• Lindsey Keck

Looking Beyond the Now: The cascading conversation with cyclists, pedestrians and drivers in DC

On Friday, April 19, 2019, David Salovesh, an avid member of the D.C. cycling community and well-known bike safety advocate in the District, was struck and killed by a motorist driving dangerously in a stolen vehicle. Like many countless transit-related accidents that have come before, this fatal collision at the intersection of Florida and 12th Streets Northeast felt like an exceptionally cruel act of the universe.

Bike tire, commuters, safety, community
Photo by Kharil Nst on Unsplash

Friends and community members publicly grieved, including via Twitter:

Will Handsfield: "Dave was my friend and riding buddy. A very experienced cyclist and effective advocate, but first and foremost a father and a husband. I’m gutted by this terrible news."

Rudi Riet: "Yes, it was my best friend in DC, @darsal, who was killed by a reckless driver today. I am crushed, shelled, bewildered, angry, at a loss. He was my brother from another mother. The sky is crying."

Nelle Pierson: "Dave and I fought. And always made up. He was family to #bikedc. Like my uncle. He showed up to almost every ride, meeting, hearing, my engagement party riding my mother in law in tow. He was everything @WABADC needs now. So now we recruit. And show up. For Dave.”

David's death has deepened the passion - and fury - of street safety activists across the city. He is the first cyclist to be struck and killed in this city in 2019, adding to the one dozen traffic fatalities so far this year.

Upon hearing this horrific news, we were moved by the subsequent public outcry and felt called to share insights from a recent gathering we hope might inform the conversation by inviting people with different perspectives together to discuss the topic more deeply.

Momentary rewind:

On March 12, 2019, Bridging Perspectives: A Cascading Conversation hosted its first gathering in Washington DC. The purpose of the Cascading Conversation is to engage honestly and wholeheartedly with topics that are challenging - perhaps even polarizing - in ways that reflect what we want to enliven in our communities.

Using a World Café format, we designed our first community conversation around street safety, and invited people who self-identify as cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers to attend. The conversation that unfolded felt incredibly rich. Several clear themes emerged from the discussion, two of which are particularly poignant in light of recent accidents:

We all need heightened self-awareness and greater personal responsibility when we take to the streets each and every day. This includes cyclists, pedestrians, drivers, and the increasing number of scooters. To be clear, the reckless driving that led to David’s Salovesh’s death was no fault of his own. However, accidents of any severity, are important reminders that we each hold the great responsibility to ourselves and others to remain aware, alert, and present while in transit.

We need cultural shifts to accompany physical changes to make our streets safer. In other words, we need to shift how we relate to time and efficiency as our primary motivation - at the expense of the safety of ourselves and others. Right now we tolerate a multi-modal transit environment but we don’t necessarily respect, or share space in ways that honor each transit mode. A relevant example of a similar culture shift is smoking throughout the U.S. For well over a decade smoking was commonplace in public spaces, office buildings, and in restaurants. Initially our society accepted this cultural norm at the expense of individual and collective health and wellness. Backed by research and enforced through policy, smoking in public settings has decreased dramatically. So, in an age where bike rentals and scooter use is trending, how do we more fully integrate our transit community and create social norms that put people and safety at the center?

These themes certainly don’t negate the important role of public policy, law enforcement, and smart economic growth and development. However, both themes point toward how we each maintain responsibility for our own personal presence while in transit which also requires us to pay close attention to how we show up at the physical - and metaphorical - intersection.

Given the Cascading Conversation in March, and the fatal collision that took David Salovesh’s life shortly thereafter in April, we offer a few noteworthy reflections:

1. Connections to people, place, and issues arise through conversation. In a city like DC, no matter what issue is at the top of your personal and professional attention, everyone is a commuter and everyone is a pedestrian at one point or another. While this topic may not be front and center for all, it is worth noting that, upon reflection we realize that because of the conversation, our own relationship to the topic has shifted. Being a part of the conversation cultivated a care, and deeper connection to local transit and street safety - along with the many issue areas that cascade, or flow, from it. Since March, there have been countless moments when walking, biking, and driving when safety is at the forefront of mind. In addition, we feel an elevated sense of responsibility, not only for our own individual safety, but also for the safety of others. Shifting from robotic commuter to a self-aware cyclist, pedestrian, and driver means that we have the power to show up differently at the intersection.

2. Complex conversations do not generally have a beginning or an end; like water, they flow. Around any given bend, the currents will change. They will meander gently in some moments, and surge in others. Over the last six years or so, there has also been an increase in traffic fatalities and serious injuries on DC roadways in particular, with 36 traffic fatalities in 2018. This is an increase from 30 fatalities in 2017, which is also an increase from 19 in 2012. Fatal accidents often fuel the energetic surge in our attention and conversations, as they did in April when David was struck and killed. These continued collisions are also the reasons that meaningful conversations fueling change cannot stop.

For these reasons, we are asking how we might continue to host more conversations that serve the community. What is needed now? How might we build on our initial conversation about street safety to prevent this from happening again? What will be our part - as citizens and fellow humans - in contributing to the personal and cultural shifts we need to ensure our streets are safe for everyone in the future?

Do you know of other groups or organizations that might be interested in this topic? Connect with us at artofhostingdc@gmail.com and let’s explore what’s possible!