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Share the road

Before it degenerates into a rant, and then a plea, this must first serve as a memorial. I was greeted Monday by this above-the-fold headline in the San Francisco Chronicle: SANTA CLARA DEPUTY SHERIFF VEERS INTO CYCLISTS KILLING 2.

On a bluebird Sunday morning, a rookie Santa Clara County deputy sheriff crossed over a double-yellow line and plowed into a trio of cyclists near Cupertino. Matt Peterson died instantly. Kristianna Gough was airlifted to Stanford University Hospital, where she died several hours later. Christopher Knapp was upgraded from critical to stable condition on Monday.

Peterson, 30, was described by friends as an "adrenaline junkie" who'd done a 24-hour mountain bike race in pouring rain in Whistler, British Columbia, and an Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, N.Y. Eight days before he died, he won his division of the Merco Credit Union Cycling Classic in Merced, Calif. The Chronicle quoted a friend of his recalling, "You couldn't have a leisurely ride with Matt. It turned into what we call a 'hammer fest.' Matt's driving the pace and everyone else is just hanging on."

Gough, 31, was a champion triathlete and super strong rider who'd recently gone over to the road full time, winning all but one of the bike races she had entered. The San Jose Mercury News reported that she aspired to compete in the Olympics, and was training in the last hours of her life, for pre-Olympic time-trial races next weekend in Visalia. The paper also noted that one of her legs was severed in the crash.

Witnesses said the moment of impact was preceded by no screeching of brakes. When it came to rest, the squad car was entirely in the wrong lane. A cyclist who came upon the carnage quoted the disoriented deputy as saying things like, "I must have fallen asleep," and "My life is over." (The deputy was placed on paid leave.)

Sunday's tragedy occurred not far from where another cyclist was run down in 1996. Jeffrey Steinwedel, 46, died in 1996 when he was hit and run over by a double-truck hauling gravel. The driver denied involvement, until investigators found fibers from Steinwedel's clothing and paint from his bike on the truck.

It happened 13 hours before a man driving in San Francisco struck a woman on her bike. She suffered life-threatening injuries, but did not die. The driver fled the scene, but later turned himself in.

It happened the day after friends of Beth Dunn gathered outside a Peet's Coffee & Tea in Ventura to dedicate a bike rack to her. Dunn, a local grocery clerk, was riding her bike last July when she was hit by a truck and killed. The driver fled the scene, but later turned himself in.

It happened two weeks after Martin Palma-Perez was run over and killed by a construction truck at an intersection in Santa Ana, Calif.

It happened 8 1/2 years after my San Anselmo neighbor, Cecy Krone, was crushed against a rock embankment on Nicasio Valley Road by a drunken driver. Krone was killed by Michele Young, a woman with a previous DUI whose blood alcohol level that morning was more than twice the legal limit. (Young, who was driving with her 10-year-old son in the passenger seat, pled guilty to vehicular manslaughter and child endangerment and was sentenced to six years in prison.)

It happened eight years and three months after Kirk Ross, also of San Anselmo, was killed on the same road, struck from behind by a 71-year-old woman who'd fallen asleep at the wheel.

It happened two months after I was grazed by a blue sedan while riding northwest on Broadway Boulevard in Fairfax. I was at the far right edge of the road. The car didn't stop. I overtook it, and was attempting to open the passenger door at approximately 15 mph when a very distraught woman rolled down the window and tearfully explained that she was just coming from visiting her husband in the hospital, and that she "didn't even see me."

I cooled off immediately; I'd been under the impression that she strafed me on purpose. After calming her down, I had a great ride -- around the Nicasio Reservoir, past memorials of Cecy Krone and Kirk Ross.

Later, I thought to myself: I'm rocking electric blue Lycra shorts and an orange jersey, not because I'm color blind, but because I want cars to see me! How could she miss me?

Nearly every cyclist in America has similar stories. We beseech you: Start seeing bicycles.

After reading about the deaths of Gough and Peterson on Monday morning, I headed out Bolinas-Fairfax Road around 2:30 that afternoon. Fifty-five minutes later, near the end of the gorgeous, redwood-intensive climb up to Ridgecrest Road, I had an encounter with a white pickup. (I don't know what it is about guys in pickups.)

Just before he passed me, this man veered way over the centerline -- half the truck was in my lane. He was smiling. I don't know if he did it on purpose or not. After negotiating the switchback, he had to drive below me. I was still shouting at him as he drove away. His female passenger shot me a retaliatory bird out the window. I found a fist-sized rock and dropped it in one of my pockets, just in case he decided to come back.

Having cooled off, I feel compelled to reach out to motorists, and assure them: I know, I know -- if you don't make it to your kid's after-school care center in, like, 10 minutes, you'll be charged extra!

You're right, I probably DON'T know how valuable your time is. I know you've been delayed in the past by inconsiderate cyclists riding two or three abreast, and that you've seen bikers run stop signs, as if they were above the law. So have I. They are in the minority. Together, let's try to convince them to ride more safely.

In the meantime, if you need to pass me, and no vehicle is approaching from the other direction -- if we have the road to ourselves, in other words -- do me a favor. Miss me by more than, say, a foot. I know your car-handling skills (or your pickup-handling skills) are well above average, and that I was never in any danger, but do it for me anyway.

True, this courtesy may result in your left tires touching the little reflectors in the middle of the road. I have some excellent news that may surprise you: it is highly UNLIKELY that the little reflectors will throw your car out of alignment.

If you need to pass me and another car IS coming from the other direction, you can either: A) pass me at precisely that moment, even though it will mean you come dangerously close to me forcing me to hail you with a one-digit salute, or B) touch your brakes, wait for the oncoming car to go by, THEN pass. Yes, this could result in a delay to you of up to three seconds, but think of the excellent karma you'll be creating for yourself.

And an interesting fact you may not have known: Riding bikes on the road is legal in America -- even encouraged!

I live in a part of the country where traffic is expected to increase 250 percent in the next 20 years. We live on a planet whose addiction to fossil fuels has created problems that might be alleviated if people rode their bikes more often.

Bicycles are part of the solution. Start seeing bicycles.

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