safety is really multifaceted. There isn’t one thing. It’s absolutely got to be a collaboration of police, municipalities, ADOT, public safety and awareness of how to share the road,” Schulenberg said. “Drivers and cyclists have to do their part too, starting at the stop sign.”
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