He is dead: it doesn’t matter that he was a “careful” bicyclist

Tragically here in Minneapolis this week, a drunk driver killed a bicyclist named Marcus Nalls. The site of the crash was on Franklin Ave.–one of the busiest and most dangerous roads that bicyclists utilize in this city.

Like many bicyclists, I track these stories with a heavy heart. We pay our respects, feel immense rage for the drivers who kill our fellow bicyclists, and engage in a few extremely frustrating internet discussions about whether they were wearing a helmet and lights.

This time around, though, the news media is making it abundantly clear that Marcus was a safe bicyclist. One headline reads:

Bicyclist killed on Franklin Ave. Wore Helmet, Lights, Just Moved to Mpls.


Bicyclist fatally run over was new to Minneapolis, careful about bike safety

These headlines are important to notice for a few reasons.

1. Bicyclists are always on the defensive. We are often asked to “prove” that we are being safe on the road. The unspoken reasoning link is that if we are not being safe then we should expect to get hurt or killed while riding. These headlines work to prove that Marcus is a safe bicyclist. This is unnecessary because it takes away from the larger issue. That is:

2. This focus on Marcus’s approach to riding takes the focus off of the impaired man who killed Marcus. The man literally drove over Marcus with his van.  And he has now been released without charges.

3. Because Marcus is being painted as an avid cyclist who knows the rules of the road, we are being assured that he did nothing wrong in this crash. Although on the surface that seems like a laudable goal of the news stories, we should not be spending ANY time reassuring the public that Marcus did nothing wrong, because:

4. A helmet and lights will not save you when a van comes barreling at you from behind without warning. Again, it doesn’t matter. I do not care if you are a 10-year veteran of bicycle commuting or a sidewalk-riding novice out to get some smokes from the corner store. All bicycle-related deaths are equal. They are awful and avoidable.

My personal connection to this death doesn’t really matter. Like many bicyclists, I ride Franklin Ave. almost every time I ride my bike. Like many bicyclists, I ride at night. Like many bicyclists, I put my safety and life in the hands of drivers that speed past me. But, I am committed to transportation equity and so additionally I am saddened that we lost a potential bicycle advocate for the African American community here in Minneapolis.

Remember, bicyclists are not putting themselves in danger when riding. People driving vehicles are.

image: indypgh.org

rest in peace.

52 thoughts on “He is dead: it doesn’t matter that he was a “careful” bicyclist

  1. Wow. Very very sad. Last bike death I heard about showcased the driver (non-caucasian) as a criminal; his name & pics were everywhere. This driver is released without charge? I had to dig to find his name. I imagine Iverson is a nordic name. Explains why the two crimes were treated differently by the media and the police…

  2. If you listen to the whole story, they released him because they can’t prove he was drunk without blood toxicology, which is notoriously slow. I imagine we see a charge in a week or two when the labs come back.

    • They want to go after him for vehicular manslaughter because of his BAC. They can’t formally charge him with that without his official results. If they didn’t release him they would have had to have charged him with something, which would have likely had to have been reckless driving. By waiting, they are able to go after him for the maximum. A breathalyzer was administered at the scene, but they need blood results in order to charge him.

      • Thanks for these insights. I figured there were legal issues as to why he was released. Despite that, his release still sends a message (no matter the logic).

      • is alcohol really the only factor that moves this kind of driving from negligence to manslaughter?

      • Melody – I don’t think you “figured” anything. If you “figured” that you would have, get this, WRITTEN that.

        You’re not better than the rest of the tabloid columnists in the world by claiming it afterwards but not writing it when you originally penned this post.

    • He should still be charged with reckless driving at the least.This is just such a heart breaking story. And as of recently there seem to be an influx of car hit bike tragedies. I myself live in the suburbs so a car is my best form of transportation unless I’m traveling local, but I watch and respect bikes and pedestrians. I am the one driving the 2000lb killing machine.

  3. This is a tragic death, which sounds as if it was 100% the fault of the impaired driver. However, I disagree completely with your last statement that bicyclists are not putting themselves in danger when riding – rather people driving vehicles are. I live just off Bryant Ave S. in Minneapolis. This is a designated bike path and I see bicyclists ignoring stop signs on a daily basis. Every time I cross Bryant in my car, I assume that an oncoming bicyclist will ignore the stop signs and most of the time I’m right. I fear some day I may run into one. I am also a bike rider and very cautious when traveling through Uptown because I know there are car drivers that aren’t careful, so we must acknowledge that bike safety is a two-sided issue. There are those on bikes that create unsafe situations, just as there are those behind the wheel of a car that do so.

    • “So sad that the bike rider killed those people in the car” – said no one EVER.

      Yes, cyclist need to obey the rules, but don’t let that undermine for a second that the vast majority of instances are car drivers and not the cyclist. They neglect their responsibility we pay – every single time.

      • Honestly as a cyclist I still see too many bad cyclists on the road. My own experiences in Pittsburgh as both cyclist and drivers lead me to a little less rage (though any death like this is sad). I’ve had too many morons (hipster douche bags and messengers) pass me between my car and the curb, cut me off, and do some amazingly stupid things. I’ve also as a cyclist gotten buzzed, cut off, hit, yelled at, and stuff thrown on them (This is why I carry a collapsible baton and wait to catch them at a red light, I should also note I’m and angry old man). Both sides have to be aware.

  4. In reality we all put our lives into the hands of others whenever we travel public roads & no matter the mode of transportation. A few years ago in emergency medicine the term ‘motor vehicle accident’ was discarded & replaced with the term ‘motor vehicle collision’ to promote the mind set that there are no ‘accidents’, someone is always at fault. Obviously in cases like this fault can be very blatant, but it can also be as subtle as someone distracted for a few seconds. Condolences to all effected by the loss of this young man.

  5. I really struggle with the media’s focus on the safety precautions Nalls was taking. On the one hand, there are no “what-ifs” that the media can use to try and pin his death on his own negligence. Ideally I would like to see that extrapolated to all the other reports that say the victim was not wearing a helmet, clearly pointing out that, as I have said elsewhere, no level of bicycle-friendly infrastructure or cycling safety precaution would have prevented this outcome. Yes some injuries can be prevented by helmets and some can be avoided all together. But probably not those in which a driver is intoxicated and driving recklessly.

    I understand that not we all must take some responsibility for our own safety and that not every bicycle-car collision is the motorist’s fault. However, just to make a comparison, as my friend pointed out on our to work this morning, were someone to die in an alcohol-related car crash, you would probably never hear “the victim was taking all necessary precautions; he was wearing his seat belt.” I’m not sure exactly what that says, but to me it says something…

  6. I bicycle often but almost never on a major street, this is why. Even I notice things I should have seen seconds earlier when driving. If you drive on a street use back streets and treat every car as thought it will kill you.
    Expect little justice. Drivers who kill cyclists rarely face stiff penalties, even when the auto driver attacks. A drunk driver in Europe sued the family of a 14 year old boy for his deductible after killing the boy because he wasn’t riding with lights. Beware, if you don’t use lights on the road at night even if killed most likely the driver of the car will not be charged with a crime, the law considers it your fault.

  7. The accident at hand is a terrible tragedy committed by a total douche. We all know that. But “all bicycle-related deaths are equal. They are awful and avoidable” is not a true statement. I bike thousands of miles a year from St. Paul to Mpls and back. I see all kinds of bikers.

    Sadly, some bikers are assholes. Some of them put their own lives in jeopardy with the way they ride recklessly, don’t use lights, don’t follow traffic signals, etc. That’s why it IS interesting, and important, that Marcus’s safe riding practices are stressed here. Bikers are always fighting the PR battle. Drivers don’t like them. Bikers get in their way, slow them down, make them annoyed.

    Because of that, bikers need to do everything possible to protect themselves, be visible, ride predictably, and stay as safe as they can, like Marcus was doing. That way when an asshole injures or kills a biker, all blame can be directed justly and strongly where it belongs.

    be safe.

    • So you have never made a mistake? Nice to meet you, Mr. Osborn, the first perfect human being I have ever met. 🙂

      I guess you being so perfect, you won’t comprehend how the rest of us inferior normals make mistakes every single day. I sure do!

      That’s why if and when mistakes are made, we should ensure that the collisions are relatively harmless.

      This is why traffic calming is important. This is why infrastructure is important.

      This was the meaning of the original statement that you, being as perfect as you are, have completely misunderstood.

      Collisions can be made to be safer. Mistakes don’t have to be deadly.

      Also, you should realize that, Mr. Perfect, you are as vulnerable as the rest of us and could be killed at any time. Of course, it won’t be your fault. However, if this does happen, I will mourn you just the same.

      Finally, I have to add that the whole notion of cyclists being safer than thou is a domination tactic. You only have to prove yourself to be safe because you fell for that trap.

      The rest of us have gotten off our knees and we demand that people be treated as humans deserving of respect and yes safety, despite our imperfections.

      I await your response to fix the problems of the hundreds of Legal Deaths (LDs) where the motorist and the non-motorist followed all the laws and people still died. Getting people to obey laws will not stem the carnage, but it will just ensure that the corpses were following the law before they died. Great job!

      Falling for the failed vision of perfection will also discourage people from cycling which is the whole point of this motoring domination tactic that you have been hoodwinked by.

      I suggest instead we ask for equal infrastructure instead of attacking one another.

      All cyclists deaths are tragic and unavoidable.

      Nobody deserves to die: not for a minor mistake nor traffic violation.

  8. The fact they needed to point out that the cyclist was taking all precautions makes me ill to think of. There was a hit and run back in the fall where the criminal record of the cyclist who was killed was publicised in attempts to make the drunk driver look good. If you’re driving a several ton vehicle, there is valid reasoning behind the laws and that’s because 2 tons of vehicle can be a deadly weapon when matched against plastic, polystyrene, and human flesh. We don’t question pedestrians about their usage of safety equipment, why is there such a rush to paint cyclists as being careless?

    • I was thinking the same thing re: pedestrians.
      And so sad, but not surprising, to hear about her criminal records being released. As if that has anything to do with how one rides their bike.
      Thanks for your input!

    • There’s a lot of blame for pedestrians too – didn’t look, “had a death wish” for crossing a busy street, etc. Anyone who’s not in a car.

  9. The driver has been released pending charges of vehicular homicide, because the results of the toxicology tests are not complete, and he’s not considered a flight risk. He’s going to jail for a long time.

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    • Rod, I think the point of stating that the cyclist was wearing lights is to differentiate his accident from previous ones (like that woman that was hit last summer on Lake St. late at night w/o lights). If a person is wandering around along or across a busy street at night without some form of warning lights, be they on wheels or on foot, they are liable to get hit.

    • If a bicyclist can’t be seen and is making no effort to be seen, then they do share some blame for an accident. If someone, as a motorist, drives into an invisible bike, that motorist wasn’t going out trying to find a bike to run over. The article isn’t placing blame on bikes who don’t light themselves, it’s putting blame on motorists who shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car — and using the visibility of this particular bicyclist to point how blind this guy was.

      • How is it possible for a bicycle which “can’t be seen.” I really can’t comprehend this.

        Perhaps they invented invisible paint and didn’t tell me. 🙂

        100% of collisions where a motorist hits something they are at fault.

        It’s called brakes. It stops you from hitting some thing. If you don’t all ready know how you should practice using them sometime. It could save a life.

        In fact, you should probably stick to driving around parking lots until you master proper “braking” techniques.

  11. Anyone who considers riding a bicycle along a narrow, crowded busy street like Lake Street, especially at night (usually in dark clothing and w/o lights) and even worse, at night, dark clothing, w/o lights AND in the winter… is crazy. Even if drivers of all types of vehicles are trying their best to avoid crowding you as you wobble along on ice/snow rutted streets there is always the chance a car door will be opened, you will swerve to avoid it and your will enter the same space as a 2000lb hunk of rolling steel. You will always lose. Face it, riding in such conditions is suicide.

    • James,
      I don’t wobble when I ride. I always run my lights front and back. I do not ride close to parked cars. Lake Street is one of our widest streets in Minneapolis and yes it’s choked with motor vehicles. If more people biked it would be less clogged. I use studded tires in icy conditions. I have ridden safely for over 40 years. I’ll choose a bike over your 2,000 lb. hunk of junk more often than not because I don’t like riding in a cage at any speed. The most dangerous place around cars is inside one of them! I’ll take the efficient and safe machine that provides a 10:1 payload to vehicle weight ratio. Biking is safe but it would be safer if we strictly enforced the laws against impaired and distracted drivers. It is also fun, fast, efficient and self reliant. Hey James, the next time you see a car commercial, pay attention to the lack of traffic in the ad. They’re selling something they can’t deliver!

      • And yet you’ll ride on Lake Street instead of the dedicated Greenway *2 blocks north* that runs the entire length of this city and some of the next.

        He wasn’t a “careful” cyclist if he was (essentially) playing frogger on one of the busiest and most accident prone streets in Minneapolis (instead of using a street one block north or south) during winter when the roads are covered in ice.

        Just because you have a legal right to use dangerous roads doesn’t mean you should.

      • Paul,

        I find it hard to believe that you, unlike all that I have witnesses trying to make their way along Lake Street in several inches of heavy wet snow plowed along the curb, are somehow able to ride straight and true. If you use lights as you say, then you are to be commended for not only using common sense but following Minnesota state law as well. Unfortunately many don’t and several have paid dearly for that mistake (or arrogance).

        Lake Street isn’t as wide as you like to think; they did do a widening project a few years ago but that was to create parking nooks with concrete outcroppings at corners. When cars are parked along the curb there are but two normal width lanes in each direction; with the accumulating snow banks along the curbs and subsequent parked cars creeping further towards the travel lanes, Lake Street is getting quite narrow. East Lake Street is somewhat better than that section between Hiawatha and Uptown where you take your life in your hands in a car let alone on 2 wheels. The heavy immigrant population of that stretch of Lake Street means many new drivers who really don’t appear to be capable of handling a car in nice weather let along during winter storms and the deep icy cold weather we’re having.

        It’s OK that you so dislike automobiles. I guess you might have been scared by a car horn as a child and your back teeth took a permanent set against such modern conveyances. You just stick to your efficient bicycle and wobble along in deep snow at -20 temps while I drive by in my big American car with the heat on, nice and conformable on heated leather seats, my JBL sound system playing Eric Clapton. Listen for me and perhaps as I pass you struggling along I will wave hello to you.

  12. I do take the Greenway to cross town but it’s necessary to use Lake St. and other busy streets to get to businesses that are not on the Greenway. A guy on his way home from work on a cold night might also want to use Franklin for a number of other reasons. For one, there is less snow and ice on main thoroughfares than the nearby side sreets. Cyclists don’t select “more dangerous streets” to ride on, it’s not in our best interest. Just because it’s a busy street doesn’t mean it’s a dangerous one, how you ride matters much more than where you ride. I say this with over 40 years of experience. I do drive a car when it makes sense, like if I need to carry more than 300 pounds or travel a long distance but It’s always safer on my bike.

    • Paul,

      Franklin Avenue has long been known as a heavy drinking zone. Ever since I can remember the people who live in that area have been known to be quite “thirsty” and, well they too need to get home to be in order to be fresh and awake for another day of drinking so you can expect them to be driving around at all hours. Unfortunately this guy, being new to the city and it’s rather colorful neighborhood reputations, was unaware that riding along on Franklin Avenue might be a pretty darned dangerous thing to do. It’s very sad that his young and obviously creative life ended so tragically.

      Let me know the next time you plan on riding somewhere with just under 300 lbs. of cargo onboard your bicycle. I would like to stand along the curb and watch as you go by… just to see if you’re riding on the rims.

      • James,
        I don’t dislike cars at all. I just prefer biking. I don’t like riding in a cage. My leather seat is quite comfortable and my titanium studded tires dig in better than the tires on my car. I like the view and I don’t struggle in the snow until there is more than half a foot of it. When the halloween snowstorm hit over 20 years ago, I made it home in half the time of my neighbors who drove the 10 miles from Minneapolis. Why? Because they were stuck in traffic caused by all the other cars. If others want to put up with all the hassles of driving, fine, but please don’t criticize my chosen method just because you think bikes are inferior.
        My dutch cargo bike is called a Bakfiets and is built to carry a 200 lb. driver and 300 lbs. in the box. It cost more than my first car but requires no gasoline. I love to pick up garden supplies with it. It’s easy to drive and not all that hard to pedal…of course I’m only 57 years old so I’ll hold onto my El Camino (it is 100% American made) for when I get too feeble to pedal!

        You are right, there are way too many cyclists who take risks and break the law. I see them everyday and just as with distracted motorists, they are a nuisance.
        I’ll be sure to wave as I pass you on the road! I’ll also be smiling, as usual!
        nice chatting with you, keep the shiny side up!
        ps: I used to drive for Greyhound and I enjoyed driving that beautifully designed vehicle! So no, I’m not afraid of loud horns! LOL

      • James you were doing so well until you made the drinking comment. I work in the area and the folks that tip a few don’t drive cars.
        In that area of Franklin Ave I have witnessed SEVERAL accidents at the hands of drivers who are talking on their cell phones tucked in their head gear, children not in seat belts or car seats. I could go on and on, but it doesn’t change the fact that a guy is dead, a drunk driver who drove on the sidewalk is out on bond and IT’S WINTER, SHARE THE ROAD BIKERS AND MOVE WHEN A CAR IS BEHIND YOU. And IT’S WINTER.

    • In reply to KP-

      If you are taking offense at my comment about the high level of drinking that goes on along Franklin then you are denying the reality of the history and current status of this area. Since I was a kid in the 1970s Franklin Avenue has had the well deserved reputation of an area where many residents and “visitors” maintain a high level of human antifreeze regardless of the temperature outdoors. Don’t kid yourself, not all of them are non-drivers.

      As for bad drivers… oh hell yes there are way, way too many of them on our streets. The poor driving habits of people is a pet peeve of mine, especially when I see small children not secured properly in the back seat of vehicles. I have called 911 several times on cars where this has caught my attention, I stay on the phone with the police until they eventually pull these idiots over and write them a rather costly ticket.

      As for the use of bicycles on streets in the winter, I am constantly commenting to bikers I pass, the ones riding at night in dark clothing, no reflective warnings whatsoever, no lights, etc. I roll the window down and give them an earful about just how utterly stupid they are. Minnesota state laws strictly dictate that lights must be used when riding at night and also just how bright they must be. If I see a flashing white/red strobe, sometimes several blocks away, then I know immediately that there is a responsible rider on the road and I adjust for them so that I can pass safely. It’s the brain dead idiots that appear out of nowhere, dark shadows crossing the road ahead of me or riding almost invisibly along a busy street at night that get an earful from me. Those people are marked for crushing.

  13. I’m coming at this from another perspective. Though I side with cyclists who proclaim to have 40+ years of experience, I step out onto the road anew each time I ride and no amount of experience is enough to absolutely guarantee safety even with the most sophisticated devices. The wise choice would be to go another route, especially if the alternate route allows you more comfort and a longer ride (if you love riding). But wisdom is a fools game to one who is brave. A flashing light and a helmet didn’t save Mr Nalls. When you’re dead, you can’t fight the good fight. Condolences, serious sadness for all the lovers and loved ones who’ve suffered loss in the urban death maze.

  14. Sad chain of events. You can’t say he was drunk until the toxicology tests come back. He lost his license in December of last year and he shouldn’t have been driving!

      • You all can go back and forth on this and that about its “not safe”, “it’s suicide”, my tonnage vs your poundage, my rights, ride here not there, Driving is a privilege, not a right. I see people walking in the street for whatever reason. I drive around them. Biker in the street, drive around them. Slower car, drive around them. If you can not drive competently, then the privilege is not yours. At least thats what it should be. What’s it take to get a drivers license? Pass the written test, signal properly, parallel park. Boom! Here’s the keys to a loaded weapon. Have at it. The drivers ed program in this country is the real issue here. You can get killed walking or riding a bicycle. However, you can kill and be killed driving. Big difference there don’t you think?

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  17. I hope those of you who would like to honor and remember Marcus’ life will support and participate in the Ride of Silence event on May 21st happening in St. Paul; see this page for details: http://www.rideofsilence.org/locations-domestic.php?s=MN#MN
    I’ve added Marcus’ name to our memorial database to be sure he’s remembered:

    Very sad, each and everyone of these fatalities.
    Tim Potter
    Webmaster & Sec. of the Board
    Ride of Silence

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