Cycling tragedy at State College, Pennsylvania sparks safety ideas

Pink flowers and a candle now rest at the site where a car hit a cyclist June 9 at State College, as community members continue to deal with tragedy and borough officials discuss the after.

The death of Jose Sajbin, a 36-year-old man with two children, has shaken the local cycling community and drawn both condolences and donations from across the region. Although police are still investigating the collision, the family are still awaiting answers, borough officials and residents wasted no time in publicly discussing ways to improve bike safety, saying it won’t can no longer reproduce.

“I’m just advocating that we do Somethingsaid local cyclist Matt Herndon on June 13. “One death is too many.

State College Mayor Ezra Nanes said Thursday, “When you have a tragedy, something that really hurts the community and causes great pain, there is always a desire to say why and how we can prevent it. So I understand that and feel it emotionally, but the desire to make system-wide progress (in cycling) has always been there. It’s not an instinctive reaction.

Flowers and a candle sit next to a sign for the bike path through Edgewood Circle on Thursday, June 16, 2022. Abby Drey [email protected]

What will change?

Since the police investigation into the accident is ongoing, it is not yet clear what could prevent this in the future. But there are general ideas for making cycling safer at State College, many of which hope to prevent future tragedies.

Several cyclists as well as Nanes, who avoids his car for a bike ride in the borough, highlighted two possible solutions – raise certain pedestrian crossingsso the vehicles are forced to slow down and treat them like speed bumps, and use different colors on bike paths to increase visibility. The latter has been used in bike-friendly cities like Minneapolis and Portland, while the former has been rolled out in areas like New York and San Francisco.

“There are things we can do and we have to do them,” Herndon said. “So I encourage the Council to take real action on this. He is literally a member of our community, and we need to stop just accepting him.

Because creating a bike-friendly neighborhood has always been a priority for State College – its “Bike scoreis the fourth highest among cities in the Big Ten, behind only those near Michigan, Minnesota, and Northwestern State — the borough already has several related projects underway or pending behind the scenes. Councilor Gopal Balachandran wondered aloud at last week’s borough council meeting if at least one of these recommendations could be incorporated into a future project already discussed – and was told it was a possibility.

The borough is already looking to hire a consultant in the next month or two for a mobility plan. And several related projects appear on the next borough calendar Capital Improvement Plan 2023-2027, which serves as a roadmap for future spending on projects over $100,000. This includes $280,000 for maintenance of cycling facilities, such as asphalt repairs and a waterproofing layer, and $1.1 million for a separate project that includes the construction of a shared-use trail on the side south of the Easterly and Westerly Parkway.

“I personally continue to push these bike and pedestrian safety projects up the list because I personally think these are some of the most important investments we can make in the community right now,” said Nanes, who outlined these projects even before he was sworn in.

“And the tragedy raises that to the top of many people’s consciousness.”

Community response

Christian Kurpiel-Wakamiya, a local cyclist, spoke at last week’s borough council meeting and echoed the sentiments of many.

“I’m trying to absorb what happened to Jose,” Kurpiel-Wakamiya said. “He is the father of two children; I am the father of two children. I cycle around our great State College area with my kids; he also traveled, I suppose, by bicycle. And it–it hits home.

Sajbin was driving just before 8 p.m. on June 9, along the bike path that crosses Edgewood Circle in the borough’s Greentree neighborhood, when he collided with a 16-year-old driving a sedan, police said. He was transported by medical helicopter to UPMC Altoona, before dying the next day from his injuries.

A stop sign for cyclists on the cycle path where it crosses Edgewood Circle on Thursday June 16, 2022. Abby Drey [email protected]

Sajbin’s death touched parents and cyclists, residents of the Greentree neighborhood and Center County. Many left thoughts and prayers on the GoFundMe page for his family and his funeral, and many – even those who have never met him – are still trying to come to terms with the sudden loss of a member of the community.

“It’s hard because when that happens, you think, what could I have done? What could have been done?” said Matthew Cox, president of CentreBike, a coalition of Central region cyclists “I’ve never met him, but he’s one less person. He has a family. … And I’m still trying to digest it.”

A family friend of Sajbin started a GoFundMe page two days after his death. As of Saturday noon, over $23,000 has been raised from over 440 supporters. And, at the request of his parents, Sajbin’s funeral will be held in his native Guatemala.

Nanes offered his heartfelt condolences at the June 13 council meeting and, with the help of council member Deanna Behring, they arranged for a multilingual translator to interpret Nanes’s words. Nanes stopped every moment, nodding as the translator caught up with him.

“One death is too many,” he said. “And our entire community mourns the loss of this community member.”

Flowers and a candle lie next to the bike path where it crosses Edgewood Circle on Thursday, June 16, 2022. Abby Drey [email protected]

Josh Moyer earned his BA in Journalism from Penn State and his MS from Columbia. He has been involved in news and sports writing for almost 20 years. He boasts the best athlete he’s ever seen as Tecmo Super Bowl’s Bo Jackson.

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