Annual ‘Ride of Silence’ seeks to improve safety and visibility of Salem bicyclists

Participants in the 2021 Ride of Silence, an event intended to raise awareness of cyclists on roadways, wore posters pinned to their backs that honor Ken Haigler, a Salem Health nurse killed while riding his bike. (Courtesy/Mary Schmidgall)

As a regular Salem bike commuter for nearly 20 years, Jim Ross said he’s been involved in several accidents. He recalled how years ago he was stopped in the bike lane at the intersection of Kubler Boulevard and Lancaster Drive Southeast when the trailer from a semi-truck crushed his back wheel and left him with a broken leg. 

He said that a police officer saw the accident from his vehicle. The officer who approached him was immediately concerned about whether Ross was wearing a helmet.

“Officer, it’s my leg,” Ross recalled saying. The driver of the truck wasn’t given a ticket, he said.  

Last week, about 30 cyclists took to Salem’s streets in hopes of preventing future accidents like his. On Wednesday, May 19, the Salem Bike Club held its 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 on a passing school bus. 

The ride is held during National Bike Month and is intended to raise awareness among motorists, law enforcement and city officials that cyclists have a legal right to the road. 

“I’ve been pushing safety rather than blame,” said Ross, who helped organize the event, but was unable to ride because of an injury. 

The Salem Bicycle Club has held the event since 2004 (except in 2020 when it  was canceled because of Covid). Ross said the event seeks to increase the visibility of cyclists and their acceptance as an everyday part of street traffic that should be treated safely. 

Most years, the ride draws 15 to 20 riders. But Ross said it drew more riders this year probably because people are eager to get out after being cooped up during the pandemic. 

Like past years, riders used the same eight-mile ride that began in a state employee parking lot downtown and looped through northeast Salem neighborhoods as well as Wallace Marine Park and Riverfront Park before returning to its starting point. 

Mary Schmidgall, who participated in the ride, said the reactions from motorists were patient and courteous, recalling how a van made space for the cyclists as they turned on to Sunnyview Road. 

“Bicycles on the road should just be a common ordinary thing,” she said.

According to the club, participants ride no faster than 12 mph, wear helmets, follow the rules of the road and remain silent during the ride. Riders, many of whom wore tights and fluorescent jackets, were spaced out into groups to not disrupt traffic. 

The ride also honors cyclists that have been killed or injured on roadways. 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 who died after being struck by a pickup truck driven by a 17-year-old on a road between Lebanon and Sweet Home. 

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

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

According to Oregon Department of Transportation numbers from 2018 (the most recent available), there were 55 crashes in Salem involving bicycles, one of which was fatal. The previous year, there were 52 crashes involving bikes and no fatalities. In 2010, there were 51, one of which was fatal. 

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

Ross, who has lived in Salem since 1982 and racked up over 50,000 miles on his road bike in the last 20 years, said that the city of Salem has become more bike-friendly. The city has made infrastructure improvements geared toward cyclists, such as stop lights on busy intersections, he said. Ross pointed to a recent move to put a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian lane on Union Street

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

Andersen, who said he’s ridden his bike to every city council meeting since 2015 regardless of conditions, said the city could become more bike and pedestrian-friendly as it develops a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Of course we need a Ride of Silence,” said Andersen. “In general our society is way, way too invested in single-occupancy vehicles.”

Participants in the 2021 Ride of Silence, an event intended to raise awareness of cyclists on roadways. (Courtesy/Mary Schmidgall)

Participants in the 2021 Ride of Silence, an event intended to raise awareness of cyclists on roadways. (Courtesy/Mary Schmidgall)

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

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