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Safety “top priority” for this weekend’s Tour de Palm Springs after death of cyclist during last year’s ride

Organizers for this weekend’s Tour de Palm Springs hope this year’s event is bigger and better than ever.

The annual fundraiser attracts thousands of bicyclists from around the country.

Last year, the tour was marred by the death of a cyclist.

Ride coordinators hope “increased awareness” this year will keep all riders safe.

As they’ve done every year since 1999, thousands of cyclists will be riding on valley roadways this weekend participating in the Tour de Palm Springs.

The tour includes a total of 6 rides, varying in length, with all beginning and ending in downtown Palm Springs.

“We’re going to have a great event and we always have great weather,” said Tim Esser while talking about the event.

The tour’s longest ride is a 100 mile loop around the valley in which riders travel all the way to Thermal.

During the rides, cyclists share the roadways with drivers.

“We want to tell everybody to go out and have a great time. All cyclists must obey the rules of the road because we have the right of the road,” said Esser.

Tour safety became a hot topic last year, after 55-year-old cyclist Lavonne Koester died while riding in Thermal.

Lavonne was riding westbound on 60th avenue, when she went through a stop sign, and was struck by a driver in a pick up truck traveling south on Harrison.

At the time, Koester was riding with a group of cyclists waved through the intersection by another southbound driver on Harrison who stopped at 60th Avenue.

Mark Friis is the Executive Director of the Inland Empire Biking Alliance, and as a cyclist, he’s ridden more than 120,000 miles

“It was a failure of right of way. So Lavonne had a stop sign. She failed to give the right of way to the truck, that is the blanket part of it,” said Lavonne.

Having ridden in the Tour de Palm springs 5 times, Friis describes the event as “well organized” and “safe”, despite Koester’s death.

“I love it. I think it is great. It is one of the biggest events cycling wise in Southern California,” said Friis.

As he has done for a number of cyclists who have died, Friis set up a “ghost bike” memorial at 60th and Harrison to honor Koester.

He also wants the memorial to serve as a powerful reminder for riders and drivers alike to always use caution.

“For me, I mean, its really just frustration and anger,” said Friis, while talking about anytime a cyclist dies while riding on a roadway.

As a cycling safety advocate, Friis says in no way does he blame the tour organizers for what happened.

Whenever a cyclist hits the road, alone, or in an organized ride, Friis says its up to each rider to take responsibility for their own safety, especially while riding with traffic.

“If you look at the collisions on these rides, most of them are rider to rider. Cars have very little bearing to with what happens out here,” said Friis.

For major cycling events like the Tour de Palm Springs, Friis says its “virtually impossible” to hire enough people to monitor every intersection, and “impossible” to keep drivers off the roadways during the rides.

Regarding enhancing safety for riders this year, Tim Esser says more law enforcement will be hired to work this year’s tour.

The number of CHP officers will more than double from 8 last year to 19 this year.

Esser says safety is always the “top priority”, and says the topic is covered on the event website.

“We work with the cities. We work with the police departments. It is a never ending job. It has been number one on our list, and has been for 17 years,” said Esser.

We are told the tour has raised more than $2.5 million dollars for valley charities since the event began in 1999.

Last year alone, the event raised more than $250,000.

KESQ News Team

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