The thing to remember about Pablo Avendano is that he died while using his bicycle to earn a living.
He was not some elite hipster headed to the newest brewpub, or a wealthy, Spandex-clad Boomer determined to pedal back to his youth, or some other effete stereotype of a Philadelphia bicyclist.
He was a working man just trying to get by. He was the kind of bike user who gets forgotten in our sniping cars-vs.-bikes debates that pit “old” Philly against “new” Philly, all the while losing the bigger point: Increasing numbers of Philadelphians of every demographic are using their bikes to traverse the city, and they all deserve to use them safely.
In the midst of all that friction, an innocent man has died. We should hang our heads in shame.
On Saturday, Avendano pulled a nighttime shift for Caviar, the food-delivery service, to supplement his full-time income at Sparrow, a courier service.
The amiable 34-year-old with the big beard and bigger heart hustled hard to make a living, said his dear friend Tina Furr. I found her weeping at a makeshift memorial for Avendano at 10th and Spring Garden Streets, where he was struck and killed by a car.
“He’d say, ‘I need to make 50 bucks tonight,’ and take an extra shift,” she said, recalling how often those extra dollars went to friends or family in need of a little help.
“He’d do anything for you. He was really funny, goofy, and he didn’t know how to dance that well, but he still would dance. He was like a little kid that way.”
But he was a full-on grown-up when it came to biking this burg.
The night he was killed, he was wearing a helmet and pedaling along a designated bike lane. His behavior appears to have been nothing like the menacing antics of the outlaw, rule-busting riders that the anti-bike crowd pretends is indicative of every rider.
Not that it mattered for Avendano, because the bike lane on Spring Garden Street was not protected by a barrier that would’ve stopped a vehicle from slamming into him.
Studies show that such buffers reduce injuries by anywhere from 28 percent to 98 percent per mile of road – and not just for bicyclists.
In New York City alone, according to a 2011 memo from the mayor’s office, “when protected bike lanes are installed, injury crashes for all road users (drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists) typically drop by 40 percent and by more than 50 percent in some locations.”
Those astounding numbers are not taken seriously enough by the right people in Philly. According to the numbers crunchers at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, ours is the most-biked big city in America, percentage-wise: The latest U.S. census shows that 2.2 percent of residents traverse our streets on two wheels, more than even New York (where Brooklyn ought to be re-named Bikelyn).
Among Philly riders is Marcos Lemoli, 23, a line cook at Blue Corn restaurant in the Italian Market. He saves $100 a month on Septa fares by commuting by bike from home to work.
“That might not be a lot of money for some people, but it’s a lot to me,” says Lemoli.
Biking lets low-income riders in this town – the poorest big city in America – commute not just more cheaply but more smartly.
“When you get off work late at night, there’s no guarantee a bus will be waiting for you,” he says. “If you miss the bus, you might wait another hour for the next one. Some neighborhoods, you don’t want to be standing all by yourself on a dark corner for that long. Biking gets you out of there fast.”
State laws say the roads are for all commuters, not just automobile drivers. But we’re so car-crazed we’ve given over our city roads to drivers, car owners, and to the elected reps who kowtow to their comfort at the sake of bikers’ very lives. Look no further than the years-long struggle to get a protected bike lane on Chestnut Street, from 22nd Street to 63rd. After six years of arguing, it was all but a done deal — until City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell tried to declare the project a “pilot” – even after supporting legislation for a permanent lane. It currently stretches just eleven blocks.
>> READ MORE: How Philly can prevent another bike tragedy
“Bike lanes are seen as a sign of gentrification, and that scares some people,” says Amy Spellman, an avid cycler and former development director at Gearing Up, the local nonprofit that uses biking as a tool to increase physical activity and lower stress among those combating histories of abuse, addiction, and incarceration. “But they don’t understand that bike lanes accommodate all bike users – including low-income riders in their very own neighborhoods.”
In the bike world, these riders — the ones not steering flashy bikes or marching for broader rights — are dubbed “invisible bicyclists.” But Waffiyyah Murray sees them clearly. She’s program manager of the Better Bike Share Partnership in the city’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems, which oversees the Indego bike-sharing system.
Indego has been expanding its bike stations well beyond Center City – into lower-income areas like Mantua, Belmont, and Strawberry Mansion – where car ownership is scarce. Public response has been strong, with many users taking advantage of Indego’s $5 monthly “Access Pass,” which allows unlimited use of the system’s bikes for people who currently qualify for government assistance.
“Access Pass now makes up 11 percent of all monthly passes sold,” says Murray proudly. “Year to date, 12 percent of all trips” are via the deeply discounted pass.
More riders – of every demographic – are using bicycles in Philadelphia to get their kids to school, themselves to work, and, in this growing gig economy, to deliver to our doors the stuff we order with a few easy taps into our phones.
Until Saturday, Pablo Avendano was one of those delivery people. That night, hoping for a few extra bucks, he braved a ferocious downpour to ferry a hot meal via Caviar to a customer who was safe and dry at home.
It cost him his life. It didn’t have to. It never should have.