(photo credit: Eyal Dolin)
A ribbon of more than 2,000 cyclists stretched out along Highway 3 on Saturday, as thousands gathered for a memorial ride to mark the week anniversary of the death of two cyclists, Shalom Grossman and Yitzhak Simon, who were hit and killed during a ride on August 13.
Organized by the Israeli Cycling Federation, the ride on Saturday was a protest against unsafe road conditions and a dangerous Israeli driving culture.
Simon and Grossman were killed and five other cyclists were injured when an 18-year-old driver fell asleep at the wheel and swerved into a group of cyclists out for a weekly ride on Highway 3 last week.
The driver was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but said he was simply tired after spending the night with friends in Ashdod.
“We want to create a big mass, we don’t want craziness, we don’t want to
encourage opposition, we just want to ride, we want awareness, we want
every driver that leaves from their houses or places where they’re
hanging out with friends, to know that there are riders on the road,
that we’re here and that we’re here to stay,” the Federation said on
their website announcing the event.
“I don’t have a father anymore, my grandfather has no peace, my mother
has lost her partner for life, we have a huge vacuum in our lives,” Nir
Grossman, the son of Shalom Grossman, told Army Radio on Saturday.
“I am riding and I will continue to ride carefully. Dad would not want us to stop.”
He added, “Riding a bike is a right, not a consideration.”
Yotam Avizohar, the head of the Israel Bikes Association, called the
lack of bike safety a “systematic problem” and noted that all of the
relevant bodies – parents of new drivers, the Transportation Ministry,
the National Roads Company, and the police – aren’t cooperating and are
transferring the blame to other groups rather than taking action.
In the past decade, 35 bikers have been killed in accidents on the
country’s highways. This figure does not include the high rate of bike
accidents among foreign workers along smaller roads, which is a separate
issue that IBA is also addressing, Avizohar said. Twelve of these
deaths have been on Highway 4, Israel’s deadliest road for cyclists.
Avizohar pointed out that there is a “bikers' triangle” near Latrun, off
Highway 1, which draws thousands of cyclists each weekend. He suggested
police and the Transportation Ministry could take steps such as closing
down one lane for cyclists, similar to other countries. Riding a
bicycle on certain highways, such as Highway 1, is illegal, though
cyclists are not always familiar which areas are allowed.
Avizohar suggested a large campaign, aimed at both cyclists and drivers,
to explain where it is permitted to ride, and educating drivers how to
behave around cyclists. He added that IBA was working on bringing a bill
that would implement the United State’s “three feet law,” requiring
drivers to stay at least three feet from cyclists at all times. In
Israel, this distance would be lengthened to 1.5 meters.
Bike activists are often frustrated and feel that the relevant
authorities are not taking biking safety into consideration when
planning roads. “These are people that wake up at 5 a.m. and leave their
warm beds, in the summer, in the cold winter, every week,” he said.
“They will continue to ride, we just want to make sure they can do so safely.”