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By Karen Kefauver
November 8, 2013
Link to Sentinel Article

A "ghost bike" marks the spot where a cyclist was killed near Oakland. The Santa Cruz cycling community is considering placing such a memorial along Highway 1 for Josh Alper, who was struck by a car and killed Saturday. (Doug Oakley/Bay Area News Group)

I don’t expect to die when I go out for a bike ride.

Yes, I realize riding my bike on trails or on streets can be dangerous, even fatal, due to traffic, weather and other risk factors. To try and stay safe on my favorite form of transportation, I take recommended precautions like dressing in bright colors, respecting traffic laws, using bike lights at night, always wearing a helmet and not talking on my cell phone while cycling. Nevertheless, I am often lulled into thinking that my doing everything right on my bike will insure my safety.

Then, a tragedy strikes, a cyclist dies, and I am left reeling, thinking about how fragile life is. And I know that it could have been me.

I did not know Joshua Alper, 40, who was struck and killed by a car last Saturday morning while riding his road bike back to Santa Cruz from Davenport. But I have learned a little about him through others.

“Josh was just getting back into cycling,” said Paul Howell, co-owner of Bike Dojo in downtown Santa Cruz, where Josh was a frequent visitor. “He was really excited about it. He was an absolute joy to be around, with a great attitude. He was really positive, funny, kind and generous.”

He worked at the UC Santa Cruz library, was deeply into the Santa Cruz music scene and left behind a beloved wife, Annette Marines.

I mourn that he lost his life doing an activity that he and I both love.

On Saturday, Josh and three friends, including Howell, set out from downtown Santa Cruz and headed up the coast on Highway 1 toward Swanton Road. On the return trip, near Dimeo Lane, according to the California Highway Patrol, “a 63-year-old Santa Cruz man was driving north on the highway in a 2013 Tesla Model S and veered into the bike line and struck a cyclist head-on in the south-bound bike lane.”

Prosecutors trained in vehicular manslaughter cases are investigating the incident, but CHP officers have said the driver fell asleep at the wheel before he crossed into opposing traffic.

Josh died on impact. None of his friends witnessed the accident because they were spread out along the highway.

“On Tuesday night at the Dojo, it was a struggle to keep it together,” said Howell, 36, a native of London who teaches fitness and cycling classes at Bike Dojo. “In the classroom at the gym, I kept a bike free for him. It was draped with a black towel. It was a way to show he was still with us.”

“There have been lots of people crying at the Dojo,” said Rob Mylls, the founder and co-owner of Bike Dojo, tearing up himself. “Josh was such a quirky, happy-go-lucky guy. He always walked around with his cycling hat flipped up and was so into his workouts.”

View or sign the guest book for Josh Alper
In a struggle to make sense of the senseless, I have read more than 500 comments on the Sentinel stories that have been published, searched out hundreds of public and private posts on Facebook, and reviewed dozens of threads from online message boards, including those posted on the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club’s site. There is an outpouring of grief, frustration and anger about the loss of Josh and the circumstances of the accident, from drivers and cyclists, alike.

Some of the rage is directed toward the driver, the fact he was driving a Tesla, and that he may or may not have been on a cell phone, talking or texting. Some wonder if highway rumble strips, the new 3-feet law (in which drivers must allocate a cyclist three feet of space when passing) or a dedicated bike path would have helped prevent the accident.

Other people wonder aloud if riding a bike is worth the inherent risks.

Still others demand stricter laws and enforcement of them to prevent vehicle-bicycle collisions.

But the focus of today’s Spin City is to collectively acknowledge the loss of Josh Alper and to eventually channel that grief and frustration into positive action for our community as a whole.

Howell is working with the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club, the Santa Cruz Triathlon Club, local bike shops and others in an effort to launch a memorial bike ride from Davenport to Santa Cruz in honor of Josh. He has also spoken with the mayor and the CHP. The ride details are in the works and a date has not been set. (Check for updates at the Bike Dojo Facebook page).

“My goal is for drivers to see hundreds of cyclists on this memorial ride and ask, ‘What is going on?’ And then for them to realize that if they change their attitudes and their behavior, it can make a positive difference.

“The outpouring of people and their words, photos, memories of Josh show the loss people are suffering. It’s a tribute to how he was and who he was that he touched the hearts of everyone he met. The people who didn’t get a chance to meet Josh, that’s something the world has lost.”

Karen Kefauver (www.karenkefauver.com) is a freelance writer based in Santa Cruz. Also view her stories on the Sentinel’s Out and About blog at www.santacruzsentinel.com/blogs



Read a sampling of the comments that have been made about the collision that ended Josh Alper’s life by clicking in this story online at www.santacruzsentinel.com/sports.
Send us your take at [email protected]

Here is a small selection of online posts by cyclists that I chose to keep anonymous but reflect a variety of concerns.

• “Every time I hear of a cyclist being hit by a car I feel so sick. I love our sport, but there are too many dangerous drivers. I see drivers on their cell phones frequently while I am out riding (mostly alone, unfortunately). Drivers are too distracted and I wish the police would crack down on the cell phone use while driving. We need stricter laws and stiffer penalties for drivers that hit, and especially for those that kill, bicyclists.”

• “I think they ought to prosecute this driver. The things that he did didn’t make any sense. He should not be allowed behind the wheel of a car. They say there is no alcohol or drugs, but in order to do something quite that dangerous, perhaps he had fallen asleep. Anyway, Highway 1 is not the greatest place to ride (especially on Saturday) even if you are doing nothing wrong. Poor cyclist was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is a good argument for a bicycle path the whole length of Pacific Coast Highway.”

• “I’m not a lawyer, but some form of manslaughter/murder is appropriate. This is outrageous. I’ve been riding regularly on Highway 1 for over 35 years. I want this guy prosecuted and made an example of… I’m really upset for this guy’s family and friends.”

• “Consider the very large number of utterly oblivious, irresponsible cyclists who ride in the most random fashion throughout our city: opposite direction on streets, on sidewalks, with headphones, shooting out of cross streets, ignoring stop signs and traffic lights, in the dark without reflectors or lighting. I’m frankly amazed there aren’t more injuries. Santa Cruz is an easy place for cycling, which makes sense and is a great thing. As a community, we have a range of problems associated with that high use of bikes mixed with lots of cars.”

• “People in cars for the most part aren’t colliding with bicyclists on purpose. It’s falling asleep, talking on cell phones, texting, changing CDs, drunkeness, not paying attention, etc. that cause most of these incidents. Rumble strips, however inconvenient to cyclists, do wake people up. I think that’s the best we can hope for: “awake,” “alert” and “aware.”

• “In the end, we are all responsible for our own actions no matter whether we are driving or pedaling. The tragic events on Saturday cannot be undone but it can make us all that much more aware of what we can do and how we may actively advocate for stricter laws, consequences and awareness for this distracted behavior.

It is not limited to moving vehicles (the two or four-wheeled kind). I see it in pedestrians, public transit and everywhere a handheld device is present, situational awareness is compromised.

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