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Bicycle death prompts outcry

The recent death of UNM law professor Tim Vollman lends itself to the ongoing discussion about bicyclists’ safety conditions.

Vollmann was killed Dec. 2 when he lost control of his bicycle commuting down Comanche Road and fell under a city dump truck. Albuquerque Police Department determined the driver was not at fault.

Vollmann was wearing a helmet and riding a bicycle his family had given him on Thanksgiving, which coincided with his birthday this year.

Jackie Shane, a member of the bike advocacy group BikeABQ, said bicyclists in that area have less than two feet of space between lanes of traffic and the sidewalk, and that makes it difficult for drivers to maintain a legal five-foot distance between vehicles and bicyclists.

“Some of us can’t help but wonder, ‘Does this create a liability for the city in not designing bike trails that are suitable?’”

she said. “I looked at the correlation between how much regional government invests in alternative transportation, which includes bike lanes, and the rate of bicycle fatalities and the two are almost exactly inversely proportional.”

Bryan Rowland, Vollmann’s stepson, said his father was a successful Indian rights lawyer and dedicated family man.

“He was not just another statistic,” he said. “Not just another tragic accident, not just another body laying in the street with a white tarp over it that the television news and the Albuquerque Journal originally were portraying him as. He was a father, a husband, a grandfather, an uncle and a brother who will be sorely missed.”

Annette Torrez, chairperson of the New Mexico Motorcyclist Rights Organization, said police focused more on finding fault than thoroughly investigating what the driver may have done wrong.

“What really bothers me is that they’re putting all the blame on him, the bicyclist. I call it the victim,” she said. “I feel like they’re not giving the whole story.”

The law says that if a driver injures or kills a bicyclist while violating traffic laws, the driver will be punished only for the traffic violation. Only when the driver commits two or more violations, which is considered reckless driving, is the driver held accountable for the bicyclist.

Shane said this has prevented drivers from being punished.
“There’s sort of a sad, tongue-in-cheek joke among the cycling community that if you want to commit homicide but get away with it, you kill a cyclist, because the deaths keep mounting and people aren’t being cited or arrested for negligent driving,” she said.

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Torrez said a Failure to Yield bill has been in the works for a few years, and they are re-wording it to include all vulnerable users. If passed, it will be easier to prosecute drivers for negligent driving.

In the meantime, Torrez said bicyclists are working to make drivers mindful of those around them.

“Everyone shares the road,” she said. “We need safety awareness and to respect each other so that it will be a lot safer for everyone.”

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