Kentucky spring afternoons don’t come any better than Sunday. I met eight friends outside Versailles, and we bicycled 30 miles through some of the most beautiful countryside on Earth. It was wonderful.
Then I returned home, showered and got an email from my mother. “Are you okay?” she asked. “Just saw on TV that a bicyclist was killed … I hope you had a good, safe ride today.”
I began searching Kentucky.com and other websites for details. A woman in an SUV had struck and killed an unidentified cyclist on U.S. 68 in Bourbon County, just south of Ferguson Road.
I immediately felt sick. I knew exactly why the cyclist was there. I had been there myself many times.
Ferguson is one of several scenic roads between Lexington and Paris. Others include Hutchison, Harp Innis, Huston Antioch, Hughes and Muir Station. They are perfect for cycling, because motor vehicles are few and far between.
But Paris Pike intersects all of those roads. To complete a ride, cyclists must cross that busy four-lane highway, often riding along it a ways to get across.
Two decades ago, the state spent a zillion dollars making Paris Pike safer for motor vehicles and one of Kentucky’s most scenic drives. That included a lot of pretty stone fences, but few shoulders; just a white line on each side and a rumble strip before you hit grass.
Paris Pike has great sight lines, meaning you can see a long way ahead and behind. That makes it safer for cyclists, but gives motorists an excuse to speed. I take a deep breath every time I cross that highway, and I try to avoid it whenever possible. There is no excuse for the lack of shoulders, at least near crossings.
A little after 10 p.m. Sunday, I was checking local news websites again to see if the cyclist had been identified when my cell phone rang. In an emotional voice, the caller told me it was our mutual friend, Dr. David Cassidy.
My sick feeling turned to despair. I didn’t ride with David, because he was faster and stronger than me. But we were friends and hiked together several times. He was a respected cardiologist and one of those people you just enjoy being with. I will miss him.
Police have yet to assign blame, but photos of their reconstruction indicate Cassidy was at the edge of the right lane, the safest place he could have been. The SUV apparently hit him from behind after passing another vehicle and crossing back into the right lane. Police haven’t said if the driver was speeding or distracted.
But it didn’t take long for the anti-bicycle crowd to chime in on social media. You know, the people who think public roads were built just for them and their vehicles. The people who think they have a God-given right to speed from Point A to Point B without anyone or anything slowing them down.
I hear it all the time: Why would anybody ride a bicycle on those narrow (or wide or busy) roads? It’s unsafe! It’s crazy! Blah, blah, blah.
I don’t expect non-cyclists to appreciate the exhilaration of this challenging exercise, the camaraderie of chatting with friends as you ride or the soul-nourishing peace that can be found on a slow-speed scenic tour without engine noise in your ear. But that’s their loss.
Some perspective: Cassidy was the third bicyclist killed in Kentucky this year, according to Kentucky State Police. By comparison, 150 people have died in state motor vehicle crashes since Jan 1. And 20 pedestrians have been killed.
Maybe we should prohibit walking, since our feet seem to be at least six-times more dangerous than a bicycle. Then we can be the nation’s fattest state, instead of just the 12th fattest.
Last year’s Kentucky highway death toll was 761. Only five of those people were riding bicycles. (There was one bicycle death in 2014 and two the year before.) But 80 people were killed last year riding motorcycles. Should they be banned?
Bicycles are not only here to stay, they’re getting more popular for both recreation and transportation. The Bluegrass Cycling Club now has more than 1,000 members. I see more bicycle commuters around town every year.
What’s more, people now come to Central Kentucky from all over North America to ride bicycles on our scenic roads. It’s a growing facet of tourism and economic development, despite the fact that the League of American Bicyclists rates Kentucky next to last among bicycle-friendly states, mainly because of poor laws and infrastructure.
Here’s the bottom line: Kentucky’s streets and roads must be safely designed for all the vehicles that use them, not just big ones with engines. Cyclists and motorists must obey traffic laws and speed limits and be prosecuted when they don’t.
Most importantly, everyone needs to be more careful and share the road. It wasn’t just built for you.
Funeral services for Dr. David Cassidy will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Christ Church Cathedral on Market Street. Visitation will follow from noon to 2 p.m. Friday at the Thomas Hunt Morgan House on North Broadway.