When Vince Cooke began planning the ride more than a year ago, he had no idea the community’s grief over the death of a local cyclist would feel so raw.
The Ride of Silence was scheduled to take place in Olney and other communities around the world on May 16. On May 3, a Montgomery Village medical technician died when a car struck her as she was riding her bicycle to work at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center.
Diane M. Whitman, 48, of the 9800 block of Sailfish Terrace, was riding east on Olney-Laytonsville Road near Zion Road around 6:29 a.m. when a 2011 Toyota Camry struck her, Montgomery County police said. The accident remains under investigation.
“It was an unfortunate coincidence,” Cooke said. “The event wasn’t planned for Diane, but the ride got personal because people were able to attach a local face to it.”
Cooke said his goal was to make the community safer for those who live and ride here, while honoring and remembering those, like Whitman, who have been killed or injured.
The event, which began in the parking lot of the Fair Hill shopping center, attracted 109 riders.
The cyclists rode silently through the main roads of Olney — lined up in pairs to resemble a funeral procession — and were guided by a police escort. Those who had been involved in accidents with vehicles were marked with red ribbons around their arms.
“Even bunched up, we were about a quarter-mile long,” said Cooke. “It was very touching.”
Karen Gordon works as a social worker at MedStar Montgomery. She also serves on a sustainability committee, and has encouraged other employees to ride their bikes to work.
Gordon usually commutes by bike about three times per week, riding four miles from Rockville to Olney. She knows the danger, as she, too, was struck by a car, resulting in a broken arm.
She knew Whitman from work and remembers their talks about cycling. She hadn’t heard about the Ride of Silence until the day of the event, but participated as a tribute to her co-worker.
Despite Whitman’s tragic death, Gordon still encourages others to bike to work.
“Biking is a very healthy, wonderful thing,” she said. “I wish more people would do it. It is very therapeutic, and makes you feel good about yourself.”
For Gordon, the Ride of Silence was a special experience.
“It was very moving to see 100-plus people riding in silence to remember Diane and others,” she said. “The cars were very patient, so it was all very positive.”
Event participant Bob Rapp used to commute by bike from Olney to Greenbelt three or four times per week. In 1999, he was struck by a car on Powder Mill Road in Beltsville, requiring an 11-day stay in the hospital.
“I wanted to participate in the Ride of Silence to create awareness, and to pay tribute to those who weren’t as lucky as me,” he said.
Cooke said he was inspired to bring the event to Olney because the area has a large number of cyclists, as well as a lot of vehicle congestion. He had participated in the Ride of Silence in Charlotte, N.C., Rockville, and Columbia.
Just before last year’s Ride, he began making plans to bring the event to Olney. Because of the inaugural event’s success, he said he plans to do it again next year.