A Diplomat’s Tragic Death Sparks a New Safety Bill
By: By Noa Banayan, PeopleForBikes’ director of federal affairs
The bipartisan Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation Safety Act will encourage state and local governments to fully leverage federal funding for complete bike networks.
As American diplomats, Sarah Debbink Langenkamp and Daniel Langenkamp lived and worked all over the world promoting democracy and protecting vital U.S. political, security, and economic interests. In their last posting together, the couple served in Ukraine, helping to combat corruption, supply the country with the equipment and resources it needed to combat Russia’s invasion, and ensure the world understood the enormous stakes at play as the horrific war unfolded.
It was just days after the family arrived in the Washington, D.C., area after being evacuated for their safety that Sarah was killed — here in the United States — by a truck driver while riding her bike from an open-house at her children’s new elementary school.
“Sarah fled a war zone only to die on the streets near our nation’s capital,” says Dan Langenkamp. “There is simply no reason in the world why deciding to ride a bike in the United States should be a life or death decision. We have to do better.”
You can read more about Sarah’s life and legacy in this article penned by her husband Dan.
Stories like Sarah’s are unfortunately not uncommon — deaths on American roadways only continue to grow, hitting a 16-year high in 2021. Even more, preventable deaths of Black Americans on our roadways increased 23% in 2020, and a recent study shows that pedestrian deaths are more than twice as high in historically redlined neighborhoods, highlighting layers of inequity within this national crisis.
In the United States, we’ve proven that systems designed for speed as opposed to individual mobility and connected communities lead to frequent deaths in high numbers. Still, active transportation infrastructure that supports biking and walking, which benefits every road user by reducing traffic and emissions, has historically only received about 2% of overall federal transportation funding.
Since Sarah’s death, Dan Langenkamp poured his grief into advocating for safer streets. Recognizing that the tragedy of his wife’s death was far more common than we should ever accept as normal, he started a personal and political crusade to ensure more American families don’t have to experience the same shocking loss as his own family.
Partnering with PeopleForBikes, the Washington Area Bicycling Association, the League of American Bicyclists, Families for Safe Streets, the Truck Safety Coalition, and Trek Bicycles, Langenkamp organized a memorial bike ride that retraced the route Sarah rode the day she died and continued on to the U.S. Capitol, where riders held Washington’s largest-ever cycling advocacy event demanding funding for safer streets and improved trucking regulations.
The ride did not just honor Sarah. It was also dedicated to the estimated 43,000 other loved ones killed while navigating our flawed and dangerous transportation system.
In the wake of this call to action, Congressional Bike Caucus Founder and Co-Chair Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) and the Langenkamps’ representative, Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08), introduced and named a new safety bill in Sarah Langenkamp’s honor. The bipartisan Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation Safety Act (H.R. 1668) will encourage state and local governments to fully leverage federal funding for complete biking and walking plans and networks, helping fill a critical gap in the current process for these projects.
“My constituent Sarah Langenkamp was a devoted mother, wife, daughter, and friend whose memory not only calls us to emulate her passionate and patriotic service to our country but inspires us to move swiftly on cyclist and pedestrian safety,” says Congressman Raskin. “Our legislation recognizes the urgency of this moment by helping local governments build safer transportation networks and save lives.”
Dan and son stand behind their representative, Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08), at the Ride for Your Life. (Photo credit: Brian Rimm)
Specifically, the Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation Safety Act would:
- Unlock Highway Safety Improvement Program funding for projects that connect two pieces of safe cycling infrastructure.
- Allow local governments to identify active transportation projects eligible for Highway Safety Improvement Program funding.
- Allow bicycle and pedestrian safety projects to be fully federally funded, ensuring all communities can take advantage of these new eligibilities and encouraging communities to undertake more bicyclist and pedestrian safety projects.
“We have a responsibility to make our streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians,” says Congressman Blumenauer. “Sarah’s work took her to dangerous places around the world. Biking home in our nation’s capitol should not have been one of them.”
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law offers American cities and states more resources than ever to invest in a safe, connected, and active future, with nearly $50 billion eligible for these kinds of projects in the next several years. PeopleForBikes is proud to stand with the Langenkamps in support of the Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation Safety Act. We believe it will ensure these new resources are as accessible as possible to communities committed to a future with safe and abundant opportunities to bike and walk.
PeopleForBikes is working to make America the best place to ride a bike in the world because we believe in the power of the bike to connect communities, fight climate change, improve public health, and so much more. To reap these benefits at scale, we need safe, connected mobility networks designed for the most vulnerable road users. We know that a lack of safe infrastructure is the number one motivator against bicycling for individuals across the U.S.
Our work boils down to three pillars: advancing good policy, building more safe and connected infrastructure, and growing participation. The policy promotes, funds, and designs the safe infrastructure networks that help increase participation, building more support for good policy.
We’ve never been alone in this effort, and the movement for safe streets only continues to grow. Notably, the Sierra Club, a legacy environmental organization, is one of our partners in endorsing the Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation Safety Act (along with the Safe Routes Partnership, Families for Safe Streets, the National League of Cities, the Truck Safety Coalition, and the League of American Bicyclists).
“All too often, we hear of family members not making it home from walking or biking in cities across the country. As a mother who bikes to work and to pick up their toddler from daycare in Washington D.C., I know firsthand the risk and fear inherent in navigating the city’s roads when you’re not in a car,” says Katherine García, Sierra Club Clean Transportation for All director. “We are losing too many loved ones to policy failure. The Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation Safety Act will help to change this devastating reality by investing in safer, more complete route networks. And ultimately by funding much-needed infrastructure, more people will feel empowered to bike.”
We encourage you to take action today by asking your representative to cosponsor the Sarah Debbink Langenkamp Active Transportation Safety Act. With your help, we can lay a strong foundation of support in Congress that will help move this bill through the legislative process.