A safe haven, lost: Eight lives stolen on a bike path

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The very first thing is to run through your mental Rolodex. Who do you know in New York? Dave is there. He posts pictures of a bike path and a pretty skyline all the time on Instagram. Not sure which path. There are probably tons of them. New York City is big. But still, this horrible thing happened on a bike path and he posts pictures of bike paths in the same city so a small corner of your stomach makes a tiny knot.

Text Dave. “Checking in, you all good?”

It’s not that you’re actually worried. Just like you weren’t truly worried about friends in Paris on the night of the Bataclan or friends in Thornton, Colorado, on Wednesday night when someone opened fire in a Walmart there and killed three people. Because you know about probability, you took statistics in school at some point. Logically you understand that the chances are infinitesimal; that, actually, thinking Dave might have been on that path at that moment is just crazy. It’s more likely he won the lottery today than was intentionally hit by a madman driving a truck on the West Side Highway bike path.

The stomach knot doesn’t care. It comes from the part of you where logic doesn’t live. It comes from a constant stream of ghastly news, the sheer volume of which seems to suggest that the improbable is quite probable. It comes from knowing that a few dozen other people might have that same knot, except it will turn out to be not a fleeting moment of uncertainty but an inflection point that changes a life forever.

The bike path part. That part really hits you. You’re used to fear, just a bit. Cars are scary. They come too close and there are moments when things seem about to go sideways, or do go sideways. It’s what we’re up against. Bike paths, free from cars, don’t feel like that. You are among your people on a bike path. Some are slow, some are fast. There are bike sharers and capped roadies and walkers and dogs, but few real concerns. On a bike path, you can turn off the fear and just ride. That was the idea, anyway.

You don’t yet know who they are, but you know that eight people on bikes, on the closest thing we cyclists have to a safe space, are gone.

In the coming days the world will hear their names.Hernán Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damián Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij and Hernán Ferruchi, five Argentines riding together to celebrate a 30-year high school reunion. “They saw New York as a special place to be,” said the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, “and we now and forever will consider them New Yorkers.”

Ann-Laure Decadt, a 31-year-old Belgian mother of two young sons, run over from behind.

Nicholas Cleves, 23, his mother’s only child, just out of university and into his first job.

Darren Drake, two weeks from his 33rd birthday. You’ll find out that for hours after the attack, his parents sent messages just like the one you sent to Dave. They didn’t hear back and drove to Bellevue Hospital to find out he had died.

A dozen more cyclists survived the attack — at least one is still in critical condition — and will live with the scars, both physical and psychological, for the rest of their days. One can only hope this wasn’t their last bike ride.

In an hour or two, your phone buzzes. It’s Dave. “I’m good, thanks man. On that path all the time. So sad.” The next day, a friend posts a video from the distinctive handlebars of a bike-share, cruising down a bike path. “New York will keep on riding,” the caption says. And the knot unties, but not all the way.

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