Remembering Dennis Flanagan

It was just another Facebook post, but it hit home.  Maybe because Jan, Jessica and I were just in Pittsburgh a few months ago.  We cycled the streets and trails of the city and we fell in love with the spirit of the people there.  We rode the Duquesne Incline not far from where Dennis Flanagan’s life ended…needlessly…senselessly…tragically.


Dennis Flanagan was struck and killed just beyond the left end of the yellow bridge in the distance.

I didn’t know Mr. Flanagan, but I’ve made it a point to learn a little since he was hit and killed last Tuesday while cycling in Pittsburgh’s West End.  He was 49 years old and lived in McKees Rocks.  He had six children.  He was riding to improve his health after a diagnosis that included high blood pressure.  He was concerned that if he didn’t take better care of himself that he wouldn’t see his sixteen year old daughter graduate from high school.

Law enforcement officials in Pittsburgh are calling the loss of Dennis Flanagan an accident.  If that means that the motorist didn’t mean to run him down and is remorseful, I’m sure that they’re correct.  That is almost always the case. Unfortunately, that doesn’t bring back Dennis Flanagan. In fact, it’s not even really relevant.

When an airplane falls from the sky, we don’t call it an accident.  That word, accident, suggests that nothing could have been done to prevent what happened from happening and people simply would not be able to accept that in the case of an airplane.   Why they accept it when it is a bicyclist or pedestrian is beyond my comprehension.  Maybe it’s time that they stop accepting it.

We Americans have it in our heads that a certain amount of road carnage is an inevitable by product of mobility.  It’s not.  Virtually all traffic deaths are preventable.  This is as true for motorists as it is for cyclists and pedestrians.  It is incredibly easy to effect but it requires a change of mindset and, more importantly, a change of heart.

We need to slow down. Instead of hoping for the best as we barrel down the highway, we need to plan for the worst.  We need to pay attention and anticipate problems before they occur.  We must get to the point where motorists (and cyclists) understand that when they run into another human being and cause harm that they are responsible for that harm whether they intended to cause it or not.

BikePGH has done amazing things in Pittsburgh.  They’ve turned a car-centric industrial rust belt city into a very special place for bicyclists. If you have a chance to visit and ride, you should go.

That said,  the loss of Dennis Flanagan shows that even when we advocates have great success, there is still much work to do.  BikePGH is sponsoring a ride to remember Dennis Flanagan and call attention to the fact that traffic deaths are avoidable on Tuesday September 6, 2016.   Sorry for the late notice…I just found out.   The details are here.  If you’re in the greater Pittsburgh area and have the chance to go, I hope you will.  You’ll be helping more than you can imagine.


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