I still have the file after all these years; I hadn’t looked through it since 2006, when Dave and I left the country for a couple of years. It contains notes on the correspondence I had with several people: Dave Schlabowske who was then Program Manager at the BFW, contacts at the County Board of Supervisors, Bayside Village engineers, a Bayside police captain and lieutenant, the Bayside Village Board, state representatives, state Department of Transportation officials, and highway designers and traffic engineers from the County Department of Parks and Public Infrastructure. In addition to all this were memos from conversations with several of the cyclists who were hit at the intersection that I fondly still refer to as ‘my intersection’.
I also had a few newspaper clippings from the North Shore Herald and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and a copy of a letter to the JS editor that I wrote in May of 2005. And last but not least, I had copies of several of the accident reports from 2000-2005. For a couple of years I was dedicated to changing the intersection at the northbound exit ramp of I-43 and North Port Washington Roads in Bayside. The intersection is unavoidable on this popular cycling route along the Lake. Every summer there were a few cyclists who collided with cars as they exited the ramp, heading north on Port Washington Road. This intersection had the highest number of bike-car accidents in southeastern Wisconsin, and possibly the state, according to then DOT district safety engineer Chris Quesnell. Twenty-two bike accidents, none fatal, occurred there between 1994 and 2005, according to the Bayside Police Department. And these numbers didn’t include the many close calls that cyclists encountered there, including a few myself.
The accidents always happened in the same manner: Drivers going north at the end of the exit ramp could easily see motor vehicles coming towards them, but a cyclist coming from that same direction was caught in a blind spot created by the vehicle’s support beam. When vehicular traffic allowed the driver to proceed, he/she did not stop and look to the left completely enough to see the cyclist, and the cyclist would typically run into the front driver’s side of the vehicle as it made its entrance onto N Pt Washington Rd. Rarely the driver would hit the cyclist. Cyclists were usually thrown onto or over the hood of the car; it’s fortunate no one was ever killed. But there had to be a way to stop these accidents.
Caution signs were installed but did absolutely nothing. A stop sign on Pt Washington Rd was not appropriate, due to the speed limit and the configuration of the intersection, with its large curve and blind spots, according to the village trustees and the Bayside Chief of Police. And drivers just didn’t stop at their stop sign at the end of the ramp. A glare screening shield was installed on the fencing along I-43 in hopes that it would make bicyclists stand out from the moving traffic on the highway. That too did nothing to lower the number of accidents.
Finally, in November of 2006 the Bayside Village Board approved a plan to redesign and signalize this dangerous intersection. At the time, Dave and I had already begun our Peace Corps service overseas, but a friend was kind enough to send me the newspaper clipping that announced the approval. The intersection had been awarded hazard mitigation funding, meaning that the project would be handled by the Wisconsin DOT. I was also pleasantly surprised that the North Shore Herald article noted that I had brought the issue to the attention of the Village Board. Upon our return to Milwaukee in late 2008, I was hopeful that I would find a new intersection, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the reconfiguration and signalization were complete.
Now that three cycling seasons have come and gone since its restructuring, and I have ridden through ‘my intersection’ many times without incidence, I was anxious to find out the number of bike-car accidents. So on a recent ride I stopped by the Bayside Police Department. Captain Scott McConnell, who in early 2005 had helped me in my dealings with the police department, kindly came to my aid once again. I filled out a request for the number of bike-car accidents since 2009; just a few days ago I received a call from him with exciting, even if not unexpected, news. The only incident was this past April when a cyclist ran the red light; there have been no repeats of the numerous accidents of the past!
I do hope that cyclists are not upset about the signal at the intersection; I for one am happy to know that we are much safer when riding through, even if it does mean stopping for the quick light change. And though it took several years for a change to be made, this demonstrates how one person can help to make something happen. I might not be able to ‘save the world’, as all of us who have served in the Peace Corps have aspired to, but I feel good knowing that I had a hand in making a small change that matters to a few.
Happy, and safe, cycling