By Melissa Fittro/Clipped In AZ
Dressed in a hospital gown with a broken body, a bicycle demolished into 16 pieces, and the question of ever being able to ride a bike again looming in the air, Tucson firefighter Brendan Lyons woke up wanting change.
Lyons, 29, and his girlfriend Lorena Evans, were riding in a bike lane earlier this month toward Sabino Canyon to train for the upcoming race, El Tour de Tucson, when they were struck from behind by a car. It was also Evans’ birthday.
Without knowing his own prognosis, or being able to walk, Lyons immediately called for a meeting with state Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, and state Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.
“[Lyons] talked about what he had been through and how he wanted to push through that and make it safer for everybody,” Farley said. “I have such admiration for him, to be able to push through that personal pain to just reach out and make things better for everyone else.”
Lyons, a Rural Metro firefighter,was riding with Evans near Sunrise Drive and Kolb Road in Tucson, in what Lyons describes as “one of the very large bike lanes Tucson has to offer.” A distracted driver hit them and was cited for failing to give them 3 feet of space and for failing to stay in his lane.
Lyons met with Farley and Orr not only because both are cyclists, but also because both are working toward changing public safety. The three met in Lyons’ hospital room to discuss what measures can be taken to increase the safety of cyclists. Lyons describes their talk as constructive, and as a two-way street about cycling awareness, not a conversation of Republican vs. Democrat.
“Without hesitation they both want to help,” Lyons said. “While laid up in a hospital bed, I spent a morning with two well-respected politicians. This was a bipartisan conversation about saving lives, and an in-depth conversation was held on how to make cycling safer in Arizona.”
One thing Lyons wants to change is the laws on minors wearing helmets. According to Lyons, there are only certain counties throughout Arizona, which require anyone under the age of 18 to wear helmets.
“A lot of kids don’t wear helmets because it’s not cool,” Lyons said. “What’s not cool is being dead.”
Orr said he was impressed by Lyons’ willingness to look out for others and work toward a better safety solution for cyclists.
“That’s what struck me the most [about Lyons], is how willing he was to include the community,” Orr said.
Both legislators say they been working on a bill about cyclists’ safety, coming up with ideas such as giving cyclists a larger space when passing them in a car, and using helmet-cams. According to Farley, drivers are supposed to give cyclists 3 feet of space, but says they want to increase it to 5 feet.
“Something Brendan added, which I’m going to include in the bill as well, is increasing penalties,” Orr said. “Because as he pointed out, the person who hit him, who obviously is at fault, could be fined $1,000. But if I went out and fed a wild animal in parts of the state, legally I could be fined $2,000. So I think there is a bit of a real distortion in the law.”
Tucson has already taken advantage of how popular cycling is in Arizona by building hundreds of miles of bike lanes and incorporating a 55-mile vehicle free Urban Loop.
Lyons already was an advocate for bicycle safety, before this accident. He is the founder of Look! Save A Life, an organization designed to reach drivers and cyclists. Lyons says that there is a disconnection between the two, because cyclists are unaware of or choose not to ride according to the laws, which governs the use of public roads.
Lyons describes safety as everyone’s responsibility, and hopes that he can help change the attitudes drivers and cyclists have for one another. Lyons remains hospitalized and unable to return home two weeks after the accident, and Evans suffered a broken arm that required surgery, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
“It’s deeply humbling being able to ride more than 100 miles on any given day or weekend and wake up the following morning in a hospital bed, not able to perform simple tasks such as going to the bathroom or even walking,” Lyons said.