Friday, September 21, 2007


This is old news, but I just heard about it last night from April who knows the wife of the cyclist killed in So Mpls on Wednesday, Sept 12. The victim was Mark Loesch, avid biker and father of four. He was out for a quick ride on a bike he just rebuilt a little after 10pm. It was random violence -- he was beaten to death and left to die in a resident's yard. His bike was not stolen; it wasn't a mugging. Here is the Star Tribune's account.

This is indeed tragic. It is also scary and unbelievable -- it happened within a mile of our place and I know a few dozen other riders who live in the neighborhood. We ride at all hours; many in all kinds of weather. We ride because we love it, because we don't believe in the crutch of the automobile, and we appreciate the efficiency of cycling for urban travel. It sounds like Mark shared some of these same values. There is a memorial fund. Mark leaves behind a wife and four children ages 3-14. Contribute if you can and please spread the word. We cyclists are one big family in many ways, even if those affected aren't part of your crowd or in your scene. Donations may be made to the Mark Loesch Memorial Fund at Associated Bank, 5353 Wayzata Blvd., St. Louis Park, MN 55416.

I rode home from class in St Paul last night, a trek that takes me 14 miles through a variety of neighborhoods across St Paul and Mpls from 9:30 to 10:30pm. I used to not think much of it when I began making the weekly trip about a year and a half ago. By now I've seen enough stuff and heard about enough incidents that I am more wary. When I ride at night I feel I must constantly be on guard, and not simply against vehicles but people who are just up to no good.

There are a couple of issues I ponder: one is proximity and the other vulnerability. The ability for towns and cities to carve a network of bike paths through an urban center is facilitated by abandoned land -- old rail lines, industrial corridors, and otherwise marginalized property zones. These places can provide a relatively quiet, undisturbed area for biking -- during the daylight hours. However, at night many of these areas become hangouts for seedy types and ne'er-do-wells. These places were their haunts before the trail was paved and little has changed including police presence (or the lack thereof). Last week's ride from St Paul produced a surprise on the Midtown Greenway (an east-west "bike freeway" that provides the most efficient means for scooting right across Mpls south of downtown). I rounded a bend to see a woman with a Burley attached to her bike stopped at a blue phone. I pulled over to see what was up. A group of 20-24 kids of various ages had prompted her internal shit detector to say "turn around." The kids were congregated on the path at 13th Ave blocking progress. The police were on their way, so we proceeded. As we approached the throng I wondered what I would have done. My philosophy of night time riding is that speed is safety. Get by questionable folks quickly without them even having the chance to know I'm there until I am well past them. A group this size would have necessitated slowing or taking a different route altogether. We rode toward them and a police cruiser came at them from the opposite direction. The kids dispersed up the ramp toward the street above. Several of them stopped partway up. They formed a line and started chanting a rap line that was written and popularized well before any of them were born: "Fuck the police, fuck the police ..." over and over. most of the kids looked to be between 6 and 10 years old. I was happy to ride past the madness.

The woman with me was blown away. She said she rides the Greenway all the time at night and thought it to be totally safe. She was on the small side, bedecked in stylishly retro duds and horned rim glasses. Her aging cruiser had a flowery basket attached to the front and in her Burley was a large and very docile dog. She could pedal little faster than 8mph. As we chatted I tried my best not to scare her, but I definitely told her accounts of the random violence friends had encountered on the Greenway. She said she'd be more cautious. All of this is not to say the kids were ill-intentioned. They struck me mostly as young punks blowing off some steam in the only secluded place they knew of nearby. But you never know.

That leads me to my second point -- vulnerability. Cyclists are A) more vulnerable without a skin of steel, glass, and plastic surrounding them and B) perceived as more vulnerable by drivers and thugs. As cyclists we can take steps to minimize the first issue by riding smart. If you know what this means, then you know what it means. Sadly, many riders haven't a clue. Smart riding will also take you a long way toward combatting the risks of perceived vulnerability. The problem is those who perceive cyclists as vulnerable run the gambit from relatively benign horn-happy drivers to bonafide felons and murderers (some of whom have drivers' licenses). Be smart folks. Open up your eyes and practice watching your own back. Notice details, study shadows. If something ain't right, alter your route. Spread the word. Report incidents. Most importantly, keep riding and stay safe.

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