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Executive’s cycling accident brings community together, creates change

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Hundreds of friends, supporters and cyclists gathered Dec. 15 in Encinitas to honor Roberta Walker at a “Ride for Roberta” event.
McKenzie Images
Roberta Walker
Roberta Walker McKenzie Images

In the nearly two months since cyclist Roberta Walker was struck by a vehicle and badly injured, the Coast Highway 101 corridor where she regularly rode has been upgraded and cyclists have produced a set of riding rules to help foster goodwill with motorists.

And people near and far have donated more than $90,000 of the estimated $125,000 she's expected to need to help pay for her current rehabilitation expenses as well as the anticipated costs of renovating her home so that she can eventually move back into it.

Meanwhile, Walker is making slow, steady progress toward recovery and has moved out of the hospital and into a rehabilitation facility, Kellie Shay Hinze, one of Walker's close friends, said Thursday, Jan. 24.

"I had the opportunity to visit her this week and I'm really impressed with how far she's come," Hinze said, mentioning that she was able to have a brief conversation with Walker.

Therapists are working with her on basic maneuvers, including reaching toward objects, Hinze said, adding that because Walker was very athletic before the accident she has high hopes for what she called an ambitious set of physical therapy goals.

Walker -- the executive director of the Cardiff 101 Main Street Association, and a fierce advocate for improving bicycle and pedestrian safety -- was riding southbound on Coast Highway near the Leucadia Post Office about 6 a.m. on Dec. 8 when she was hit from behind by a truck. She was wearing a helmet, but sustained extensive brain and spinal injuries.

"She suffered catastrophic injuries that included a traumatic brain injury, a fractured skull, two burst fracture vertebrates, nine broken ribs, a broken clavicle and sacrum," her go-fund-me web page notes, adding that she was placed in a medically-induced coma in the hospital to help with the healing process.

In the days since, she has undergone a series of brain and spinal surgeries, and has "experienced many complications due to the critical nature of her trauma," the web site continues.

Her go-fund-me page notes that she will likely need adaptive home assistance, and mental rehabilitation as well as physical. Hinze said the driver of the vehicle that struck Walker had some liability insurance and that helped cover her initial hospital expenses, but the insurance money has run out and the go-fund-me campaign will pay for her long-term physical therapy expenses as well as the modifications she will need to her home. To donate, visit:

www.gofundme.com/roberta-walkerbike-accident-recovery

In the weeks since the accident, the city of Encinitas has embarked on a series of temporary modifications to Leucadia's portion of Coast Highway to improve safety conditions for cyclists and slow vehicle speeds.

The city has added more than 60 green sharrows markers -- special paint on the pavement indicating that bikes and motorists must share a vehicle lane in sections of the roadway because there isn't space for a separate bike lane.

The city also has put up two big, digital signs with changing messages to warn approaching motorists about roadway dangers in the area, and the Sheriff's Department has increased its speed enforcement activities along the corridor.

Those changes are just the start. Earlier this month, the City Council approved adding four raised crosswalks and "rumble" strips. And, a long-planned, massive renovation of the roadway is expected to begin late this year. That $30 million project, known as Leucadia Streetscape, will overhaul a 2.5-mile stretch of Coast Highway from La Costa Avenue to A Street, adding six traffic circle roundabouts, as well as bike lanes, sidewalks and parking areas.

Walker's accident also has had a big impact on the local cycling community. Michael Marckx, an avid competitive cyclist and a board member of the Leucadia 101 Main Street Association, has produced a set of six guiding principles -- "Roberta's Rules" -- to keep cyclists safe and reduce tension between riders and motorists.

"They're basic things, but they're actually written very well -- Michael is quite the wordsmith," said John Abate, a fellow cyclist who's handling publicity for the Roberta's Rules project.

The rule list encourages cyclists to ride together in pairs, so they're more visible to drivers, to obey all traffic to foster respect from drivers, to use hand signals to signal intent to turn, and to avoid the 4-foot "door zone" -- the area along the side of parked cars. Motorists are reminded that state law requires them to leave at least a 3-foot buffer when passing a cyclist on the left.

Abate said he's distributed the Roberta's Rules document to about two dozen people who lead cycling clubs across San Diego and has encouraged the group leaders to read the rules aloud just before they start out on group rides, so it's fresh in everyone's minds and they can self-police themselves as they head out.

In the weeks to come, Abate said, he hopes to spread the word about the new rule sheet beyond the hard-core competitive cycling community and into the general public.

"It's really important that the Roberta's Rules get out to the entire county ... so we can ease that tension between riders and vehicles," he said

Roberta's Rules

1.) "One means one for all" -- When cycling alone, be extra cautious and take greater care to make certain you can be seen and your intentions are clear. Add lights to your bike and make certain to obey all traffic laws.

2.) "Two means two-by two" -- Cyclists traveling in groups are encouraged to ride in pairs so they can be more visible to motorists.

3.) "Three means 3 feet" -- Motorists are reminded that state law requires them to leave at least a 3-foot buffer when passing a cyclist on the left.

4.) "Four means 4 feet" -- Cyclists should avoid the 4-foot "door zone" along the side of parked cars.

5.) "Five means High-Five" -- Cyclists should use hand signals to indicate their intent to motorists, pedestrians and fellow cyclists.

6.) Six is for sixth sense" -- Trust your instincts and stay focused while cycling to avoid potential hazards.

--Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune