Rose McDonald was a beloved figure among Gainesville’s downtown street person community. Everybody seemed to know and like her.
But one cold dark January night, while she was riding her bike on Waldo Road, Rose was run over and left on the street to die.
It was almost as though she was invisible to the hit-and-run driver who killed her.
Granny’s death created a stir among her friends. But on the whole, nobody seems to want to talk about the sizable group of cyclists in this town who ride as a matter of necessity.
Call them the “invisible cyclists,” because folks tend not to notice them … or choose not to. I see them every day in my travels, mostly on the east side of town.
Some are people who can’t afford to drive — students, waitresses, day workers and the like. Some have lost their license and can’t drive. Some are homeless or living on the edge of homelessness.
There are people on work-release who bike to their jobs every day. Yeah, they’ve made mistakes and are paying for it, but they still have to get to work.
These are the cyclists that nobody seems to want to talk about when we get into these overheated arguments about bike lanes and traffic calming. A “waste of money” some rant, as though the cost of striping paint and reflectors is going to bankrupt us.
This bitter resentment that cars must be forced to surrender a road lane —or even a couple of feet of road lane — so we can have bike lanes that “nobody” uses strikes me as an odd sort of snobbery.
This assertion that we are pandering to a small group of cycling elitists at the expense of “everybody else” is a willful denial of the very existence of these “invisible” cyclists.
Cycling is a personal lifestyle choice with me. I’ll choose to ride, to occupy my legal “share” of the road, whether or not the city adds one more foot of bike lane.
But this town has more than its share of bicyclist fatalities and injuries. And often as not, the ones who end up dead or maimed aren’t wearing $75 jerseys, but rather cotton work shirts and jeans … if not cast-offs.
Granny was one of Gainesville’s invisible cyclists. A victim of traffic violence. Her killer has never been identified.
We may not choose to notice them, but they are out there, and they deserve to have safe routes to work and home — when they have a job and a place to live — or access to the social services they need to help keep body and soul together.
Complete streets means everybody gets to use the public roads, whether or not they can afford the luxury of cocooning themselves inside two tons of Detroit steel.