Another Hard Day in the Biking World

We learned today of yet another bicycle crash fatality, Wisconsin’s eighth of the year so far. Donna David, 53, died when she was struck on Highway T in the Town of McMillan in Marathon County. No details about the crash were available at this writing, but we know from this article in the De Moines Register, she was training for RAGBRAI

Matthew Court, 11, died from injuries suffered in a bike crash in Madison Monday.

And we learned more yesterday about the 11 year old boy who died after a crash on University Avenue in Madison. Matthew Court was a fifth grader about to start middle school and a talented young jazz musician. His father gave a deeply touching interview to the Wisconsin State Journal.

With ten bike fatalities in an average entire year, what’s going on? Well, it’s impossible to know for sure and a constant problem with analyzing fatal bike crashes is that with so (thankfully) few we can’t arrive at any statistically reliable conclusions. Yet, what seems clear is that there are simply more of us out there – bike commuting has gone up 62% in the last decade – and vehicle miles driven may also be back on the increase after years of decline. So, in short, there just could be more opportunities for bikes and motorized vehicles to mix.

The number of crashes has been on the decline for years in large part because of the increase in bike lanes, trails, and better education. This is true also because the number of people commuting by bicycle has increased. 

The fatal crash numbers are so small, that the variations from year to year are probably statistically insignificant, even the early spike this year. Of course our goal is to make that number zero so we look at every crash to see how it might have been avoided. Adding more and better facilities, expanding our education and working more with law enforcement have been Wisconsin’s recipe for improved bicycle safety.

But that is all the more reason that we need to continue to invest in safe bicycle infrastructure. For example, while Madison does well with a growing number of miles of dedicated bike paths and other facilities, there was no really safe way for Matthew Court to cross University Avenue near where the crash occurred.

We need to be constantly analyzing and improving our public investments in infrastructure, yet the state just cut investments in safe biking projects and became the first state to repeal a Complete Streets law.

Over the decades we’ve spent billions studying and improving the safety of highways and streets for motor vehicles. Those investments have paid off with vehicle crash fatalities plummeting in part due to safer cars but in large part also due to those public investments. We need to have the same approach to bicycling. For a fraction of the cost of those road improvements (it was estimated that Complete Streets cost .006% of the state transportation budget) we could keep making progress so that fewer of these tragedies would take place in the future.

In the meantime, let’s hope that you don’t have to read about another bike fatality this year.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

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