More than 1,200 cyclists circled Fashion Island Sunday morning in a Memorial Ride that honored two women killed in cycling crashes last month.
“Let’s not forget why we’re here,” said April Morris, who helped organize the event. “We want to be agents for change.”
The ride paid tribute to Sarah Leaf and Catherine Campion-Ritz. Leaf was killed Sept. 14 on East Coast Highway and Bayside Drive, and Campion-Ritz was killed by a hit-and-run truck driver on Newport Coast the following day.
Several participants wore t-shirts and buttons in honor of Campion-Ritz, while others wore armbands of remembrance for other Newport Beach cycling victims.
“It’s a very bittersweet day,” said Jon Christeson of Newport Beach, who wore an armband bearing the name Don Murphy, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2009. “The community needs to really be shocked by these..deaths.”
Cyclists gathered before the ride, buying raffle tickets and t-shirts to help raise money for bicycle safety improvements. The ride has raised $53,000 so far, Morris said, with $1 donations from children and a $10,000 donation from Bicycle Safety Committee member and Corona del Mar resident Frank Peters. The Newport Beach City Council approved a plan to match all funds raised through the end of the year in a 3:1 ratio up to $450,000, with the money going to a fund for bike safety improvements and programs.
Before the ride began, participants bowed their heads during an invocation that paid tribute to Leaf and Campion-Ritz.
A third woman who was injured while cycling the same week that Leaf and Campion-Ritz were killed also spoke to the crowd.
Betty Bustrum used a cane to walk to the podium.
“It saddens me to think of people being fearful of riding in this community,” she said. Bustrom was injured when a truck pulling a trailer clipped her on Coast Highway near Dover Drive.
Newport Beach Police Sgt. Spencer Arnold also spoke, offering safety tips to the group before the ride began. Arnold greeted Bustrom — he had been at the scene of her crash. He also was the first officer to arrive at Leaf’s side after witnessing the crash that killed her.
“He held her head and grasped her hand to let her know she was not alone while dying on the street,” said City Councilwoman Leslie Daigle.
Mayor Nancy Gardner, who is chairwoman of the city’s Bicycle Safety Committee, said the group had been successful in making bicycle safety a priority in the city. But she urged cyclists to use caution while riding.
“As a city, there is nothing we can do about stupidity,” she said. “People are going to drink and drive, people are going to text and drive. There are going to be stupid accidents.”
She encouraged cyclists to be ambassadors of the sport and to use “a charm offensive” to change negative perceptions that some motorists have toward them.
Christeson said changing those perceptions was key to creating safer roads for cyclists.
“There has to be an actual shift, where people see a cyclist and say, ‘Cool, a cyclist,’ instead of ‘Blankety blank cyclist,'” he said. “There are thousands of cyclists in Newport Beach. It’s not a fringe thing. Bikes are just part of the deal, and motorists need to be courteous and realize it just takes five seconds.”
The cyclists, joined by a group of walkers, made one lap around Fashion Island on Newport Center Drive. Some of the group then split to participate in longer ride through the Back Bay and to Long Beach.