At around 7am on Thursday the 30th of March, 2023, John Allore was struck and killed by a motorist driving a passenger car. He was riding his bike on Bradshaw Quarry Road in Orange County, NC at the time.
I did not know John personally, but I was moved by the outpouring of responses from loved ones and friends on social media and email. As the Budget Director for the City of Durham, John touched a lot of lives. His colleagues, friends, and family, including three daughters, have many reasons to be angry.
I’m angry because it shouldn’t be possible for a motorist to kill a cyclist. It should be a Never Event. I’m angry because an early headline called his death an “accident” as if he had ridden off the road on his own and into a tree. I’m angry because I’ve ridden those rural Orange County roads either alone or in groups, but on Friday, the day I learned the news, I stayed off my bike and got in a car for an errand I could easily have run on my bike. It was an irrational and emotion-based decision because statistically, the kind of car+bike collision that killed John, one in which the driver overtakes the bike and hits the cyclist directly from behind, is so rare that it’s not worth worrying about. The vast majority of collisions where motorists hit bikes happen at intersections.
I’m angry because the switch to Daylight Savings kills people every Spring, and yet we lack the political will to follow the science and stick with one timezone pattern all year. John was killed “around 7 am” on Bradshaw Quarry Road, which is right around sunrise on that day at that location. Had the time change not happened, the sun would have already been up a half hour before the driver overtook him.
I’m angry because I have children, and if I’m going to be around to see them grow up, the leading cause of death I should be aiming to avoid is heart disease. Going out and regularly riding a bike is a great way to avoid heart disease, but as previously mentioned, I got in my car because I was scared. I’m angry because when I got in my car, I was overtaken on my right by a motorist who was looking at his phone held in his left hand at chest level between his chest and the steering wheel, exactly the kind of behavior that could kill a cyclist.
I’m angry at myself because years ago I gave up on Vision Zero as too white, too city-focused, and too Eurocentric to ever bring real justice and change. I was wrong. Caught up in my own individual inability to bring change, I removed myself. But individuals alone rarely make meaningful and persistent systemic change; groups do. I’m angry at myself because I see a future where we don’t accept that people regularly die while using our transportation network, and we have made the changes where it simply does not happen, but for years I have not been doing the work to make that future real.
John Allore does not get more chances, but we do.
We have a chance to push for change in the way we zone and structure our land so that bikes and other modes of transit can co-exist safely on roads. This will require changes that some might challenge on costs. Don’t listen to those voices. They’re at best penny wise and pound foolish.
We have the chance to act based on solid statistical risk analysis instead of fear. Cycling is fundamentally a safe and healthy activity. You’re more likely to get a head injury in your home or your car than on your bike, and biking has known health benefits.
We have a chance to complain to editors whenever we see a collision resulting in injury termed an “accident” instead of what it is: a preventable failure of our transportation system. Unlearning culture is hard work, but to be clear, I am not asking people to shun car culture. Cars can and should be enjoyed, but not at the expense of human life.
More reading: The advocacy group Bike Durham published a moving tribute to John Allore, as well as some concrete steps we can take to make our transportation systems safer for all.