Family and Friends of Cyclist Tess Rothstein Speak Out

A heartwrenching letter from loved ones mourning Rothstein includes a call to take planned street safety improvements even further.

A large group gathers outside City Hall to demand safe bike infrastructure in the wake of cyclist Tess Rothstein’s death. (Photo by Ida Mojadad)

Much has been said about the death of cyclist 30-year-old Tess Rothstein, the street safety measures that could have saved her, and the behavior of drivers blocking designated bike lanes in the past couple weeks.

On Tuesday, the public directly heard from Rothstein’s grieving loved ones along with more than 100 people who rallied for protected bike lanes in her honor. A group of the 30-year-old’s family and friends published a letter dated March 14 that demands a comprehensive safety plan from Mayor London Breed, the Board of Supervisors, and the SFMTA. 

Rothstein was riding a Ford GoBike to work on March 8, when witnesses said she dodged the open door of a parked car at Howard and Sixth streets. The Berkeley resident was instead fatally hit by the driver of an oncoming truck. 

Much of the calls by “Tess’s Beloved Community” were echoed on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday and through more than 40 speakers at the SFTMA Board of Director’s meeting. The board unanimously approved protected bike lanes on Howard Street from Third to Sixth streets but the group called for it to extend all the way down Howard and Folsom streets. SFMTA officials said Tuesday that a plan to install lanes to the waterfront could be up for approval this summer. 

“It was really difficult to know that a simple change can make someone’s life, someone still be with us here today,” Sasan Saadat, who lived with Rothstein at their Berkeley co-op, said at the rally. “It’s surreal to think that a small moment’s difference, such a random event, means that I’ll never get to see her again.”

In the letter, loved ones went on to describe Rothstein, who grew up in New York but made the Bay Area home after graduating from Stanford, as someone who loved wholeheartedly, and who was compassionate and whimsical. She was immersed in Dutch culture through her long-term partner, baked hundreds of goods for friends, and went on international biking trips by herself.

“Tess built community wherever she went — often quite literally, by starting multiple cooperative homes and by weaving together communities through dinner parties, board games, and short story book clubs. With her friends, her colleagues, and even casual acquaintances, Tess was generous, curious, empathetic, and loving. Tess went out of her way to make people feel welcome, and she knew just when to give someone a hug or a note of gratitude. Tess was present, warm, calm, and attentive. She was someone to just sit with on a Sunday afternoon, without having to posture or perform.

Tess had so much presence in her body. She wore colorful scarves and wrap skirts, smiled with her mouth closed and her eyes shining, and moved through the world with her hips. She wore sun hats and was just starting to develop crinkly bits around her eyes from lots of smiles. Tess was adventurous, comfortable setting out alone on international bicycling trips and equally delighted to savor short sunset walks in the Bay. She lived her life fully, starting many mornings with movement and spending time with loved ones throughout the day.”

Rothstein worked at Airbnb, where colleagues said she brought the same curious and emphatic spirit to her work. She sought out underrepresented voices for her respected design research and “was known to push her coworkers to not forget the more uncomfortable truths.”

An uncomfortable truth for the city is that Rothstein is one of eight people to die in San Francisco traffic collisions this year — four times the deaths that had occurred by the end of March 2018. The group of family and friends reiterated demands by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition for protected bike lanes on Howard and Folsom streets, fast-tracked projects for high-injury corridors within the year, and to streamline approvals for protected bike lanes. 

“Tess would still be here — asking questions, sharing stories, listening attentively, and living fully — if the City had addressed its urgent safety needs before her tragic accident last Friday. We implore you to implement a comprehensive plan to address bicycle safety in our community. We appreciate your rapid response to the unsafe conditions on a small portion of Howard Street; however, our community cannot wait for another beloved person to die before a comprehensive plan is put in place to ensure bicyclists’ safety.”

The letter also called for training to prevent sudden car-door openings to driver’s education through the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Bike safety advocates have long sought to educate people about the “Dutch Reach,” in which drivers and passengers alike open the door with the far arm and are forced to look over their shoulder.

Other cyclists who have died on San Francisco streets — Russell Franklin, Gregory Blackman, Kevin Manning, Gashaw Clark, Kate Slattery, Heather Miller, Mark Heryer, and Donald Pinkerton-DeVito — were cited in the need to prevent deaths.

“Your decisions have contributed to these deaths. And your decisions can make San Francisco a leader once again in ensuring safe streets for all.

It’s so hard to believe Tess is gone. In honor and memory of Tess Rothstein, please act with urgency to enact a comprehensive plan ensuring bicyclists’ safety. Please make sure we do not lose another person in a tragic, preventable accident on our streets.

Sincerely, Tess’s Beloved Community”

Mayor London Breed, supervisors Matt Haney and Norman Yee, and BART Board Director Janice Li have put pressure on SFMTA to speed up safety measures. A 90-day action plan to prioritize near-term improvement will come before the board on April 2.

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