Thursday, March 21

Bicycle Connections

Google Maps Satellite View of Where Patrick Francis O'Rourke was Killed on his Bicycle in 2001
As my loyal reader knows, Beto O'Rourke ("e" as in prounounced in the word "President," not "e"as pronounced in the Canadian word "eh') is from Texas and has announced a run for President. This post, however, is not about Beto. This post is about Beto's dad. 

Most people do not know that Beto's father, Patrick Francis O'Rourke, was an avid cyclist - AND a politician. Pat sent a "payment due" bill to Ronald Reagan's US Government in 1986 for reimbursement to El Paso, and was Jesse Jackson's 1988 Texas Campaign Chair. In his day, in his mostly Latino area, Pat was known as the "Tip O'Neill" of El Paso politics. Like our current President (and Ronald Reagan before him), Pat was a lifelong Democrat that became a Republican - in Pat's case, finding what he considered a better way occurred sometime before 1992. But I digress.

In 2000, Pat O'Rourke made a cross-country trip on his recumbent bicycle from Oregon to New York. Pat blogged about it on the Stanton Street Blog,  which Amy O'Rourke, (Beto's wife) sold in 2017. I was unable to find Pat's original bike posts, and a search on it for "bicycle" revealed nothing. Perhaps my loyal reader can find something. I will update this post if I make a later discovery. My loyal reader might also contact Stanton Street to see if they want to 'fess up and repost.

Unfortunately, Pat's cross-country bike trip is not the end of the story. After Pat got back to El Paso, he continued to ride until one day in early July 2001. On that day; a day like many others, Patrick Francis O'Rourke was riding his bicycle near Artcraft Road and Westside Drive. The intersection is about a block from the New Mexico border on the western outskirts of El Paso. Somewhere nearby, Pat was struck from behind by a motorist and killed. I don't know the crash details (newspapers called it an "accident" - some misnomers just continue on and on), and I will update this post if I find more details later.

The crash in which Pat O'Rourke was killed illustrates something that is not well understood within the cycling advocacy community, but SHOULD be. In my blog, I constantly issue the refrain that "the danger is from ahead" and my refrain is true - in urban areas that have intersections, driveways and other hazards, and even more so in these places when the cyclist is controlling his or her lane in accordance with good practice. However, My refrain is NOT nearly so true on high-speed rural roads, such as that where Pat O'Rourke was killed. Statistically, "from behind" collisions are rare, but they have a very high fatality rate because of the sheer energy with which the cyclist is impacted when hit by a heavy, high speed motor vehicle, or even a protrusion from a motor vehicle such as a side mirror.

Hit-from-behind collisions are more common than in the past because more cyclists take long, country rides - they don't like urban traffic. Shoulder riding on a highway reduces the likelihood of a collision because it can be avoided by the simple expedient of the motorist staying within his or her traffic lane, but all the reflective material on the back of police cars and fire trucks, and all the mirrors cyclists and motorists swear by, do not obviate the fact that any highway shoulder is a dangerous place, even if one arrived there in a heavy motor vehicle. Lots of cycling advocates and traffic engineers have  gotten enamored with the notion of "protected" cycling lanes to reduce "hit from behind" fatalities, but cones, lane dots, rumble strips, any of their variants, or low curbs won't protect a cyclist on a rural highway that is in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Protecting non motorized road users on high speed country roads is something that we, as a society, have not really even BEGUN to come to grips with. Even John Forester relates fearful journeys he made on such roads when traffic got heavy.

Beto doesn't speak about his father much in public, though his father was also a politician. Beto shares the middle name of "Francis" with his father, grandfather, and great grandfather, and his childhood nickname avoided confusion within the family. After Beto's rebellious youth, in which he acted more like George W Bush than any other recent President, he came back home to El Paso and delivered the eulogy at Pat's funeral. Two links to stories involving Pat may be found here and here. Patrick's grave memorial including his obituary may be found here.

From now on, when I hear people try to denigrate Beto by calling him "Robert" or even more, by calling him "Francis," I will inwardly smile at how they are ignorantly honoring his immigrant family, or his cyclist father. From a Facebook image at left, taken from one of the links above, you can see Pat and Beto.

Patrick O'Rourke's life is memorialized here. At that site, you can also trace his ancestry back at least into Ireland. Cycling may be fun and safe - but we should remember that there are unexpected occasions when it is NOT. Be especially careful on high-speed, narrow, country roads where at least SOME motorists do not expect a cyclist or anything else to "suddenly" appear in front of them...

1 comment:

TrevorW­čÜ┤ said...

An interesting post Steve....

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