In a show of support for critically injured bicyclist Nathan Krasnopoler, nearly 100 people, most of them riding bikes, gathered yesterday at the scene of the crash, along with the family of the 20-year-old Johns Hopkins University sophomore who remains in a coma.
“We want our Nathan back . . . his family loves him and the beautiful person that he is . . . we are hoping and praying for him to recover,” said Nathan’s father, Mitchell Krasnopoler, standing on a bench to address the crowd gathered in front of the Broadview Apartments on University Parkway.
Krasnopoler urged the cyclists to “please be safe on today’s ride and always.” He urged government officials, police, the news media and “you in the biking community” to use the opportunity afforded by the tragedy “to do some good.”
“We hope everyone will work even harder to educate drivers about their legal obligations to give the right of way to a bicyclist in a bike lane,” he said.
He noted that, despite the reported comments by some Baltimore police officials suggesting that no charges would be filed against the driver of the car, the case remains open. “Please be patient, and please join us in thanking the police officers involved for doing a very thorough job,” he said. (The full text of remarks is here.)
That same message – concern for the fallen bicyclist and a wait-and-see attitude on law enforcement’s response – was echoed by the organizers of the vigil, which ended in a ride to the place where Krasnopoler is being treated, Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“This is not a protest ride. Not this ride, not today,” Penny Troutner told the assembled crowd. The owner of Light Street Cycles, Troutner organizes the Meetup group “Biking in B’more.”
“When people tell you to keep it tight and to the right, you should do it,” Troutner warned her fellow cyclists.
“We are coming together to comfort each other and to vent our frustration to people who understand,” she said, “and to reach out to Nathan and his family – to embrace Nathan and his family.”
But those frustrations were being vented freely yesterday by clearly emotional cyclists, who said the Feb. 26 incident is a grim reminder of the dangers they face from unsafe road design and motorists who are either oblivious to their presence or downright hostile.
“Fortunately we are not here to recognize a ghost bike,” said Harry Campbell, who lives on Pinehurst Road, just north of the city line. (He was referring to the tradition of placing white-painted bikes at the site of fatal bike crashes.)
“I’m outraged by it, when they say that the car is not at fault,” Campbell said. “We have a driving culture here that just does not recognize bikes.”
A City Dweller Determined to go Car-less
In their remarks to the crowd and afterwards to the media, the Krasnopoler family tried to paint a fuller picture of the young man at the center of the tragedy.
“He is a very intelligent person, a little bit of a non-conformist. A very gentle person, but he always told you what he thought,” Mitchell Krasnopoler told The Brew.
Others spoke of Nathan’s bearded dragon, Trogdor, of his passion for programming (he was taking undergraduate- and graduate-level computer science courses) and his love of music, which led him at one point on methodical quests to discover obscure German base and electronical jazz.
(Nathan’s mp3 player was smashed in the crash and, during the vigil, one of his friends handed a roll of bills to Krasnopoler’s brother Elliott Krasnopoler and said, “Here, we collected this. It’s $65 for a new MP3 player.” )
Krasnopoler’s mother, Susan Cohen, handed out press releases with some of these details, including the fact that her son was a confirmed “city dweller.”
He “loved and embraced urban living. He tried to walk or bike to all his activities,” the statement said. “He did not want to ever own a car, and for the most part, despised driving.”
She said the family believes Nathan was riding back to his apartment, at the Carlyle Apartments, from the 32nd Street farmer’s market, where he often shopped on Saturdays. “He had produce with him.”
She said Nathan, who was trapped under the vehicle and stopped breathing for a time following the crash, remains in stable condition at the Hopkins ICU, but has still not emerged from the coma. He also sustained 3rd degree burns on his face and torso, as well as bone fractures and bruises.
“The doctors cannot tell us when he will come out of it and they’ve also told us he might not,” she said.
Mitchell Krasnopoler returned often to the idea that his son’s injury should be a reminder to motorists to be more cautious around bikes.
“If you see a bicycle, you need to really pay attention to where it is and if you need to wait a few seconds, just wait the few seconds,” he said. “Because our life has been turned upside down.”
Road War Stories
As they waited for the ride to Hopkins, the cyclists confided their own experiences on Baltimore streets, said the city has a long way to go to make streets truly safe and complained about the city’s initial handling of the Krasnopoler crash.
“They mishandled it. I think definitely at the very least, they failed to cite the woman who should have gotten some kind of ticket,” said Adam Zeldin, president of a student organization, Hopkins Cycling. “The streets around campus are really bad. I hope Baltimore and the school do something about it.”
Like several others at the vigil, Zeldin said the city should consider protected bike lanes, positioned between parked cars and the sidewalk.
“At least paint the lines bright green or make them more visible,” he said. “I have been right-hand-hooked so many times, including one time in front of the Hilton. This is a really bad stretch here, it’s so busy.”
Others agreed that the bike lanes offer no protection for cyclists if drivers don’t respect them.
“I don’t think the bike lanes are safe,” said Campbell, describing close-calls he’s had on city streets and county roads with careless or antagonistic drivers. Despite the fact that he is careful to bike lawfully, he said, motorists have frequently swerved around dangerously in front of him “and yelled at me to obey the rules of the road.”
“I ride up to them at the intersection and say, ‘Pull over, let’s talk about it,’” he said.
Cyclist Justin Winokur, a 23-year-old graduate student in engineering at Hopkins, said he has had similar experiences, including one memorable incident with a Baltimore police car.
“The cop came up behind me and honked,” Winokur said. “He said, ‘You’re not allowed to be on the road because there’s no ‘Share-the-road’ sign.”
Winokur, who lives near the Inner Harbor, said he rides Park Street on his way to school and uses Maryland Avenue on his way home.
Among the city officials who turned up for vigil was bicycle coordinator Nate Evans and Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke who agreed that the bike lanes could be improved.
As for the question of whether charges will be filed in the case, Clarke said the city State’s Attorney’s office will make the final call after the police complete their investigation.
“This may take a while,” she said, as the cyclists donned their flame-orange vests and headed off en masse to the hospital, bike lights glowing. “It’s very important to get it right.”