Half a lifetime ago, before he lived in D.C. and before any of us knew him, Dave Salovesh lived in Chicago and worked in the theater. He built sets. He put up and took down scenery—scenery that changed as the plays demanded. A good play condenses reality and heightens emotions to teach us something about the human condition. It helps expose a certain kind of moral clarity. Actors unearth universal truths as they read lines written by someone else and move about a stage put up and taken down by someone like Dave.
He left Chicago and the theater and worked in IT. Dave was Very Online before being Very Online was our ubiquitous state. Many people came to know him online. And some of those people, plus a whole lot more, came to know him from riding bikes. I don’t remember when I met Dave. I ride bikes and I am Very Online, but Dave isn’t anymore. Dave was murdered by a negligent driver on Friday while riding his bike on Florida Avenue NE.
Dave and I fundamentally agreed on almost everything about getting more people on bikes—that it was a worthwhile goal, that it would solve so many problems both for individuals and the community, that other people would catch on to the joy that we ourselves found when we rode. But we disagreed on tactics. I am indirect and hate confrontation. I am comfortable with the slow pace of bureaucracies—too comfortable. I accept incrementalism.
Dave, the former backstage hand, was cantankerous and unyielding. Better bike infrastructure could be built quickly. Just put it up! Want to stop u-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue? Before DDOT installed the barriers there now, he and other bike safety advocates put a bunch of pool noodles on the street, where a barrier protecting the cycle track should have been. Here, now you have a barrier. Now it is fixed. It was set dressing.
Dave was comfortable with heightened emotions. He escalated, quickly and often. With drivers. With DDOT. With anyone else who came into his mentions on Twitter. He did it because he felt comfortable in the world of condensed and heightened emotions, the ones in the theater and the ones you express when you’re Very Online. Dave knew when he was right, and he let others know it, too. He was right.
Years ago, before I got divorced, I lived in a house in Hill East, a long stone’s throw away from RFK. Dave and I were out at some bike event, I don’t know where, but I was drunk and Dave was less drunk and we biked home along East Capitol. We knew the street because Dave lived on the Hill, too, and I would see him some mornings biking to school with his daughter. Dave told me he knew he wanted to move to D.C. because of a bike ride he took toward RFK years before, sometime in the ’90s. It was that perfect kind of a ride—one that makes you think you should move halfway across the country. He was in the middle of a bad breakup back then. The day we biked home together along East Capitol was before my own bad breakup, one that Dave helped me through in innumerable ways. Dave was a listener. He was a big guy, but he had gentle eyes and an unending capacity to share in his friends’ pain. He would ride you home safely.
Dave loved bikes. He loved riding them, tinkering with them, and talking about them. Maybe you rode with him on a Washington Area Bicyclist Association ride, or on the Downtown Breakaway, or in the woods of Fort Dupont. Or maybe you saw him on the tandem with his partner Jean at the Back Roads Century, a Potomac Pedalers’ yearly event, or on his goofy Colnago single speed after a Friday morning rollout from Swing’s Coffee downtown. Or maybe you read his tweets or met him at a happy hour, a public meeting, or a Bike-to-Work Day, or saw him riding to work, or in the shop. Or maybe you didn’t know him from bikes at all and he was just another dad at the ice rink or someone you worked with—but even then, the people who knew him from non-bike things probably knew he was a Bike Guy because he was such a Bike Guy, through and through.
Even though I’m a bike columnist and I write under the name Gear Prudence about biking in D.C., I don’t have a call to action. Emotions are still far too raw to offer banal policy prescriptions or 30,000-foot views about how to fix our deadly streets. There will be a ghost bike where he died, and there will be a memorial ride, and countless calls to finally create the safer streets that Dave demanded. Bike advocacy will march on. It will succeed sometimes, but its success, for me at least, will be far less meaningful without Dave.