It’s always a shock when someone who has touched your life passes away, even more so for a teacher when it’s one of “your kids”. Such is the state I am in today upon learning of the death of Andrew Dudley, a local high school senior who had spent a year in my classroom when I was teaching middle school English at a charter school. Not more than half a mile from my own home, he was struck last night as he was cycling out of a church parking lot, heading for home, and died at the scene of the accident.
Andrew was, after all, a kid after my own heart. He was bright, always questioning why, even if some of his questions were a means to attempt to justify getting out of schoolwork. I was that kind of kid, too. And he even seemed happy to see me long after we had both parted ways with the school where he had been my pupil. He worked at a local grocery store, and one day he was proud to tell me how he was doing well in high school and his aspirations for beyond. It absolutely crushes me that the future of this young man, a person for whom I had a hand in his upbringing in my role as a teacher, has been snuffed out.
This death also hits home in that Andrew was struck while riding his bicycle, and that it happened so close to my own home. I do use my bicycle frequently, not simply as recreation but transportation, taking my kids in tow as well. The church parking lot that he was exiting is along the very route that I plan to take my children frequently this summer. I have to pass it to get to a nearby lake that has a public beach and water park. This accident does chill me in that aspect. The road is four lanes wide and built to highway standards, and even though there are sidewalks it’s still unnerving to be a pedestrian or cyclist along this stretch of road at times.
The reports say that alcohol was not involved in the accident. That is very plausible, considering the area. I can only speculate, but it looks to me to be the fatal combination of poor road design, a youthful sense of indestructibility, and bad driving habits. The poor design is that this is a “stroad”, a frequently seen hybrid of a street and a road that takes the wide, free-flowing design of a highway (road) and mixes in the frequent access points and pedestrian amenities of a local street. No matter how many safe design “tricks” you try and incorporate into a situation like that, you still have cars traveling at well over the posted 45 miles per hour while other elements, be they pedestrians, cyclists, or other cars, can suddenly appear from any number of intersections and entrances along the route.
The other two factors I can speak of from experience: There have been many times where I have been sure that I could beat that oncoming car (walking, biking, or driving), basing my estimation on the oncoming vehicle’s distance and the posted speed limit. Andrew also had the added danger of the cover of darkness and I have no idea just how well lit his bike was or if he had dressed for visibility, another two faults that I have committed as well. From the perspective of the car, give a driver a highway-width lane and a clear shot, and it’s all too easy to reach highway speeds no matter what the number on the sign says you should be driving at. I am guilty of this, too, even on the very stretch of road where young Andrew met his untimely demise.
Today, I will take a moment to say a prayer in mourning. And, until those old habits start to creep on back in to my daily life, I will make a concerted effort to be that safe driver, that safe cyclist. I can make that extra effort to not get too comfortable between my two while lines on the road and press that gas pedal a little further than the sign says I should, no matter how much the design of the road will allow it. I can take those extra steps to keep myself safe on my bicycle and especially do the same for my children as we make our way to the beach. I encourage you to do the same, for yourself, for your family, for the memory of Andrew, a young man whose life was cut short in the act of simply cycling home.