On Thursday, August 16, the man who killed Anthony Saluto as he rode his bike along Independence Avenue was sentenced for what he did. Members of Anthony’s family, as well as BikeWalkKC, provided impact statements in an effort to convince the judge to hand down a harsher sentence. Unfortunately, the judge delivered the sentence that was originally agreed to in the plea deal: 120 days incarceration and five years of probation. As we stated in our impact statement, this sentence is woefully inadequate and does nothing to comfort Anthony’s family, nor does it serve as a sufficient precedent for future cases.
We want to thank Anthony’s family for not only reaching out to us to help advocate for a stronger sentence, but for demonstrating the steadfast resolve to not let Anthony’s death be in vain. We share that resolve and will continue to work to not only improve the built environment and prevent this type of tragedy from happening again, but also to strengthen the laws that define how motorists should interact with cyclists and pedestrians.
To that end, BikeWalkKC will be working in the following ways to ensure that something good can come out of the life that has been lost:
1. Installing a permanent memorial for Anthony. When Anthony perished while riding his bike on April 3, 2016, the cycling community erected a ghost bike in his memory. A “ghost bike” is a bike that has been painted all white and is typically placed at the site of a crash that took the life of a cyclist (check out this article on the history and significance of ghost bikes). Unfortunately, the ghost bike was removed and there is currently no marker to remember Anthony.
To rectify this situation, BikeWalkKC will work with Anthony’s family and the City of Kansas City to install a permanent memorial in Anthony’s honor. However, rather than install another ghost bike, we’re looking at something even better: a ghost bike rack. The rack can serve as both a memorial and a place for fellow cyclists to lock up their bikes. We are currently working on design elements and the best location for permanent installation.
2. Developing institutional knowledge of how similar crashes are handled. BikeWalkKC is a nonprofit organization, not a law firm or a victims’ services agency. This became very clear when we tried to understand why Joseph Lasala was facing such a light sentence for killing a cyclist, especially given the circumstances of the case. Like Anthony’s family, we had little knowledge of how law enforcement, prosecutors, or civil litigators handle these cases, including how to access incident reports and the thresholds defendants have to meet for prosecutors to pursue certain charges in both criminal and civil cases.
We decided we needed to learn more about the process and have worked to accomplish just that. It began with conversations among lawyers who regularly handle these cases on the civil side and will continue with more conversations among officials in both law enforcement and prosecution. The hope is that we can not only have a better understanding of what is going on if a similar tragedy arises, but also look for potential shortcomings that can be addressed through policy changes.
3. Advocating for more protected bike lanes. When Anthony was struck and killed while riding his bike, there was nothing but paint separating him from the man who took his life. Having some sort of barrier in place at the spot where the crash occurred could very well have saved Anthony’s life. And while KCMO has worked to bring more protected bike lanes to our streets (such as the parking protected bike lanes on Armour Boulevard), it’s clear we still have a long way to go.
One opportunity for advancing this sort of infrastructure can be found with the Paseo Gateway plan. The proposed changes to this frequently traveled street and the intersection with Independence Avenue include what is known as a two-way protected bikeway, or “cycle track”. The protected facilities are currently expected to go onto both streets, but we want to see them extended at least to the stretch of road where Anthony died. We will work through the appropriate channels to make this a reality.
4. Pursuing the passage of a Vulnerable Road User (VRU) ordinance for KCMO. What appears obvious to many following this case and the sentencing is that we are failing to place a sufficient value on the lives of cyclists and pedestrians. There are a number of ways that we can address this, but at the local level, we can bring immediate change by advocating for the passage of a vulnerable road user ordinance.
A VRU ordinance would clearly define which modes of transportation require the most protection (i.e. cyclists and pedestrians). Additionally, it would clearly define how motorists should interact with them on the street. Most importantly, it would lay out clear recommended punishments for drivers who harass, threaten, injure, or kill a vulnerable road user. Given that North Kansas City has already passed a similar law, there is no reason that the municipality with the region’s largest street network should not have similar legislation on the books.
5. Partnering with KCMO to adopt a Vision Zero policy. The implementation of a Vision Zero policy is one of the long term steps that KCMO can take to build a safer transportation network. At its core, Vision Zero argues that all traffic fatalities and serious injuries are preventable and works to implement policies to make that a reality.
Even though the path to fully implementing a Vision Zero policy requires many steps, KCMO owes it to its vulnerable road users to commit to this approach. To that end, BikeWalkKC will mount a campaign with the goal of persuading the City to pass a resolution in support of Vision Zero. A more concrete ordinance and the appropriate resources will make our streets safer for everyone.
As we noted in the impact statement, none of this will bring Anthony back. While we share the Saluto family’s disappointment with the sentence, we also share something else with the family: motivation. We share a motivation to do something to ensure that no one else has to go through the pain of this ordeal and a motivation to build a safer city for cyclists to ride and pedestrians to walk within. That begins with the steps outlined above. Making these changes will not be easy, and they will not be immediate, but something has to change. Anthony’s killer has been sentenced, so what now? We take action.