Pagels was struck in a horrific chain-reaction crash along Massachusetts Avenue NW, about a mile from his home on Capitol Hill, his family said. The avid rider and self-described urbanist who was in his second year of a doctorate program in economics, died at a hospital.
Pagels’s sister, Laura Menendez, described her brother as funny, smart and passionate about many things — pursuing his postgraduate studies, playing tennis and board games, and traveling by bike.
“He had a good heart,” Menendez said. “And he was such a huge advocate for bike safety.”
A native of Dallas, Pagels called D.C. home. He moved to the city when he was in his early 20s to work at the Federal Reserve after graduating from Columbia University. In 2019, he left for Ann Arbor, where he was pursuing a doctoral degree in economics from the University of Michigan, then returned to the District in January as classes continued to be held virtually.
Friends say Pagels was the type who would stay up for hours explaining the rules of a complicated board game. They said he set a goal of watching the IMDb “Top 250” movies, and he hated getting in a car. He aspired to work on making cities safer and more affordable.
“He was so excited about working in that urban space,” said Finn Vigeland, a close friend who met Pagels while the two worked on the Columbia Daily Spectator. “He was well aware of the dangers of cycling . . . but he loved biking, and he wanted everyone to bike. He wanted everyone to feel like this was the best way to get around D.C.”
Pagels was riding a Capital Bikeshare bike on the way to a date about 7:30 p.m. Friday when he was struck, friends said. Police said Pagels and a Kia were traveling west on Massachusetts Avenue NW near the intersection with Second Street NW. A Honda that was also westbound struck the rear of the Kia and the bicyclist simultaneously, police said. Both the Kia and Honda then drove into the intersection and struck two other cars that were northbound. Three motorists, including the driver of the Honda, were taken to a hospital for minor injuries, police said.
Authorities said no charges had been filed by Monday, but the investigation was continuing.
The intersection of Massachusetts Avenue near Second Street NW is particularly dangerous for bicyclists, some cyclists and advocates say. Because there is no protected bike lane in the corridor, bicyclists travel in mixed traffic along three lanes of traffic in each direction, near the ramp to Interstate 395.
The wide road is inviting for motorists to speed, some advocates say, noting that even as Massachusetts Avenue has undergone significant development in the past decade, few improvements have been made to better accommodate bike and pedestrian travel.
Pagels’s death has revived calls for action to tackle the rise in road deaths; he was the fourth person killed in traffic crashes in less than two weeks and the latest traffic fatality in a city where more people are traveling by bike and on foot.
Zyaire Joshua, a 4-year-old boy, was struck and killed by a vehicle on April 1 as he was crossing the street at Georgia Avenue and Kennedy Street NW. Two days later, a driver struck and killed a pedestrian identified as Evelyn Troyah, 54, at the intersection of South Dakota Avenue NE and Bladensburg Road NE. The driver fled the scene, police said. Then on Easter Sunday, 30-year-old Brian Johnson of Northeast D.C. was driving about 1:30 a.m. at 14th and C streets NE when he was fatally struck by a car, police said.
With traffic deaths up for two consecutive years, the city’s strategy to lower fatalities has once again come into question. There were 37 traffic fatalities last year, up from 27 in 2019. As of Monday, the city had recorded 12 fatalities, 5 more than the same time last year, police records show.
Everett Lott, interim director at the District Department of Transportation, lamented Pagels’s death in a couple of tweets Monday afternoon and said the loss underscores the importance of “our ongoing and critically important work to rebuild streets that are safe for our most vulnerable street users and support the growing number of residents and visitors who choose bicycling to travel.”
The city’s bike community is organizing a memorial ride and an installation of a ghost bike at 6 p.m. Thursday at the intersection where Pagels was struck.
“I hope our city leaders hear about Jim and understand the life that was so senselessly taken away on Friday. He cared so deeply about the injustices that led to his death, and he would want us to be furious about it,” Vigeland said. “I hope that knowing that this was something Jim was working so hard to change might prompt people to take bolder action.”
Peter Hermann contributed to this report.