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Bicyclists and cars collide on the city's roads

Cycle of pain

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Mike Maday spent eight days in the hospital. - COURTESY MIKE MADAY
  • Courtesy Mike Maday
  • Mike Maday spent eight days in the hospital.

On the morning of June 10, Mike Maday was riding his road bike down Uintah Street near 21st Street when a vehicle collided with him. Needless to say, he fared worse than the car.

Maday, a mediator and member of the El Paso County Democratic Party's executive committee, suffered seven broken ribs, a fractured clavicle, a small broken bone in his back, bruises, and road rash. Thankfully, he was wearing a helmet. Still, he spent eight days in the hospital with a chest drain because he was unable to clear fluid from his lungs. And while his doctor said he may be able to be back on bike by mid-August — in time for a bike tour he planned to take with his wife in Scotland — Maday says he's canceling his vacation. He doesn't think he'll feel well enough to get back in the saddle until at least late fall, or more likely, spring.

It was the first time Maday had ever been hit by a car.

"I've been riding skinny-tire bikes for 50 years in traffic," he says, noting he's done so in bike-friendly cities likes Portland and not-so-friendly cities like Washington, D.C. "I follow the rules, and I was the day I was hit."

Maday didn't want to go into the specifics of the crash, because of potential legal ramifications. But he says that he's been biking in the Springs since 1980, and it wasn't until the last few years that he's noticed an up-tick in angry and careless drivers. He gets out to ride four to five days a week in the summer, he says, and in the past few years, two to three drivers have screamed obscenities at him for no reason.

"There's just a number of drivers that feel like cyclists have no right to be on the streets," he says, "and they behave that way."

Add that, he says, to all the hazards on the road — trash, dead animals, dirt, debris, and potholes — and you have a recipe for more bike-car crashes. While most drivers would prefer to avoid those crashes as well, Maday notes, they're especially dangerous for cyclists.

"You're sitting there," he says, "in your underwear [spandex clothing] with this Styrofoam cup on your head, and that's your protection."

Maday isn't the only one who says the roads are getting more dangerous for bicyclists. Jon Severson, who founded the Urban Singletrack Project, says he was hit by car at the end of June near downtown. He wasn't severely injured, but it was the first time he had been hit by a car. He began cycling in 1989.

"It was paying attention to my surroundings that saved me from severe injury or death," he wrote to the Indy in a text.

In another incident, on June 10, Max Ferguson, who teaches at the Colorado Springs School (and is a friend of this reporter's), posted on Facebook, "I was nearly run off the road three times within 15 seconds while trying to ride in the bike lane headed south on Cascade [Avenue] approaching Bijou [Street]. Hey downtown drivers OPEN your eyes and check your blind spots before you merge into a BIKE lane. It's different from a TURN lane and I know vehicular manslaughter is not in your agenda today."

The city couldn't provide recent statistics of bike-car crashes in time for the Independent's deadline, though Kathleen Krager, city traffic engineer, says those numbers don't mean a lot anyway. The city, she says, isn't a big enough statistical area to garner any meaningful information from, she says, and there's a lot of variables that can impact the figures. For instance, if more people are riding and more riders are hit, it could still mean an improvement in safety if fewer people are being hit per mile they ride.

Drivers are most often at fault for bike-car crashes, though cyclists cause a share of the wrecks as well. - DESIGN ELEMENTS FROM SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Design elements from Shutterstock.com
  • Drivers are most often at fault for bike-car crashes, though cyclists cause a share of the wrecks as well.

The city's State of Bicycling in Colorado Springs report, published in February, however, does provide some crash data. Between 2011 and 2015, it notes there were between 100 and 125 bike-car crashes in Colorado Springs per year, though it notes that the crashes are routinely underreported. A study by the Federal Highway Administration, for instance, found that 33 to 57.5 percent of all bicycle crashes potentially go unreported.

Even so, that likely makes Colorado Springs a more dangerous place for cyclists than Denver, which reported an average of 280 bike-car crashes per year from 2013 to 2015, but has about three times the bicycle commuters as the Springs.

Unsurprisingly, bike-car crashes are more likely to result in injury than crashes that involve only motor vehicles. "Almost half of all bike crashes involve an injury or fatality (46 percent), compared to only 8 percent of all crashes," the report notes. By far the largest cause of bike-car crashes was a driver's failure to yield, followed by driver inexperience, a bicyclist's failure to yield, and bicyclist inexperience. Most of the accidents happened at intersections. In a study of high-crash corridors in the city, the roads with the most crashes had four or more lanes.

Krager says she doesn't think that increased road construction — brought on by the 2015 passage of the city's 2C road sales tax — is to blame for bike-car crashes. After 40 years in the business, she says, road construction is always an issue, and it's not an excuse.

Krager, along with Kate Brady, the city's bike planner, both say that one of the keys to making the city safer for cyclists is actually to get more people to ride bikes on the roads. A 2003 study by Public Health Consultant Peter Lyndon Jacobsen, of California, likewise found: "The likelihood that a given person walking or bicycling will be struck by a motorist varies inversely with the amount of walking or bicycling. This pattern is consistent across communities of varying size, from specific intersections to cities and countries, and across time periods."

Beyond that, Krager and Brady say that the city recently purchased eight new street sweepers to help keep the roads clear, and is now building bike lanes with larger buffers — meaning a cyclist has more room to swerve around trash, opening car doors, and other hazards.

And Brady notes that most drivers and cyclists are considerate.

"As a bike rider and as a driver I see most people following most rules most of the time," she says. "I remember the ones who don't. And I think that's a bias we all carry."

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