Four cyclists have been killed by cars on Sonoma County roads in five weeks — a spate of deaths that matches the five-year total stretching back to 2007.
The toll casts a shadow over Sonoma County's rising status as a world-class destination for both competitive and recreational riders. The global exposure that accompanies the Amgen Tour of California, Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge GranFondo and the Vineman triathlon has hastened an increase in cyclists on roads that are praised for their beauty, relative isolation and rigor.
Cyclists and law enforcement say the string of fatalities, beginning with the death of 85-year-old August Bissiri, who was on a club tour of Sonoma County when he attempted to execute a U-turn on Highway 1 May 24, are isolated incidents with unique circumstances and don't point to rising tensions between motorists and bike riders.
Still, the rash of deaths has sparked conversation about how motorists and cyclists co-exist and how collisions are addressed by law enforcement.
"The numbers of overall crashes between vehicles and bicycles are the same; it's just the severity of the ones we have had," said CHP Officer Jon Sloat. "We have had such a cluster of serious ones in the last 30 days that it's getting everyone's attention."
"I think it's giving people a false sense that things are getting worse," he said.
In addition to Bissiri:
<BL@199,12,11,10>On May 31, David Standley, 34, died when he apparently rode a bike without a light into oncoming traffic on River Road just before midnight.
<BL@199,12,11,10>On June 8, retired Sonoma State University professor Steve Norwick, 68, was struck from behind while on a morning ride on Petaluma Hill Road.
<BL@199,12,11,10>On June 21, Brian Laurie, 68, of Sonoma was riding on the right side of the road when he signaled to make a left hand turned and rode into the path of a big rig truck.
"I have lived in many places outside of Sonoma County and ridden in many, many other states ... and drivers in Sonoma County are wonderful, they understand cyclists as a whole," said Greg Fisher, marketing director of Bike Monkey magazine. He also is an organizer of Levi's GranFondo, one of the largest cycling events inte nation.
Cycling is growing as a recreational sport and people are increasingly using bikes to get around town, he said. That poses a change in scene for everyone on the street.
"Roads are getting used differently and everyone is having to come along," he said.
The run of deaths has shaken some people.
"I ride that road all of the time," Christine Logan of Santa Rosa said of Petaluma Hill Road where Norwick was struck from behind.
Logan said she was despondent when she learned Norwick was mortally injured on his regular morning ride and the driver had not stopped, but rather reportedly traveled on to buy milk before then heading to work.
"I was really bummed by it," she said. "I really remember feeling funky about society."
She took a break from her bike, but soon was itching to return to the road.
"I don't know why this is happening so much," she said. "Maybe there are more people bicycling."
Donn King, president of the 1,600-member Santa Rosa Cycling Club, reinforced that assessment. "Certainly in our county, there are more cyclists every day. The membership of our club increases every month," he said.