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Town Mourns After Father and Daughter Are Killed

The New York Times: Town Mourns After Father and Daughter Are Killed in Bike Accident

Noah Berger for The Bay Citizen

By ZUSHA ELINSON
Published: April 12, 2012

As cars zipped along Treat Boulevard in the pouring rain Tuesday, a steady stream of people added flowers, teddy bears and personal notes to a sidewalk memorial for Solaiman Nuri and his daughter Hadessa.

Mr. Nuri and his two daughters, Hadessa, 9, and Hannah, 12, were riding their bicycles Saturday morning when a 17-year-old high school student driving a white Cadillac Escalade jumped the curb, sheared off the top of a fire hydrant and crashed into the family before hitting a building.

Mr. Nuri, a 41-year-old truck driver, died at the scene; Hadessa was pronounced dead at the hospital. Hannah survived with minor injuries. The driver, who witnesses said was speeding, was arrested Saturday and released from juvenile hall Tuesday, while police continued to investigate whether he was texting or impaired at the time of the crash.

The tragedy has shaken Concord, a city of 122,000 in suburban Contra Costa County. Hundreds gathered for a vigil Sunday evening and again for a funeral Wednesday in Antioch.

Like many suburbs, Concord was designed with one vehicle in mind: the car. Wide six-lane thoroughfares — like Treat Boulevard, with its 45-mile-per-hour speed limit — invite fast-moving traffic and leave little room for bicyclists.

Concord reported 277 bike crashes and 4 bicycle fatalities between 2005 and 2010, more than any other city in Contra Costa County. Twenty-three cyclists died in the county over those five years. In the city and county of San Francisco, where bikes jostle for position on busy streets with cars and pedestrians, nine cyclists were killed during that time.

The statistics are from The Bay Citizen’s Bike Accident Tracker, which analyzes data from every bike accident reported to the California Highway Patrol from 2005 through 2009. Municipalities are required to report any accident police investigate to the California Highway Patrol.

Concord has lagged when it comes to installing bike lanes. Bruce Ohlson, 62, a cement truck driver who lives in Pittsburg and rides regularly throughout Contra Costa County, recalled that three decades ago Concord added another car lane on busy Clayton Road by removing a shoulder used by cyclists.

“The community was planned with cars in mind,” Mr. Ohlson said.

Today the city has less than three miles of painted, on-street bike lanes. Nearby Pittsburg, where Mr. Ohlson sits on the planning commission, has 35 miles.

Ray Kuzbari, Concord’s transportation manager, said the city was friendly to all modes of transport, noting the miles of well-used, off-street bike trails that run through Concord. “And we do have some bike lanes where the street allows,” Mr. Kuzbari said, “and we plan on installing more bike lanes.”

Mr. Kuzbari said Concord was not considering replacing car lanes with bike lanes. “It would cause a lot of congestion, and that would be unacceptable to the community,” he said.

Dave Campbell, program director at the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, said that off-street bike trails were important for encouraging bicycling. But he said that on-street lanes were essential because “nobody lives on a trail.”

“You don’t have retail or businesses set up on trails,” Mr. Campbell said.

A bike lane would not have saved the Nuris from the S.U.V. driver, because they were riding on the sidewalk. But some Concord residents have raised questions about the speed limit on Treat Boulevard.

“That’s an expressway speed,” said Kathy Renfrow. “We shouldn’t call it Treat Boulevard. That’s Treat Freeway.”

As an organizer with the Monument Community Partnership, Ms. Renfrow helped persuade the city to improve sidewalks and add a few bike lanes in Concord’s Monument Corridor. It is a low-income section of the city that is home to immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America. Many bike to work along Monument Boulevard, another six-lane thoroughfare, said Lorena Cruz, a resident.

Ms. Cruz, 32, often bikes to the park with her children, 3 and 5. She takes the side streets and sidewalks, avoiding major streets. “I don’t put them in the street. It’s frightening,” she said.

Ms. Renfrow said that she hoped the city would learn from the latest fatal crash.

“It is so sad,” she added. “It’s really strange how a tragedy like this has to happen to make people wake up.”