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Ghostbike #7, Jeffrey Harrison, RIP

Jeffrey Harrison’s obituary just said he died suddenly on July 30, 2012.

Jeffrey Harrison was 51 years old and lived in East Haven.  His obituary said he had been married, had children, and According to neighbors on Coe Avenue, right near the East Haven town beach, Jeffrey would bicycle frequently during the day and would walk at night.

Jeffrey Harrison’s obituary said he was a landscaper, but neighbors knew him to pick up litter on the streets.

We have lost Jeffrey Harrison’s citizenship because on July 30, 2012, at about noon, a minivan hit and killed him. He made it to the hospital alive, but based on the stains on the ground and the pictures of the crumpled minivan, he didn’t stand a chance.

Ghost Bike in honor of Jeffrey Harrison

The minivan was heading south on Coe Avenue, towards the beach, when it crushed hit him, then careened into a telephone pole, flipping on its side.

The driver of the minivan, Cheryle Tyson, 53, of Milford, has not been charged with a crime according to the state judicial department’s website. News reports indicate investigations are pending. Tyson was a professional driver, as her job required her to drive people with developmental disabilities around.

Indeed, when the minivan flipped on its side and took out a telephone pole, there were three people in Ms. Tyson’s care. Did I mention she has not been charged with a crime?

When I read about Mr. Harrison’s this last week in the New Haven Register, my blood began to boil. How many more bicyclists will perish?

Coincidentally, in my basement, I had a road bike frame with a dented rear triangle that I recently purchased for a pack of cigarettes from a man with a shopping cart full of metal on Francis Avenue in Hartford. I only had a credit card on me, so I couldn’t give him $10. I bought him smokes instead.

I carried the frame and forks home, strapped onto my backpack. The guys at Pedal Power in Middletown gave me a pair of junk wheels. Two cans of white spray paint later, and we had a ghost bike. Based on the pictures of Jeffrey Harrison’s bike, they were substantially similar.

In Jeffrey’s honor, this past Sunday morning, Tony Cherolis and I rode from Hartford to East Haven, about 50 miles. My beautiful, wonderful, amazing wife Wildaliz, who I should note does not share all of my political views, drove down to East Haven, with the ghost bike on the trunk.

Tony and I left Hartford at like 8:45 in the morning, pedaled through New Britain, and found the Farmington River Canal greenway. The tree canopy provided a pleasant shade for the 20 miles of the greenway. Even better, it was car free transit.

We pulled into New Haven, and I almost felt like I was in Europe, with the interesting buildings emerging along the Greenway.  Not much traffic in New Haven at a Sunday around 11:30, and you have to love New Haven’s bike lane striping and “sharrows” – sharing arrows – telling motorists to share the road.

We crossed the bridge into East Haven, and striping disappears. Main Street, East Haven has a sidewalk, but no bike lanes. Not much consideration for non-motorized transit here.

Coe Avenue begins as a four lane state highway, route 142 southbound. When Tony and I first pulled onto it, I was not surprised that someone died there. It is a classic Department of Tar strip engineered for cars, cars and cars. Traffic flow sacrifices safety.

Yet the part where Mr. Harrison perished was no longer the state’s death road, as further down Coe squeezes into two-lanes, with a striped, eight-foot shoulder on each side. But the travel lanes were still striped as 12-footers, and 12-feet lanes provide visual signals, telling drivers 45 miles per hour is okay.

Coe Avenue is a long straightaway curving at the beach.  Drivers can carry speed from the state route onward.  The collision happened right near what is clearly a busy intersection, where Wilkenda Avenue terminates into Coe. Others think Coe Avenue unsafe.

The spot is right in front of a convenience store, and it is so close to the beach, I suspect the shoulder is for parking.  When we arrived, I was too tired to move, as it was my longest ride of the year to date. I guzzled a quart of Gatorade while Tony talked to the neighbors.

Neighbors said they have been interviewed by police officers, newspaper reporters and private investigators. The last one, if true, means that Mr. Harrison’s estate may be interested in holding the company liable for its reckless driver. I can only hope.

Neighbors said heard the crash, saw the aftermath. They pulled their children inside from playing. They said three pedestrians have died on Coe Avenue in the last year, and an East Haven police officer’s son died in a motorcycle crash there, too.

But like Burnside Avenue in East Hartford, I am forced to conclude that the problem is not lack of enforcement, but bad road design.  Jeffrey Harrison’s obituary did not say he was the victim of poor road design.

The Town of East Haven in conjunction with the South Central Regional Council of Governments recently performed a $50,000 “Corridor Study of Hemingway Avenue (Route 142 and Coe Avenue (Route 337) with an emphasis on emergency transportation needs in conjunction with the proposed new Public Safety Facility at the intersection of Coe Avenue and Proto Drive.”

This does not mean bicycle or pedestrian safety. This means flow and curb cuts. See .pdf

Jeffrey Harrison’s obituary does not say the crash that killed him stripped both his wheels from his bicycle, and leaving them like curvy potato chips next to the cop car. Everyone told me that the stain on the road could not have been from Mr. Harrison, since they always wash it away.

But one of the pictures with the sideways minivan shows what is clearly blood on the road, right where the stain still was.

The accident scene, credit to East Haven Patch.

My wife met us at the convenience store, and we placed the ghost bike on the brand new telephone pole.  Did I mention the minivan snapped the telephone pole at its base? Neighbors say it was uprooted.

Jeffrey Harrison’s obituary does not say that the minivan which hit him moved a telephone pole.

I tried not to cry when Tony and I fastened the ghost bike to the utility pole. I wore sunglasses, so no one could see my eyes even if I did shed a tear. It is hard not to mourn when you understand the act of placing a white bike represents a recently deceased person.

I am told I have a big heart for doing this. But really, I hope that placing the ghost bikes acts as some sort of protection for me. It is hard not to think that there but for the grace of God go I.

But I know that is just magic thinking. But so might be thinking that we can get justice.

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