In the early evening of Sept. 11, 2016, Gabriela O’Shea was hit by a car while riding her bicycle on Route 299 near Butterville Road. The now 26-year-old New Paltz resident, who worked at The Parish, was seriously injured and airlifted to Westchester Medical Center.
A year later, cyclists gathered at Historic Huguenot Street to begin a six-mile ride accompanied by a police escort. Their route included the spot where the hit-and-run had taken place a year prior.
The ride ended at Water Street Market, where refreshments were provided and speakers were abundant and eager to speak on behalf of the cyclist community and advocate for safer roads.
O’Shea still faces short-term memory and balance issues, and her peripheral vision is severely curtailed. She suffered from severe brain trauma and was treated for numerous broken bones, including her ankles, elbows, ribs, pelvis and vertebrae.
New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez, who was in attendance with his daughter, claims that the event brought an abundance of community members who were all eager to show their unwavering support for O’Shea.
“While I’m not sure about the exact number, I would say that there were probably about 300 people there to support the cause,” he said. “For years there has been a lot of community support regarding increasing precautions for bike safety, even moreso after Gaby’s accident.”
Richard Gottlieb, owner of Rock and Snow on Main Street, noted the importance of raising awareness on bicycle safety, comparing the amount of bicycle related incidents to rock climbing incidents.
“People get killed doing this,” Gottlieb said. “I have a business that specializes in rock climbing and more people get hurt on their bicycles than rock climbing.”
Bettez explained that there are a number of things being updated in the town and county in order to create a safer environment for cyclists, beginning with shoulder construction on the roads.
“Just on South Putt Road, they are working on widening the shoulders in order to provide a larger space for both drivers and cyclists,” he said. “This is something that I believe the county plans on wrapping up come springtime.”
There have been signs put up by Ulster County that alert motorists that cyclists may be in lane. The signs raise awareness but may not fully stop drivers from hitting cyclists.
O’Shea believes a shoulder on Route 299 would have made the difference in her life-altering incident.
“If there was a shoulder on Route 299, there is a good chance I would not have been hit,” O’Shea said. “If we have such an active town, we need to make the roads safe enough for all of us.”
According to Bettez, community members have been looking for ways improve safety measures for years.
“The four way stop on Route 299 was a long time coming,” Bettez said. “For awhile many people came to the town looking to lower the speed limit; unfortunately, when we put in a request for the state to do it, it was denied but I think this is a good alternative.”
O’Shea added that she has high hopes for the efforts and strategies New Paltz plans to take in order to advocate for bicycle safety.
“I hope that everyone at this event will bring awareness to the community that we must make our roads safe,” O’Shea said. “New Paltz is such an active town and we need to make it safe for us all.”