To honor the memory of Jim Pagels, let’s make streets safer for bicyclists

A public comment I delivered to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors today

Thank you Supervisors,

My name is Max Ghenis and I live in Oxnard. I’d like to tell you about my friend, Jim Pagels. Jim is 29, and after college, he worked as a writer before discovering a passion for economics, a passion we share. As a PhD student at the University of Michigan, his research focuses on urban economics — how to make cities more affordable, vibrant, and safe. When the pandemic turned everything remote, he returned to Washington, D.C., a city he loved.

Jim bikes everywhere, and last Friday, he biked to get his vaccine. He tweeted an economics joke about the dangerous route he had to take, saying “Had to bike through a roundabout over a highway to get my Covid jab. Lifespan maximization function is clearly perfectly well-calibrated.”

Later that night, he was biking through northwest DC when a motorist hit him and the car beside him from behind. He was pushed into the intersection where he was hit by two other cars. By the time Jim arrived in the hospital, he was dead.

Now, I’m not here to tell you that I’ll miss the economics discussions or chess games I enjoyed with Jim, as much as I will. I’m here to do what Jim would do if the same thing happened to one of his friends. Jim would tell you that Ventura County bicyclists encounter the same dangers as DC bicyclists, if not worse. He’d say how crazy it is that DC commuters are eight times more likely to cycle than Ventura County commuters, even though our weather is so much nicer. He’d cite studies finding that protected bike lanes increase the rate of bicycling and avert fatalities for cyclists and motorists alike. Jim would remember to tell a personal story, like how scary it is to bike on Victoria directly adjacent to motorists driving 60 miles per hour, and he’d make sure to connect the dots to our exclusionary zoning policies that require residents to live so far from jobs and services that roads end up dominated by vehicles — vehicles like the ones that killed him.

People who want to swap car trips for bike trips — whether for the planet, their health, or their pocketbook — they shouldn’t have to worry about ending up like my friend Jim, or the 200 bicyclists who are hit by cars in Ventura County each year. You can fix this. You can prioritize dense, mixed-use housing and protected bike lanes in the General Plan. You can end single-family zoning codes that push us farther apart and into cars. You can end parking minimums that force cars onto the streets with each new home. You can pass resolutions in support of state legislation that ends the dangerous sprawl and vehicle dominance across California. Please take action so that the deaths of people like Jim become exceptions, not expectations. Thank you.

You can watch my comment at 2:01:30 in the video.

Economist. Founder and president of the UBI Center. Studied at MIT and UC Berkeley. YIMBY. Former Google data scientist.