KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Some 250 bicyclists on Sunday rode the partial route that was taken by the Chain Gang cycling club when its members were struck by a pickup truck near Kalamazoo last week.
“It really didn’t hit me until I got within a couple hundred yards of the scene, the (ghost) bikes sitting out and that sort of thing,” Josh Haas, a cyclist from Hickory Corners, said. “It was very intense.”
Haas lost a close friend and fellow riding enthusiast in the crash. Suzanne Sippel started out as a friend and co-worker of his wife, but became his friend as well through their love of cycling.
“We would always talk of our love for bikes and how much we loved running and cycling and that sort of thing, so I will cherish that,” Haas said.
The ride was organized by Kalamazoo resident and activist Dori Beltz, who gained grim experience organizing gatherings following the shootings in the Kalamazoo area in February that left six dead.
“It’s frustrating and it’s confusing as to why these things happen back to back. We were just kind of getting our legs,” Beltz said.
She said community members are now suffering again.
“So the wound opens up, but we’ll heal,” she said. “These people are amazing. They prove it over and over again.”
She said has seen the healing already.
“It’s just astounding to me the level of camaraderie in the community and the way people have just put whatever agendas they had aside to come and be a part of this,” Beltz said.
”I was encouraged also to see non-cyclists on the route. They were out and they were waiving to us and almost in a way saying, hey, we’re with you,” Haas said.
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Paul Selden, founder of Bike Safety Kalamazoo, said the decision to ride the same route sends a message.
“A lot of that route was chosen by the members of the Chain Gang because it’s as fairly — as safe as things can be — sensible and safe route,” he said.
He said the only positive that can come out of the crash is if changes are made that make biking safer.
“This incident has galvanized a lot of people in the community to work in positive constructive ways toward those changes,” Selden said.
Gov. Rick Snyder came to the gathering to show his support, joined by state Sen. Margaret O’Brien, who represents the Kalamazoo area.
“We can always work on things,” Snyder replied when asked what can be done to make biking safer in Michigan. “One the things we’ve been trying to do [is] complete street programs to provide for bike lanes, make better environments to do that,” Snyder said.
Long-term, he said, cars with automatic stopping sensors that are coming down the line from automotive manufacturers could also help.
Another ride is scheduled for Tuesday evening that will copy the entire 28-mile route that the Chain Gang planned to ride the night of the tragedy. Lance Armstrong is expected to join the group as it makes that journey one week after so one of the worst bike-related crashes in the nation’s history.