As we approach the 2021 World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic victims on November 21st, NJBWC is publishing this guest blog that features a recent vehicle-to-bicycle crash in New Jersey which resulted in the serious injury of Southeast Asian Games medalist and ex-professional triathlete, Arland Macasieb. The blog is written by Lenny Alabanza, Arland’s fellow cyclist with the Filipino American Triathlon Club, and is a testament to the crucial need for a statewide goal of Vision Zero in New Jersey.
By Lenny Alabanza | November 5th, 2021
“I never want to see another ghost bike again.” Referring to the eerily-painted white bikes placed at the scene of deadly bike crashes to memorialize its victims, those painful words are heard from well-known cyclist, Arland Macasieb, after he was hit by a car.
After a crash that resembled something out of a Mad Max movie, Arland’s body was dragged under a custom racer 1959 Chevrolet Corvette for more than a hundred feet, human flesh grated by metal and road until the bones in his hand were exposed and ground further. Only because of his relentless determination and willpower, Arland survived. Unfortunately, Arland’s experience is yet another shocking example of the perils that cyclists face when sharing the road with motorists. This year alone, 18 people cycling on New Jersey roads have been killed, more have been seriously injured, and countless others have survived close calls.
Arland is an ex-pro triathlete and coach with a friendly and unassuming demeanor. His credentials are what the rest of us only dream of – USA Triathlon National Age Group Team 1999, USAT Pro Long Course Team 2008, medalist at the Southeast Asian Games representing the Philippines 2005, 2007. Born and raised in New Jersey to Filipino parents, he has become the most successful and well-known community organizer of Filipino endurance sports. The Filipino American Triathlon (Fil Am Tri) Club, which Arland founded, is a model that has expanded throughout the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Dubai, Bahrain, and Australia. His vision is simple enough – create a network of Filipino athletes who can connect, train, race, and cheer together to show that Filipinos can be competitive in endurance sports. I will never forget the elation I felt from hearing the cheers of more than twenty Fil Am Tri athletes and their families lined up as I crossed the finish line after six long hours of swimming, biking, and running. This experience I owe to Arland’s legacy.
As motorists, shielded by our protective metal boxes, it is easy to forget that the cyclists we pass on the road are humans too – people just like us with careers, families, aspirations, and impressive accomplishments. Arland’s story is a harsh reminder that we never know who we’re passing on the road. It could be a neighbor, a friend, or an elite athlete.
Five years ago, I was oblivious to the world of cycling. Like many Americans, the only thing I took out on the road was my Toyota SUV. One day, as I was approaching an intersection to make a right turn, I failed to check my right-side mirror and nearly hit the cyclist coming up from behind me. If I had been aware that I had passed a cyclist a minute earlier, I would have saved both the cyclist and me from a heated exchange of words. Fortunately, that exchange was the worst of what happened that day.
As I dived into the sport of Triathlon three years ago, I started to train more regularly and biked on the roads more often. I witnessed my own close calls with motorists and realized the importance of road safety for all users. These reversed-role experiences transformed the way I now drive – with a heightened awareness of others on the road. This is a change I hope other drivers will make as they reflect on the horrific consequences of our usual unawareness and dominance of the roadway.
Bike and driving safety have always been in Arland’s mind as he leads groups to train for long hours on end during triathlon season. He rode more than 200 miles from New Jersey’s highest elevation in High Point State Park to the Cape May Lighthouse in the Jersey Shore to mark the longest day of the year. For Arland, the tragic consequences of his crash have created a new sense of urgency. Concerned that distracted driving often plays a role in vehicle-to-bike crashes, Arland says that even when cyclists do what is required – hand signals, single file pace line, bright jersey, lights, and eye contact with drivers, they still need to depend on the motorist to see and pass them safely. Having raced all over the world, Arland was impressed by the bike infrastructure in Australia, where divided bike lanes run parallel to major highways and are lit at night, encouraging people to commute safely by bike. New York City has started installing separate traffic lights for motorists and bikes which Arland hopes will be done in New Jersey soon.
Arland believes that driver education needs to be upgraded drastically. New drivers are road-tested to make a full stop at a stop sign or to parallel park, but there are no such tests on passing a cyclist safely. New Jersey recently adopted the most comprehensive safe passing law in the country. Effective on March 1st, 2022, the new law requires drivers to exercise “due caution” when passing other road users. “Due caution” specifically requires drivers to either move over a lane, leave a safety zone of at least 4 feet, or reduce their speed to 25 miles and be prepared to stop. The adoption of this law is a huge win for the safety of cyclist and other non-motorists, but its effectiveness highly depends on how we educate our drivers. Following the adoption of the New Jersey Safe Passing Law, Arland believes legislation requiring driver retesting should also be passed.
While Arland is now another statistic, like every person who dies or is seriously injured on our roads, he is not just a statistic. Despite the inability to use his right hand until future surgeries, Arland approaches each medical challenge with the courage and calculated optimism of a general who wins one battle at a time. His story is evidence of the dangers that cyclists and other road users must face in a system that prioritizes cars, but it is also inspiration for changing that system. Arland’s new vision is to raise awareness of bicycle and traffic safety and to start a dialogue between motorists and cyclists. As a survivor, finding the courage to overcome his injuries has led Arland to a determination to create change and lead New Jersey to a future with “no more ghost bikes.”
Lenny is fellow cyclist with the Filipino American Triathlon Club and enjoys the outdoors by swimming in the Atlantic, biking up the Sourlands, and running on the D&R trail. To learn more about the Filipino-America Triathlon Club and Arland’s recovery, visit the Fil Am Tri Facebook Page.