R.I.P. Ivan Aguilar
Last Thursday, a beautiful young life was taken on the college campus where I teach. A 21-year-old Cal Poly student, Ivan Aguilar, was struck and killed by a car while riding his bike on a campus roadway that has fast-moving traffic and lacks bike lanes. I did not know Ivan personally, but his death hit me hard. I keenly felt the loss as a parent who worries about his own children, as a bicyclist who knows that a careless driver can change or end my life forever, and as an educator who finds joy helping young people reach for their dreams. I cannot help thinking about his family and my heart goes out to them. I cannot begin to fathom their grief. The 21-year-old should have been stressing about finals, looking forward to spring break, and dreaming about life after graduation. Not dead. Damn it, not dead.
A little over a week prior, I blogged about this very same stretch of roadway, and called upon Cal Poly Pomona officials to make it safer for bicyclists by installing bike lanes and traffic calming measures. Last summer, another dangerous stretch of roadway on campus—Campus Drive—was repaved and it would have been the perfect time to give that street a “road diet” and bike lanes. But that might have required removing an automobile lane and, in the land where cars are more important than people, this is still seen as a radical idea. That street, a major connector between student housing, the campus’s main transit stops, and the main campus, remains as dangerous to bicyclists as ever. We have apparently failed to grasp the urgent need to transition from the energy- and resource-intensive automobile culture to different modes of transportation. Meanwhile, the climate is changing and people like Ivan are dying. The status quo is unacceptable.
No one can say for sure that bike lanes and slower traffic speed on Kellogg Drive would have saved Ivan’s life. But I do know that we have a responsibility to make sure the roads on campus are safer for all road users, and we haven’t done that. I know that stretch of roadway could be made safer and greener by significantly slowing traffic speeds and making more space for bikes and pedestrians. I know that the lack of safe road design discourages people who might otherwise bike or walk to school. I know that we can change, that we must change. The real question is whether we have the will to do so.
So far, more than 500 people in the Cal Poly community have responded to a call for a memorial ride on campus to put up a ghost bike in Ivan’s memory on the spot where the car took his life. I hope each and every one of the 500 shows up Thursday, March 7. And that each brings a friend. Maybe something good can come from this terrible tragedy if people in power are willing to listen.
Last Thursday, another life was added to the 35,000 to 40,000 Americans who are killed by automobiles every year in this country. Yet our culture continues to worship at the altar of the automobile, even though it destroys our environment, our climate, and even, as in this case, our children. It seems a sort of madness to me.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We need to redesign our roads so that alternative modes of transportation are made safe and convenient. People are doing this in other cities, other universities, and it works. Those sleepwalking through this environmental and existential crisis—and unfortunately they are legion, even at places of higher learning—need to wake up and realize that cars are part of the problem, not the solution. We need bike lanes. We need traffic calming. Now.
I’m going to keep saying it to anyone who will listen. For Ivan’s sake. And for our own.