Monday, August 8, 2022

A year after the death of a cyclist in York County, concerns for safety remain

Mourners have placed a “ghost bike,” a memorial bike painted white, at the site of the accident to remember Brian Utne who passed away on Oct. 25 after a hit-and-run. (WYDaily/Courtesy Patrick Johnston)
Mourners have placed a “ghost bike,” a memorial bike painted white, at the site of the accident to remember Brian Utne who passed away on Oct. 25 after a hit-and-run. (WYDaily/Courtesy Patrick Johnston)

It’s been nearly a year since Brian Utne was killed in a hit-and-run while riding his bicycle in York County, but those in the cycling community won’t let his legacy be forgotten.

“I think he was an inspiration to us all,” said John Sprock, a member of the Peninsula Bicycling Association. “He was very concerned about safety, his techniques for managing [group] rides was something I learned from.”

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On Oct. 25, 2018, Utne was returning home after helping lead a group ride, Sprock said. A vehicle struck him while riding on Lakeside Drive in York County and Utne died, authorities wrote in a report.

To remember Utne, the historic Triangle Bicycle Advisory Committee organized a 25-mile memorial ride last year and placed a “ghost bike” at the scene of the crash.

The memorial ride this year is being organized by Sprock and Jen Faas, also a member of PBA.

“Seeing it happen to that person makes you realize that you can be as safe as possible, but your safety isn’t all up to you,” Faas said.

Both Faas and Sprock said safety has become a big concern for cycling groups across the Peninsula and Utne’s name almost always comes into conversation. 

But there is still a lot more to be done, Sprock said.

As experienced cyclists themselves, they said they both have witnessed first-hand some of the dangerous situations that occur when sharing the road. Mostly, they said, it is either because of distracted driving or drivers getting frustrated because they see cyclists as a nuisance.

“We are reminded again and again that we are vulnerable out there and we need to take precaution,” Sprock said.

RELATED STORY: Death of bicyclist brings safety concerns to forefront in York County

To help address the issue, Sprock said many people who lead group rides start out by discussing safety for both for drivers and cyclists. For example during this year’s memorial ride for 9/11, Sprock said the leader gave a pre-ride briefing that informed and reminded cyclists of safety precautions on the road.

Sprock said having various leaders teach the community is good because each has their own techniques and other riders can learn from their experiences.

“We’re not just on the cycling side of the issue,” Sprock said. “Every single one of us also drives a vehicle. But at events, you can have a discussion and educate.”

Sprock said another large part of the issue is infrastructure providing the locations and resources for cyclists to safely share the road — many of the Peninsula cycling groups are in on-going discussions with various localities to help address the issue.

RELATED STORY: 4 months after the death of a cyclist in York County, a meeting on Wednesday will address infrastructure improvements

In March, York County officials met to discuss the county’s comprehensive plan during which sidewalks and cycling routes were discussed.

Still, Utne’s memory weighs heavily on the hearts of those he left behind and events such as the memorial ride help to remind people of the dangers cyclists face everyday.

Utne’s Memorial Ride is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Oct. 27 starting at the Washington Square Shopping Center. The route will run approximately 25 miles and will pass the area where Utne died.

To learn more, visit the ride’s Facebook event page online.

Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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