Remember Matthew O’Neill

A couple of weekends ago I went to a workshop out at Pt. Reyes. I rode my bike. There was a lecture portion in the morning at one location, a lunch break, and then a tour at a second location after lunch. During the break I rode to the second location. As I was leaving the first location, one of the other participants said something to me along the lines of “Ride carefully” or “Ride safely.” Yes, thanks, see you at the other end.

Then, as the pedals were turning, the wheels in my head started to as well. Hmn. Did he say anything to any of the other participants as they got in their cars? Did he tell them to “Drive carefully” or “Drive safely”? Do vehicle operators get a pass because the laws of physics are on their side? Large and heavy, they can kill or seriously injure a cyclist or pedestrian and yet they aren’t constantly urged to be careful and safe. Why did my transportation choice warrant the remarks? True, I am the more vulnerable road user, so perhaps that brings the onus of self-preservation, but everyone on the road has a responsibility for safety.

It was a beautiful day, and I made it from Point A to Point B safely and with no unpleasant incidents. But that’s not the first time I’ve gotten either a casual remark from a stranger or a more concerned discussion from someone I know. I realize that riding a bicycle is not without risk, but then neither is life. True, there are some roads I avoid, at certain times or all together, but I still ride. I haven’t done a statistical analysis of what odds I’m possibly shortening my life by, but at some level I suppose I have made some sort of peace with the fact that I could meet my demise doing something I love.

So yes, I am careful. Riding, and driving. I do drive as well, so I realize it’s not just with respect to cyclists that drivers are rude and unsafe, but to other vehicles as well. People seem to take on an anonymity or invisibility (ever seen people picking their nose, right?) when inside their cars and do things that perhaps they wouldn’t if they weren’t insulated in the seeming invincibility of their automobile. Or maybe they are distracted, or in a hurry. Or whatever. Is someone’s life worth it?

(photo by R. Bevan)

(photo by R. Bevan)

This all took on an extra poignancy, coming in the wake of Matthew O’Neill, a friend of friends, being killed while riding his bike on the California Central Coast Randonee at the beginning of August. I never met Matthew, he sounds like an amazing person. Many friends and people I do know were on that ride. One of them, Rob Hawks, the San Francisco Randonneurs RBA of Awesome, wrote this:

“Earlier this month, I participated in an event hosted by the Santa Cruz Randonneurs. I rode the 1000km version of the event, and as I rolled up to the finish I found a somber and hushed conversation happening. I arrived as the tragic news of a fatality was being received. In daylight, on a straight and flat roadway with completely clear sight lines, a young 16-year-old driving a truck towing a horse trailer collided with Matthew O’Neill who was also participating in the same event. Matthew died at the scene.

By all accounts Matthew was doing great things with his life, and by all measure he was going to do even greater things with his life, things that would absolutely have benefited *you* and the world you live in. A young woman lost her fiancé, a family lost their son and brother. Students who face significant challenges in education, and their families have lost an advocate, and to my thinking such advocates are already in short supply.

When you are next driving a car (a responsibility we *all* take too lightly as it is) and you approach a cyclist, think for just a moment about who they might be. That cyclist will be a teacher with a classroom full of disabled kids, a nurse who helped you through recovery after your surgery, the librarian who helps your kids find what they need for their school projects, the guy that serves you and the other 10 people in line their coffee, the woman that managed the project to update the website you can’t manage to live without, the guy that fixes the elevators your mom uses to get to her medical appointments on the 4th floor, or the cameraman on one of your favorite TV shows. That cyclist will be the brother of a friend of yours, the mother of your kid’s classmates, the favorite uncle of your kid’s future spouse. I guarantee that cyclist will be a person of value.

Give that cyclist room as you pass. It costs you *nothing* to do so. You won’t be late to where you are going, your life will be just as rich if not more so if you instead wait for it to be safe to pass, and it says more about the driver behind you than it does about you if that driver starts honking. I’ve sent an invitation to all of my Facebook friends to like the Remember Matthew: Change Lanes to Pass a Cyclist page. Please consider this. Drive like someone is watching, perhaps a 16 year old who will get their cue from you on how to react to the presence of all the other people using the roadways.”

Another thoughtful piece that has been shared around the rando community is here.

Matthew’s family has been amazing in the midst of their loss in speaking out for the safety of cyclists and advocacy about the 3-foot passing law going into effect in the middle of September.


There is a Celebration of Life for Matthew today
Saturday, August 30, 2014, at 2:00pm
First United Methodist Church
1200 E H St, Chula Vista, California 91910

Those going by bicycle will be meeting at Discovery Park and riding in to the service at 1:30. It is a little east from the church on H Street.
743 Marbella Cir
Chula Vista, CA  91910-6940

A memorial ride is also being planned for September 7.

Please, whatever you do today, be careful. Be safe. Take a moment this afternoon and remember Matthew.

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8 Responses to Remember Matthew O’Neill

  1. Wild Bill 6949 says:

    You put the words to my feelings very well, Megan. Thanks for writing this.
    Drew Carlson

  2. Stacy Kline says:

    This is a beautiful essay, Drew. I’ve often pondered on the “ride safely” comment as well, and I choose not to say it anymore. We are riding safely and legally. We are educating motorists how to drive around a vulnerable road user like a cyclist. Education is the best way to change behavior.

    We just got back from Matthew’s Celebration of Life, and I can honestly say it was the most upbeat service I have been to. All of the stories centered on Matthew’s commitment to living in service to others. In every personal interaction, whether at work, school, randonneuring, geocaching, etc., Matthew was remembered for how he made others feel supported and that they would be successful every endeavor.

    Greg Kline & Keri Caffrey’s bumper sticker has been printed, and my bike club, OC Wheelmen, printed 3000 to share since the 3 Feet for Safety Act comes in to effect on September 16. Greg sent two full boxes with Roland and Max. I also sent 150 of Matthew’s bracelets with Roland and Lois. Thanks for helping to keep Matthew’s campaign alive!

    • nutMeg says:

      Thank you, Stacy. I really appreciate all your postings to the SFR list. Your message sharing the terrible news he’d been killed was so moving, the line about feeding you peach gummy rings when you were bonking made him so real. Thank you for all the work on the education campaign and all the information you’ve been sharing with us.

  3. Stacy Kline says:

    Sorry Megan, I called you Drew, but I meant to write Megan! I was reading Drew’s comment when I wrote this. 🙂

    • nutMeg says:

      🙂 I don’t mind being Drew, especially if it means getting enough vacation time to go on all the cool adventure rides he does. But he probably doesn’t want to be me.

  4. When someone says “ride safely” to me, I respond with “drive safely, your car weighs 3000 pounds”. Frequently, this will cause the person to pause for a moment and think, which is the best reaction I could hope for. Pause for a moment and think…

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