By April Short
The historic stone clock tower’s hands pointed to 5 p.m. A cluster of bicycles glistened below in the evening sun. More than 200 cyclists gathered to pay tribute to a fallen friend and fellow rider who had been killed the previous afternoon.
Christopher Rock, a 40-year-old Santa Cruz local, died after a collision with a quarry truck while riding his bicycle at the intersection of Bay and Mission Streets on Tuesday afternoon, April 8. The cyclists rode from the clock tower to the site of the crash as a memorial to Rock, and in order to bring the city’s attention to the traffic conditions Santa Cruz bicyclists face and the high number of deaths in recent months.
Chris Appleton, who knew Rock well via interactions at Café Pergolesi, was one of the bicyclists gathered beneath the clock tower. A bouquet of red and yellow flowers hung from the handlebars of his bike and his eyes watered beneath his sunglasses as he spoke about Rock.
“He was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met,” Appleton said. “He was just an absolute dear soul — the kind of person who would never harm anyone.”
The ride was organized by People Power Santa Cruz, a group that promotes the use of non-motorized transit.
Two deaths and one major injury occurred this year alone due to what People Power calls “a street design and a culture of driving that does not allow for [cyclists’] existence.”
Micah Posner, director of People Power, helped with the event’s coordination.
“This is completely unacceptable — we all feel this combination of being sad and just being really pissed off,” Posner said as he handed out bright yellow signs to each bicyclist participating in the ride.
In dark bold font the signs read: “Bicycles Allowed Use of Full Lane: 21202.”
The signs referred to California Vehicle Code 21202, which states that cyclists have the right to use the full right lane on streets that do not provide safe bike lanes.
The throng of bikers pedaled from the clock tower to the corner of Bay and Mission. Supporters stood on street corners bearing signs with words of caution such as “Watch for cyclists or you just might kill one,” which they waved to the stream of cars that whizzed by.
“We have a civil right to use these streets, and that’s what we are here for today,” Posner said through a bicycle-powered amplifier when the group reached their destination.
Every few minutes, passing cars full of supporters honked or cheered from windows in approval of the gathering. Members of People Power and other attendees spoke on the necessity of bike-friendly transit along Mission Street, the home of three bike shops and an unavoidable route for many on their way to and from work and school. Several speakers stressed the necessity of a better infrastructure throughout the city and better street signs.
Many shared their memories of Rock and painted the portrait of an exceptionally friendly man who loved Santa Cruz, cycling and people. He was deaf and held conversations via pens and notepads, and frequented Café Pergolesi. He always greeted people with a smile and a peace sign or a thumbs-up and took frequent bicycle trips to San Francisco for fun.
“I’m out here because I take a bike trailer every day to school. I use Mission Street and it’s scary,” said fourth-year UC Santa Cruz student Andy Norton, who attended the memorial ride. “All these people ride downtown all the time — it could have been anyone.”
Haven Livingston, who lives in Santa Cruz and rides Mission Street daily, also attended.
“For as many bicyclists as there are around here,” Livingstone said, “there’s still a lot of awareness that needs to happen.”