Nurse starts bike light program after two student deaths

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A painted white bike is propped where Kristina Chesterman was struck on the 300 block of Nord Avenue. Chesterman died at Enloe Medical Center after two days in critical condition. Photograph by Carter Caldwell. Photo credit: Carter Caldwell

As a registered nurse with 20 years of experience, Katie Boerner has seen many people injured in bicycle collisions. And she’s had a few close calls herself when reckless motorists nearly sideswiped her while driving down Chico’s streets.

But this semester, after two college cyclists died in bicycle collisions, Boerner realized that someone needed to act.

“I just said, ‘enough is enough. We’ve got to do something,'” she said.

Boerner, an avid competitive cyclist, started thinking about how she could make Chico safer. Shortly after, an idea popped into her head.

“I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if somebody gave lights to people?'” she asked.

After talking with members of a local cycling club and officers at the Chico Police Department, Boerner developed her idea into “Light Up Chico,” a campaign dedicated to giving bike lights to cyclists who need them.

Under the new program, which is slated to begin Jan. 1, Chico police officers will give lights to cyclists they pull over for lack of proper lighting. The lights will be given in lieu of fix-it tickets, which can cost between $100 and $150 if left unpaid, said Lt. George Laver of the Chico Police Department.

The idea came after Kristina Chesterman, a Chico State nursing student, was killed after being hit by a motorist Sept. 22. Janee Nickerson, a Butte College student, was killed less than two months later after being hit by a driver at the intersection of East First and Oleander avenues.

Boerner has also nearly been hit by drivers while cycling. She was almost struck by a fifth-wheel trailer while with a friend in the middle of the day.

“I can’t think that he didn’t see us,” Boerner said. “It was a nice day. The sun wasn’t in his eyes.”

She also had a close call on Centerville Road when she was nearly hit by a motorist going the opposite direction.

Although the Chico Police Department doesn’t give out a large number of citations, it is participating in the program to reduce the number of cyclists who get injured while biking at night, Laver said. Each participating officer will have a supply of lights in their car.

The department won’t have to pay for the lights, however. The Chico Velo Cycling Club, a local nonprofit dedicated to cycling, is trying to raise funds to purchase the lights, which cost between $10 and $20, said Janine Rood, executive director of the club.

The club plans to take the money it raises from fundraisers and purchase the lights from downtown bike shops, Rood said. The members will give $250 lump sums to the shops and ask them to donate as many lights as they can.

The program doesn’t currently have any donations, but members of the club have already given away between 70 and 80 lights at bike safety events since the beginning of the semester, Rood said.

The light giveaway is only the first step to making Chico safer for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, Boerner said. In addition to making sure cyclists are visible at night, Boerner plans to start an education campaign to teach people the rules of the road. She also wants to raise awareness about notorious hot spots for vehicle and cyclist collisions, such as the Esplanade.

If the program prevents one cyclist from getting injured, it will have been worth it, Boerner said.

“I will never know the people that we save, and that’s just fine with me,” she said.

Benjamin Mullin can be reached at [email protected] or @BenMullin on Twitter.