Injured cyclist stresses bike safety

After being hit by a car while biking, student Robert Stillwagon says he’ll keep riding as safely as possible.

After being hit by a car while biking, student Robert Stillwagon says he’ll keep riding as safely as possible.

WALBERT YOUNG TTN Robert Stillwagon, who sustained injuries when hit by a car, hopes to replace his bike ruined in the accident.

Robert Stillwagon said he has always coped with the risks of biking daily to Main Campus: maneuvering around potholes, hopping over trolley tracks and sharing a fraction of the lanes with speeding cars that can carelessly whiz by cyclists.

“I’ve biked knowing that I’d always eventually get into an accident. It just [hadn’t] happened yet,” the junior international business and marketing major said.

But during his typical commute to Main Campus from Center City a few weeks ago, Stillwagon said a vehicle traveling in front of him suddenly hit its breaks, causing him and his bike to hit the car.
“There was no warning,” Stillwagon said. “Bikes can’t stop as [quickly] as cars.”

His body and bike, which he said “split at the handle bars like someone took a bone-saw through [it],” were flung into the back of the vehicle. When he fell, the bike landed on top of him.

“It cost $250, so now I’m just going to get something cheap off Craigslist or [from] the Salvation Army or something,” he said. “I’m going to keep on biking because you can be as careful as you [possibly] can, but the road is primarily designed for cars and not bikes. It can be dangerous.”

Currently, rules for bicyclists are written into the motor vehicle code. But City Council recently proposed an increase to the cost of fines for violators of the city’s bike code.

If the new bike bills pass, cyclists will pay $20 to register their bikes with the city, and some fines will more than double. Fines for riding on the sidewalk, which used to cost bicyclists $10, now cost violators $54, and Councilman Jim Kenney proposed it be raised to $300, which he said would result in safer roads and sidewalks for motorists and pedestrians.

Some advocates say the increased fines could threaten Philadelphia’s bike culture and consequently lead to a less eco-friendly city.

But junior film and media arts major Jozef Jozefowski said he doesn’t think police will take the laws seriously.

“Cops have more things to worry about instead of bikes, end of story,” Jozefowski said.

Many Philadelphia bicycle advocates agree and insist that enforcing the proposed laws would impose fines on a large number of the city’s bikers.

Assistant Director of Education for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia Diana Owens said without actually enforcing the laws and imposing the increased fines, which she called ineffective and counterproductive, it will be impossible to produce any social change or increase road safety.

“What’s already on the books should be consistently followed because a lot of cyclists just don’t know what the rules of the road are,” she said. “Enforcement needs to be consistent to be effective.”

But, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia police wrote only 14 tickets to cyclists last year. Owens said she thinks the number of tickets issued should increase, rather than the dollar number on the tickets.

“A bicycle is a legal vehicle,” she added, “so we should be treated as a legal vehicle, but we are not motor vehicles.”

“I think that riding up a one-way street is bad, and [listening to] an iPod while riding is really bad,” said Jay Gurcsik, the assistant manager at Breakaway Bikes, adding he can be “guilty of running stop signs” himself.

On-the-road precautions, however, apply to more than just bikes and cars.

Junior tourism and hospitality management major Susan Berry said she drives her Vespa with caution but recently had an experience similar to Stillwagon’s: Berry was riding home from Main Campus when her Vespa’s wheels were caught between trolley tracks. Berry said she lost control of her vehicle, fell off and slammed onto the road.

“My insurance is only $80 a year for it, but now I have these scars on my legs and ankle,” Berry said.
“I love riding my Vespa,” she added, “but they should make the roads [safer] for everyone.”

Matthew Petrillo can be reached at

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