Cycling accidents increase when pedal meets metal

By The Columbia Chronicle

Chicago cyclists might have to double-up on their protective gear because according to city data, biking accidents have been continually rising since 2001.

With more cyclists on the road, the Chicago Police Department has seen a 38 percent increase in bicycle accident reports between 2001 and 2011, according to a report released by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning in 2011.

Since 2005, there have been 1,000 reported cases of bikers sustaining “incapacitating injuries,” and 43 people have died in crashes, the report said.

According to data recently released from the 2010 U.S. Census, 1.2 percent of Chicago commuters rode their bikes to work last year. The number of commuters is on the rise compared to the 0.4 percent in the 2000 census. Recreational cycling has also increased almost 5 percent, according to the same data.

During the last 10 years, many bike lanes were either paved over or gave way to massive potholes and low spots, according to Joanne McSweeny, owner of Trek Bicycles, 1118 S. Michigan Ave. She said even the slightest swerve on a bike could put riders at risk.

“There are accidents almost once a week, and it is definitely on the increase,” said McSweeny, who estimates two or three of her 30 employees are injured per month. “If you’re a regular rider, you’re almost destined to get hit. There just needs to be more awareness on both sides.”

Joseph Schwieterman, a transportation professor at DePaul University, said there will never be a foolproof way to reduce the number of crashes.

“Cyclists all ride differently,” Schwieterman said. “You cannot predict how each rider will react in certain situations. There are some who ride as if they were in a car and others who are more precautious, like pedestrians.”

He said this could cause a major problem for many of Chicago’s 5-, 6- and 7-point intersections.

McSweeny said the key to providing a better environment for bikers lies with bike shop owners. She said new cyclists need to be educated, and there must be greater enforcement of bike lane rules

and conditions.

“It’s important that we tell people how to ride and to obey all the traffic laws, but mainly we want people to ride where there are bike lanes,” McSweeny said. “I feel like it’s our responsibility as a shop to provide people with this information whether they listen to us

or not.”

McSweeny said her shops have maps of bike lanes, indicating which are safe and which aren’t. According to Genaro Escarzaga, an outreach staff member at Chicago Bicycling Ambassadors, younger riders are raising awareness of city biking laws.

“Younger riders tend to be the more cautious ones, and they are the ones watching where they are going,” Escarzaga said. “When you have the older, more seasoned rider becoming used to riding, they will end up being the ones getting hit.”

Brendan Kevenides, an attorney for the Chicago Bicycle Advocate law firm, said the bike-related injuries he has seen during his seven years of experience have always been serious.

He said many cases often lead to an indictment once the driver acknowledges that he or she “just didn’t see the biker.”

According to a press release issued by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city plans to invest $28 million in the creation of 100 miles of protected bike lanes, including lanes separated from moving cars by pavement markers.

Other efforts are also being made to increase the number of cyclists on the road, including a bike-share program that will allow members to rent from 3,000 available bikes at 300 renting stations placed throughout the city, as reported by The Chronicle on March 23.

McSweeny said encouraging cyclists to be more aware of vehicles on the road and to avoid distractions will improve accident and crash statistics.

“I am always the one to tell people when I am riding my bike or driving my car to let other people know that they need to be aware of whom they are sharing the road with,” Escarzaga said. “Not caring is what gets

people killed.”