Dave Schlabowske
Bike Czar

Year’s First Fatality, Bicyclist Hit by SUV

Bicyclists continue to be killed by negligent drivers, which is why Wisconsin needs a Vulnerable User Law.

By , Bike Federation of Wisconsin - Apr 12th, 2013 10:03 am
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email

Scales of JusticeLast Saturday at 12:31 in the afternoon, a 41-year-old man riding a bicycle in Wisconsin Rapids was hit by a 75-year-old man driving an SUV when he attempted to cross Eighth Street.The victims was transported to Riverview Medical Center in Wisconsin Rapids, where he was pronounced dead. The driver of the SUV suffered no injuries.

According to a Wisconsin Rapids Police Department press release, the victim was hit when he attempted to cross 8th Street at the signalized intersection of 8th Street South and Pepper Avenue. The police report noted that neither alcohol nor speed was a factor in the crash, but that members of the Wisconsin State Patrol Crash Reconstruction Team were at the scene and their investigation remains ongoing.

This is the first fatal crash involving a person on a bicycle in 2013, but far from the first fatal crash involving a motor vehicle. According to today’s “Daily Fatal Report,” a cheery email I get from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation every day, the breakdown to date is as follows:

DRIVER 76
MC DRIVER 2
PASSENGER 22
PEDESTRIAN 9
UNKNOWN 1

I suspect that the “unknown” refers to Saturday’s crash still under investigation in Wisconsin Rapids. Given this crash occurred at a signalized intersection, I suspect the State Patrol is trying to determine if the bicyclist or the SUV driver failed to obey the light. The Bike Fed will report more details as they become available.

In a well-written post at his blog, The Active Pursuit, Tom Held makes an excellent case for why Wisconsin needs a Vulnerable Users Law. Held gives updates on six high-profile crashes over the last six years in which innocent people riding bicycles were killed and the person who killed them got off with comparatively minor penalties.

Most recently, Held notes,  22-year-old Andrew S. Yang paid a $126 fine for killing Robert Gunderson, 53, July 7, 2012. Yang told police he fell asleep while driving to work westbound on Woods Rd. in Muskego. He then crossed the centerline and hit Robert Gunderson, 53, head-on. Gunderson was riding his bicycle eastbound, near the shoulder. In October of last year, Waukesha County Dist. Atty. Brad Schimel wrote a letter to Roger Gunderson’s widow, Antoinette, explaining why he had declined to issue criminal charges against the driver. Schimel expressed his condolences, but said he could not prove the driver, Andrew S. Yang, had driven in a criminally negligent or reckless manner. As a result, Muskego Police cited Yang, 22, for failure to keep his vehicle under control.

Despite his acknowledgment of fault, Schimel did not feel that he could prove Yang’s actions rose the the level of criminal negligence that is necessary to prove  homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle, a felony that is predicated on proving the driver was “criminally negligent.”  Criminal negligence is a much higher standard and very difficult to prove. The most common example of simple negligence I could find was “ordinary negligence occurs when a person fails to exercise ordinary care, such as if a person is driving a car and changing the radio station at the same time.” Criminal negligence means reasonable people would believe that the actions that caused the crime create a substantial and unreasonable risk of death or great bodily harm to another.

On Tuesday, April 9,  Bike Fed staff and more than 100 concerned voters were in Madison to ask their elected representatives to pass a Vulnerable User Law that gives prosecutors the tools to seek punishment that more properly fits the crime when someone kills an innocent person with their motor vehicle. Read more about Lobby Day and the Bike Fed’s proposed Vulnerable User Law on our Lobby Day page here.

On a more cheerful note, the Bike Fed also celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a party that evening. We appreciate all the members and supporters who have helped us to make progress for the cause of bicycling over the last quarter century!

This story was originally published by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.

Categories: Bike Czar

2 thoughts on “Bike Czar: Year’s First Fatality, Bicyclist Hit by SUV”

  1. Gary Tuma says:

    I must avoid the most direct routes to work, etc. when on my bicycle. For example, on Water Street cars drive at freeway speeds with no respect for the bike lane. I propose that “decoy cars” be placed at the head of the bike lane near intersections. This would prevent car drivers from prematurely entering the bike lane to make a right hand turn.

  2. Gary,

    I completely understand why you feel uncomfortable riding on busy streets, even those with bike lanes. That said, it is important to remember that despite these few tragic crashes, riding a bicycle in the City of Milwaukee is incredibly safe. Most years nobody is killed riding a bicycle in Milwaukee. That is because compared to the suburban and rural roads, the speed differential between bikes and cars is relatively low on city streets. While I do think it is important to remember that it is really safe to ride a bike in the City, it is just as important to build facilities where people feel safe if we want more people to ride. Bike lanes are great, and they have proved to be an effective means of encouraging more people to ride, but the majority of people who ride bikes still feel uncomfortable in heavy traffic.

    Protected bike lanes or “cycle tracks” are the future of bicycling in urban areas. They have transformed the mean streets of Manhattan into bike-friendly green streets. Ridership is way up everywhere they are installed. For instance in Chicago bikes make up 50% of the peak hour traffic in the Kinzie protected lane. Milwaukee has protected bike lanes in their bike plan. We have one pilot lane on Bay Street in Bay View.

    Bottom line is that you are in the majority of people who ride bikes in feeling uncomfortable riding in heavy traffic. It helps to remember it really is very safe to ride in the city, but your feelings are valid.

Comments are closed.