Cyclists’ deaths a wakeup call to all of us who travel the open road

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

A few years ago, the knees decided that running was no longer on the menu. Goodbye 10Ks, goodbye marathons, goodbye Pikes Peak Ascent.
So like most creaky old guys who still think they can stay in shape, I returned to biking.
Virtually every morning from April through October, I rise with the sun and ride for an hour or two, usually on one of two or three routes. For cyclists, variety may lead to interesting rides, but unfamiliar rides can be dangerous. It’s good to know where the blind corners are, where cars may be emerging from hidden driveways and where morning shadows may hide new potholes.
But no matter how comforting and familiar the route, you’re always at risk on your bicycle. An encounter with an inattentive driver, road debris or even an ordinary flat tire can lead to serious injury — or worse.
That’s what happened last Thursday, when an elderly, apparently impaired driver turned across an intersection and plowed into two cyclists, killing them both. Edgar Juarez, 30, and Jason Kilroy, 28, died at the scene — young guys, out for an evening ride with three other friends, their lives scarcely begun.
Riders in Colorado Springs know that intersection. It’s part of a popular route up 26th Street to Gold Camp Road, where once a narrow-gauge railway carried gold ore from Cripple Creek to mills on the west side.
The railroad’s long gone, replaced with a quiet residential street. It’s a great ride — a gentle but unremitting 5-mile uphill grind until the pavement ends, rewarding cyclists with panoramic city views and an exhilarating downhill slide from the turnaround.
The former railroad bed isn’t as wide as a regulation city street, so cyclists and motorists alike need to be careful and considerate — and they are. I’ve always felt safe on the route, an accepted and welcome part of the streetscape.
After a while, you get to know the regular riders, be they fit young’uns in Lycra who zoom effortlessly past or fellow geezers who join you in cheerfully wheezing up the hill. You wave at the runners and dog walkers, and you know where the deer are likely to be grazing quietly by the roadside.
It’s a routine that, once experienced, isn’t easily abandoned.
That’s why we’re out there — for fitness, for the company of fellow riders and for the simple joy of the ride.
Jason and E.J. will be missed and mourned by those who loved them and knew them, and by all of us who know why they were there, riding on a cool, damp summer afternoon. Rest in peace — and we’ll honor you by continuing to ride and by gently claiming our space on the roads and trails of our city.
Thirty years ago, riding a road bike was not only perilous, but intermittently humiliating. Drivers — particularly teenagers — thought it was funny to throw things at cyclists, or honk at them or even run them off the road. That was Florida during 1978.
Today, that behavior has just about disappeared, at least in Colorado Springs. Cycling still has its risks, but the vast majority of local drivers are happy to share the road, just as the vast majority of cyclists are courteous and law-abiding. If any good is to come from last week’s tragedy, it can only come if we work together to make the roads safe for all.
Meanwhile, with the primaries safely over, it’s time to give our full attention to the general election.
Nationally, both presidential candidates seem to have taken a page from the Steve DeBerg playbook, a journeyman NFL quarterback of whom his coach once remarked “he can always find a way to lose.”
Which brings us to the Democratic National Convention, looming on our state’s radar screen like the Allied armada on D-Day. One week to go — and crazed hordes of determined Democrats, demented demonstrators, dispirited Republicans, distracted journalists and dazed, displaced Denverites will converge in the Mile-High City to anoint “The One,” Sen. Barack Obama.
For our many sins, Amy Gillentine and yours truly will be among the 15,000 duly credentialed journalists in attendance. We’ll be blogging, interviewing and stumbling aimlessly around trying to find something, like, important to write about.
You can catch it all on our blog at CSBJ.com and in print. Expect breathless accounts of C-list parties (assuming that we can get in), of fleeting chats with vaguely familiar politicians, as well as suitably rigorous (never harsh — we wouldn’t think of it!) analyses of whatever business-related spin the candidate’s advisers may be peddling.
And we won’t forget the guiding principle of political journalism: politics is show business for ugly people … and that’s why Obama is a new breed of pol.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.