Making cycling safety a priority

Finding the lessons in the tragic hit-and-run-related deaths of two cyclists

The author, executive director of Chico Velo Cycling Club, has lived in Chico for 15 years.

The shock and horror of two separate cyclist fatalities due to collisions with hit-and-run motorists—in Chico on Sept. 22 and in Cottonwood two weeks ago—have left the cycling community reeling.

As we sort out our emotions and reactions, we should consider two perspectives. First, both of these incidents epitomize our worst nightmare—being left for dead by hit-and-run drivers. We want to believe people will do the “right thing”—and often people do—but, apparently, we cannot rely on “hoping” for individuals to make the right choice in a moment of crisis.

Chico Velo, the Butte Bicycle Coalition, Chico Corsa, Chico Masters and the Chico Cyclist Care Fund all support and encourage the harshest possible punishment for these offenders—to send the strongest message that doing the right thing is not just morally correct but also leads to the “least bad” outcome.

But we should also look beyond the individual circumstances to our infrastructure and commitment to cyclist safety. If any possible good can come out of these terrible tragedies, it must be in making cycling safer. We should consider how the outcome for Kristina Chesterman might have changed if there was a safer route for her commute. If we had separated bike lanes on Nord Avenue (such as on Warner Street), or if the railroad bike path were made safe for late-night cyclists, perhaps she would be alive today.

In the 1970s in the Netherlands, similar fatalities prompted a campaign: “Stop de Kindermoord” (stop child murder), which led to Amsterdam becoming the world’s most bike-friendly city. Chico is ideally suited for cycling—for recreation or transportation. Many citizens do not use a motorized vehicle, and are at the mercy of automobile drivers. Chico has the opportunity to take cyclist safety more seriously and we are committed to step up our efforts to work with the city, county and CalTrans to make cyclist safety a priority.

Chico’s cycling organizations endorse the strongest possible punishments for hit-and-run drivers. There should be no tolerance for such behavior in our community, especially when immediate care can mean the difference between life and death. We have been actively involved in the recent passing of the “three-foot law” requiring motorists to leave adequate space while passing bicycles. We welcome community involvement in similar projects and we are always seeking volunteers. Those interested can reach out to any of us through the Chico Velo website at