Sarah Langenkamp with her son, Oliver, before his first day in first grade in Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast.
CNN  — 

On Thursday, Dan Langenkamp marked 12 weeks since his wife, Sarah, was killed.

To honor her, Dan and his two young sons do what they do every day at around 4:05 p.m., the time Sarah died: They drop whatever they are working on, gather together, hold hands and talk to her, sharing details about their day. They tell her they love her, they miss her, and they hope she’s proud of them.

Sarah Debbink Langenkamp was killed August 25 while riding her bike on a Bethesda, Maryland, road. She was traveling on the biker’s lane when the driver of a flatbed truck alongside her made a right turn into a parking lot and ran over the 42-year-old, police said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

“I’ve tried to make sense of what happened to Sarah, and since I started looking into it, I’ve realized this is not a freakish accident,” Dan Langenkamp said. “What happened to her is part of a huge, worsening trend in America of people getting killed in traffic crashes. There’s an epidemic of traffic violence against people walking or biking.”

Preparing for a new chapter

The accident came just weeks after the couple, both diplomats, moved back to the US after spending roughly a year and a half in Ukraine and later in Poland, on the border. They were part of a small group of US government employees who stayed behind after Russia’s invasion but ultimately made the difficult decision to leave, so they could reunite with their two sons – Oliver, 10 and Axel, 8 – whom they had sent to their grandparents in California when the war first started.

The couple spent a few weeks in Washington DC before moving to Bethesda, where they were eagerly preparing for the start of a new chapter. Sarah enrolled in a master’s degree course and, three days after their move there, attended an open house at her son’s new elementary school. A few minutes before she got on her bike to return home that evening, she called Dan to share her impressions. It was the last call she ever made.

“We’ve lived in dangerous places,” Langenkamp said. “The last thing we expected was that one of us would die or get hurt in Bethesda.”

Dan and Sarah Langenkamp, with their two sons, Axel, now 8, and Oliver, now 10, in a 2014 picture.

A ride in Sarah’s honor

His anger, Langenkamp said, has been a driving force to push for change in bike safety. A GoFundMe campaign Langenkamp created has raised more than $289,000 to help local and national cycling safety organizations in their efforts to advocate for safer bike routes.

And on Saturday, hundreds of people biked to Congress in Sarah’s honor in a 10.5-mile Ride for Your Life event her husband organized and led. Just feet from the Capitol, a line of speakers, including Langenkamp, spoke to a sea of bikers at the end of their journey retracing Sarah’s route on the day she died.

The group’s requests to lawmakers include funding for the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program, which was authorized by Congress but not funded and which can help local governments invest in bike lane infrastructure. They’re also asking for more measures around truck safety, including mandating better training and requiring side and front guards on large trucks to prevent people from getting caught underneath.

“I get comfort knowing that, maybe through all of this work, some other mother will ride home safely after riding her bike to work,” Langenkamp said. “And that’s meaningful to me.”

Sarah Langenkamp seen here with her arm raised, during "Bike to Work Day" in 2018, during the family's time in the Ivory Coast.

A worsening trend on American roads

For many advocates, the fight for safer roads has been long and difficult, even amid worsening trends for biker and pedestrian safety. The problems have only been exacerbated by increased driver recklessness during the pandemic and bigger, heavier – and deadlier – vehicles on the roads, said Colin Browne, a spokesperson for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

More than 930 cyclists were killed on American roads in 2020, a 9% increase from the prior year, and more than 38,800 were injured, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nearly 80% of fatal bicyclist crashes that year were in urban areas, the agency said. At least 985 cyclists were killed in 2021, a 5% increase from 2020, according to early estimates from the NHTSA. Since 1975, deaths among cyclists 20 or older have nearly quadrupled, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“It’s a public health crisis,” Browne said. “Even more so because this is, from a technical standpoint, not a challenging problem to solve. The tools and the engineering to make the streets safer to use is out there, it’s tested, it’s proven.”

But creating safer streets for bikers and pedestrians and regulating large vehicles has often proved a politically unpopular move, which has led to slow action from local leaders, he added.

“We could give (funding) to buses and people on bikes and scooters, but we have sort of built an infrastructure that assumes the majority of people will drive,” Browne said.

Solutions slow to materialize

Anna Irwin also rode her bike with her 10-year-old daughter at Saturday’s event to honor Sarah’s memory. She told CNN she was moved by the size of the crowd and the sound of bike bells ringing to show their support for Langenkamp.

“It was unbelievably powerful,” she said. “One of the things that I learned very quickly when I got into bike advocacy is this community is so passionate. And they show up.”

Anna Irwin and her daughter rode with hundreds more on Saturday in honor of Sarah.

Irwin founded the Bethesda BIKE Now coalition, a local group created in response to a 2017 decision from local leaders to shut down a popular bike trail which ran through Bethesda during the construction of a rail line.

In these five years, the group has called for the completion of a network of protected bike routes – formed by two major paths – running from one side of Bethesda to the other, while the existing trail remains closed. But progress has been slow, Irwin said.

“Here we are, in 2022, and neither one of the routes is completed,” Irwin said. “They’ve done some work, but in five years they can’t build a protected bike lane to cover two miles of heavily trafficked area?”

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation told CNN it recently completed the first phase of two segments in the network and more bike lanes are either being designed or under construction, adding “we are building them as fast as we can.”