The City of Eau Claire just published the first part of a five-year study of bicycle crashes and plans to do further research in an attempt to make bicycling safer in the area. According to Eau Claire Police Detective Todd Heinz, in the past five years the department has investigated 96 bike crashes. Of those 96 crashes, police say 82 involved injuries and two were fatal.
“There have been about 19 to 20 bike crashes a year. That’s probably an average amount,” Detective Todd Heinz said. “We have data available from the last 10 years. We arbitrarily chose 5 years to get an initial look to see what we could see. Please keep in mind that the data presented is very, very raw.”
When I contacted Detective Heinz to get more details, he emphasized that the study only looks at data on from crashes reported to the Eau Claire Police Dept. The data doesn’t include crashes occurring on the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire property or areas within the geographic boundaries of Eau Claire, but not in the City Limits. Furthermore, the study does not include crashes that were not reported to the police. “I think it’s safe to assume most bike crashes involve some level of injury to the cyclist, however if the injury is minor, I don’t believe it gets reported. Also I believe most crashes involving cyclists riding on sidewalks, bike paths, or bike on bike crashes occur without report. We have what we have, and for now we go with that…” Heinz explained practically.
When I asked if the study included information about cause of crashes or crash types, Heinz told me more work needs to be done, “Our next step is to dive deeper into the crashes and begin to see actual issues or concerns. We’ll also be able to break down other things, such as the age of cyclists, time of day, helmet use, sidewalk vs. roadway, and any other factors. Then we can have a better understanding of where we are with the data we have and where we should focus our efforts.”
Matt Andrews, the Bike Fed’s former staffer in the region (now the Executive Director of the Minneapolis Off-Road Cyclists) emailed me after he saw the study to give me the skinny on Detective Heinz. “I served on the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Council and Detective Heinz attended every meeting as liaison between the Police Department and the city for Bike/Ped issues. He is also the head of the bicycle patrol program AND Todd was one of the Bike Fed’s top volunteers in Eau Claire. It was great to have the bicycle patrol officers attend many of our events!”
Even if we are still talking about bicycle crashes, it is nice to see a community taking a proactive approach to safety. It is also refreshing to see the effort begin by looking at real data as opposed to what people feel are the causes based on anecdotal evidence from personal experiences.
Once they get some more additional detailed information from the study, the Bike Fed’s replacement for Matt Andrews in the region can use that information to guide our education and encouragement efforts in our Share and Be Aware Program in the spring. If most of the crashes occur at a certain intersection, we can look for engineering countermeasures. If most of the crashes are caused by people riding out from sidewalks, we can do more education about the dangers of sidewalk riding. The bottom line is our efforts will be more effective because we can target real problems.
Three cheers for the City of Eau Claire for their fact-based, inter-departmental effort to improve bicycle safety in their community!