We are still waiting for details on the tragic crash that killed Sam Ferrito, a 56-year-old Oak Creek man who was hit a little after 6 p.m. Sunday while biking on S. Nicholson Rd. According to the Oak Creek police, an 18-year-old driver hit Ferrito from behind while he was riding on Nicholson. Flight for life responded, but Ferrito did not survive his injuries. Crashes like this are relatively rare and typically only happen on rural or suburban roads, not in urban areas, but when they do happen, they are often fatal.
The actual crash report has not been released yet, and until that is out and the District Attorney has reviewed the death, we can’t speculate about fault. That said, a look at the location shows that this segment of Nicholson serves as an on-street connection between two segments of the Oak Leaf Trail, yet there is no bicycle accommodation like a bike lane or paved shoulder. The fog line is very close to the edge of the asphalt and the shoulder is gravel. A street that connects two segments of the Oak Leaf Trail should have 4 ft paved shoulders at a minimum, and in this case, perhaps a parallel side path.
Thanks to Wisconsin’s Complete Streets law, those safety improvements will probably come when Nicholson is next resurfaced or reconstructed. Wisconsin is actually pretty good about adding paved shoulders to highways around the state, but there remain many “incomplete” streets with no shoulder and only one travel lane in each direction that must be shared by motorists as well as people riding bicycles and walking. Until all our streets are complete streets, all users need to be more aware of each other and share the road.
To ensure that any mode of travel is safe, we need to look at more than engineering facilities. Engineers and planners typically look at the “Five Es” of traffic safety. Those Es are: Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Encouragement, and Evaluation. The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin is doing all we can in all of those areas. We already work with communities to help engineers design attractive, safe and convenient bicycle facilities like trails and bike lanes. The Bike Fed is also working to educate thousands of children how to ride safely and legally through our Safe Routes to School programming. As part of that Safe Routes programming, we also work with law enforcement agencies to enforce the laws related to bicycling for both cyclists and motorists.
In an effort to educate more people across the state and encourage all users to obey the laws and share the roads, the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation and the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin have teamed up with a new Share and Be Aware safety program. The campaign includes radio and television PSAs, print ads and uses Share and Be Aware Ambassadors to interact with people at large events around the state. Below is one of the video PSAs:
The two-year program only began a few months ago, and the Bike Fed is just beginning to get the ads and PSAs out, but already more than 600,000 people have seen or heard our radio or printed ads. The program also uses Share and Be Aware Ambassadors who have been at dozens of large events around the state distributing safety materials and answering questions about the laws and responsibilities of all road users. These personal dialogues can go a long way to informing people about the laws and encouraging them to obey them. The Ambassadors are also available to come to workplaces anywhere in the state to give customized presentations on bicyclist, motorist and pedestrian safety. If you would like to have an ambassador come to your workplace, email Jessica, at the Bike Fed.
Educating people about the laws and encouraging them to share the road are essential if we are to reduce the number of crashes involving vulnerable road users like bicyclists and pedestrians. While we work to decrease the number of crashes, it is important to keep in mind that riding a bicycle in Wisconsin remains an extremely safe activity.
In Wisconsin, 48.7% of residents say they ride bicycles. So even though 2.2 million people ride bicycles in Wisconsin, most years only between 7 to 11 bicycle crashes result in fatalities. As you can see by the chart above, this year we have only had two crashes that resulted in fatalities. If we look back over a longer period (see the chart below) the numbers of bicycle crashes is clearly trending downward. Even though the number of fatal crashes is so small that it is hard to see a trend, we need to look at those fatal crash numbers compared to the number of people riding bicycles. The number of people who ride bicycles in Wisconsin is huge and has been increasing. Bicycling as a form of recreation is up 47% since 1994, and similar increases have been seen in bicycle use for transportation. Since the crash numbers have remained about the same or gone down slightly at the same time that the number of people riding has increased, then the crash rate has actually decreased significantly in Wisconsin.
It appears that Wisconsin’s long history of investments in bicycle facilities like off-road trails, bike lanes and paved shoulders has proven that if you build it they will come. The increases in people riding bicycles also lends credence to the saying there is safety in numbers. Over the next days and weeks as we learn more details about this tragic crash we should keep the family members and friends of Mr. Ferrito in our prayers, and let’s also keep our fingers crossed that if we all obey the laws and share the road, 2011 can go down as the safest year for cycling in Wisconsin history.