Oklahoma City Councilman James Cooper crosses N.W. 23rd Street to the Tower Theatre during a rally of bicyclists seeking safer street infrastructure. (Tres Savage)

The issue of bicyclist and pedestrian safety in Oklahoma City may have reached a critical mass.

Joined by OKC’s two newest City Council members, more than 100 residents donned helmets and rode their bicycles more than two miles from Stonecloud Brewing to Tower Theatre this afternoon to organize advocacy efforts for better safety infrastructure. Attendees asked each other to raise awareness about the dangers faced by non-car users of local roads.

“The turnout is really encouraging, particularly to see the breadth of who is here. It’s not just us white hipstery people who have a lot of access to other options,” said Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon. “I’d really like to see some policy where (when a street is being repaired) it says we need to do an analysis and implement some kind of bike infrastructure that is appropriate for the street.”

Hamon, Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper and others filled the Tower to organize future advocacy events and honor 31-year-old Chad Epley, a chef who was killed Thursday, March 21, while riding his bicycle on Classen Boulevard near N.W. 16th Street.

As a series of speakers encouraged the assembled crowd to form advocacy groups and push for change, Epley’s younger brother, Greg Bundy, stood outside the theatre’s doors in a crowd of bicycles.

“It would mean a lot (to Chad),” Bundy said of Tuesday’s rally. “He enjoyed the whole process (of biking), so I’m sure he would be thrilled to see the community come together and do something to help improve the safety of the streets.”

Bundy said he is not a bicyclist himself but that he hopes community leaders “hear people’s voices” on the issue of infrastructure safety.

“I get why people bicycle. I get why it’s a mode of transportation, and if it is going to be in our city there’s nothing right now that helps safety wise,” Bundy said. “Anything we can do to make it a little bit better is hopefully helping the next Chad and the next Chad after that so something like this doesn’t happen again.”

‘This is not a good time of day to be riding a bicycle’

Bicycles fill the Tower Theatre lobby Tuesday, May 7, 2019, for a rally about city infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians. (Tres Savage)

As Tuesday’s mass of bicyclists made their way north along Classen Boulevard, near where Epley was struck and killed, they encountered Oklahoma City police who briefly stopped the procession, formed a plan to clear traffic and ultimately escorted the bicyclists to their destination.

OKCPD Maj. Dexter Nelson said officers thought the ride was scheduled for May 19, only learning recently of Tuesday’s plan.

“Once we found that out, we started scouting the area looking for them to see if they were going to need any traffic help, and they did,” Nelson said. “This is not a good time of day to be riding a bicycle on a major thoroughfare like 23rd and Classen.”

Nelson’s observation underscored the concerns of OKC bicyclists, many of whom traverse crowded streets to and from work.

“The attention you are bringing today is the purest form of generosity,” said event speaker Ben Nockels. “So thank you for giving a damn. Keep giving lots and lots of damns.”

Nockels said he had heard over the past month that some people believe streets are only for cars.

“I call bullshit,” Nockels said. “It’s not too outlandish — as some would suggest — for our streets to be safe for all pedestrians.”

Nelson agreed.

“Probably the majority of motorists do not know the rules for bicyclists. Most bicyclists do. It’s a learning curve,” Nelson said. “We hope the motoring public starts to realize the bicyclist has as much right to the road as the car does.”

But Nelson also noted that, normally, a mass of bicyclists riding across multiple lanes of traffic would receive tickets for impeding traffic.

“When you ride in a pack, you have to work just like a car,” he said. “We do have bike lanes in Oklahoma City. We probably do not have enough for their satisfaction. I know the city is trying to improve that and add some bike lanes. But some of the roadways we currently have just aren’t conducive to bike lanes.”

Dodson: ‘It’s OK to be angry’

An avid biker, OKC developer Jonathan Dodson also spoke at Tuesday’s rally, critiquing those who are not supportive of bicyclist rights to the road.

“It’s OK to be angry. I’m angry,” Dodson said. “But it’s channeling that into awakening them to a city that they’ve never seen before and that they refuse to acknowledge. And it’s a way to change their hearts by loving each other really, really well.”

Dodson requested from city leaders the names of pedestrians and bicyclists who died in traffic accidents in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Monday, he posted 78 names on Facebook:

Had Dodson’s list featured similar deaths in 2019, the name of Bundy’s brother would have appeared. Asked what he hoped city leaders might take away from Tuesday’s rally, Bundy paused.

“Hear people’s voices,” Bundy said. “I don’t know if it’s enough, but I hope it is.”