A Spokane native who went on to become an internationally known expert on bicycle and pedestrian safety died on a St. Louis street this week after being hit by a bus.
Susie Stephens, 36, was in St. Louis to teach a conference of U.S. forest rangers innovative approaches to transportation, friends said.
Stephens, who graduated from Spokane’s Lewis and Clark High School in the early 1980s, was hit about 8:30 a.m. Thursday as she made her way to a downtown hotel, according to St. Louis authorities.
The driver of the Vandalia Bus Lines tour bus that struck her told police he did not see Stephens as he made a left turn.
An investigation into the incident is under way.
Stephens, who lived most recently in the north-central Washington town of Winthrop, was known across the nation for her expertise and passion in transportation safety issues, especially biking.
She had served as executive director of the Seattle-based Bicycle Alliance of Washington and managing director of the Thunderhead Alliance, an international organization of bicycling advocates.
“She was a very articulate and passionate advocate,” said Louise McGrody, who worked with Stephens at the Bicycle Alliance of Washington in the late 1990s. “Her enthusiasm was contagious.”
William “Bill” Wilkinson of the National Center for Bicycling and Walking in Washington, D.C., praised Stephens’ ability to bring people together on safety issues.
“Susie is phenomenal with people,” Wilkinson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, adding that Stephens delivered a stirring keynote address at his organization’s 1998 annual meeting. “She was one of those people who was a bright light in any group.”
Stephens moved to Western Washington after high school to pursue a degree at the University of Puget Sound, said her friend, Sarah Bain of Spokane.
The victim’s mother, Nancy Mackerrow, still lives in Spokane.
Shortly thereafter, Stephens moved to Japan where her love of cycling really took off, Bain said. “Susie rode her bike nearly everywhere in Japan,” she said.
She then moved back to the Seattle area where she put her passion to work, advocating for cyclists and pedestrians, Bain said.
Stephens lobbied tirelessly for passage of the Cooper Jones Act, which passed the Washington Legislature in 1998, her friends said.
The legislation, named for a 13-year-old Spokane boy who died after he was hit by a car while biking, provides funds for safety awareness programs. It also forces any motorist involved in a collision where a cyclist or pedestrian is killed to take a driving test to prove his or her competence to be behind the wheel.
She recently moved to Winthrop and began a consulting business.
Stephens, who never married, commuted nearly everywhere on bike or on foot and toured New Zealand, Australia and large parts of the United States on her bicycle, friends said.
“She didn’t just talk the talk,” McGrody said. “She walked the walk, or biked it.”