Saturday afternoon Robert Gunderson, 62, was killed while riding his bicycle on Woods Road in Muskego when he was hit by a car driven by a 20-year-old man. A little more than a week earlier in Eau Claire, a 90-year-old man drove his car onto a bike trail and killed Kirk Cartwright, 51, bringing Wisconsin’s total fatal bicycle crashes to four, compared to one last July.
Both the Muskego and Eau Claire crashes remain under investigation, so it is inappropriate for us to jump to conclusions about guilt in either crash, but the circumstances certainly raise questions. The Eau Claire crash happened when the driver of the car turned onto a bike trail. I spoke with Lt. Golden from the Eau Claire Police, and he told me they have finished the on-site crash reconstruction work and are working to put that into a report for the District Attorney’s office. He said the DA should have that information by the end of this week and could then determine if there was cause to issue a citation or any charges.
It is typical not to issue citations or charges in crashes of any kind involving a fatality until a full investigation and crash reconstruction is done. The reconstruction process involves using an advanced GPS “Total Station” and careful measurements and calculations. That data is then put into a written report so a district attorney can determine if there is probable cause to charge anyone.
Of course, that process is not complete yet in Muskego where the State Patrol will be doing the crash reconstruction. I spoke with the Muskego police and they told me that, although no citations have been issued, Robert Gunderson was riding his bicycle eastbound when he was hit head-on by the westbound car driven by the 20-year-old as he crossed the centerline on Woods Road.
My parents moved from Milwaukee to Muskego when I was in middle school. I road my bike on Woods Road plenty of times to visit friends and never had a scary incident. Still, I had not been on it in a while, so I pedaled out there Sunday morning to visit the crash location. I was surprised that in the 20 minutes I spent taking photographs from the side of the road, I saw eight people riding bicycles. This was not a group ride, it was just a bunch of different people out riding on what is clearly a pretty popular road for bicycling. You can see some of the people in my photographs from Sunday morning below.
The road itself seems ideal as a bike route. It has smooth pavement, a narrow, but paved shoulder, relatively low traffic volumes and the speed limit varies between 25mph on the east end near S North Cape Road, and 35mph a bit west where the crash happened. I did not have a radar gun with me, but I felt like traffic was moving close to the posted limit and that people driving cars were safely passing the people I saw on bikes.
Todd Jenson, PhD, is one of our members who lives less than a mile from the crash location. He runs Tri-Faster training and rides that road frequently. Todd agreed with my assessment of Woods as a nice bike route. “I would say 9 out of 10 cars drive close the the speed limit and pass bicycles with a safe distance. The other 10% think that if you are behind the white line they can pass you without crossing the centerline,” he said.
For the record, I measured the width of the paved shoulder and it varied between 16 inches and 30 inches, not wide enough for a bicycle. People on bikes need to ride at least a foot or two from the edge of the road to safely deal with side wind, avoid road hazards, and general balance issues. ”I tend to ride right on the white line, and most motorists then pass me safely by crossing the centerline,” Jenson added. You can read more about that crash and some typically disappointing comments that bicycles don’t belong on the road in the Muskego paper here.
The Thursday night rides out of Wheel & Sprocket have used Woods Road on their training rides for years without incident.
Both the crashes in Eau Claire and Muskego remain under investigation by the State Patrol and further details may not be available for more than a month. For instance, no additional information has been released regarding the crash that killed Tammy Gass in Marathon County at the end of May. The staff at the Bike Fed will continue to check back with the district attorney and the police regarding all four of these tragic deaths.
In the meantime, we have been working hard to get our new public safety announcements played on television and on radio stations around the state. Television and radio stations have also conducted interviews with Bike Fed staff and bike shop owners. We have also been successful in getting yard signs and billboards up with share the road messages. For an up-to-date listing of where our media messages have appeared, check out our In the Media Page.
Todd said he would would like to get some yard signs from us to post on Woods Road. Hopefully this safety campaign can remind people driving cars of their responsibilities to keep other more vulnerable road users safe. If you are interested in purchasing yard signs, email Matt Gissibl in our Milwaukee office.
Four fatal bike crashes puts us three ahead of 2011′s to-date total. Sadly, Wisconsin is ahead in all categories: people walking, on bike, on motorcycles and in cars. Still, it is possible to finish out the year without anyone else losing their life, if we all follow the rules of the road, no matter what mode of transportation we are taking. Perhaps most importantly, since most of us drive cars as well as ride bikes, when we are behind the wheel of a car, we must remember to leave the distractions behind and pay full attention to the task of driving.
Note: This story initially included photos of the damaged bicycle that were taken at the Muskego crash scene, but I removed the photo of the officer carrying the crumpled bike and cropped the bike out of the other crash scene photo after hearing from a reader who knew Jeff Littmann and felt it was just too painful to look at a crumpled bicycle. If you want to see the original images of the crash, they are still viewable in the Bike Fed’s Flickr Photostream here.
I would like to hear back from others about their thoughts on running photos from the crash scene. The Bike Fed needs to be responsive to these tragic crashes in the hopes of improving road safety, but it is important for us to be sensitive to the feelings of the family and friends of the victims. The Sheboygan Press ran a photo of the crash scene from the fatal crash that happened there. As a former journalist, I know that most news media would not hesitate to run such images of crash scenes, but I also know that this blog is not a commercial news media and our readers have different expectations.
That said, as painful as the image is to look at, a photograph of a crumpled bike at a crash scene is a powerful reminder of the tremendous responsibility we earn when we get our driver’s licenses. Most people who ride bicycles also drive motor vehicles. When we do, we must share the road with those more vulnerable than us, and that includes people walking, driving motorcycles, on horseback, highway workers and law enforcement officers. Please remember that driving a car or truck requires our full attention and great care, particularly when we are sharing the road with others not as protected.
As I mentioned, out of respect for the feelings of the member who called, I have removed the crash images from this story. We will be discussing this internally at the Bike Fed, but I would really like to hear from you, our members. What do you think our policy should be about reporting fatal crashes here on our blog?
My sincere apologies of the images caused anyone distress. – Dave Schlabowske