Bicycling deaths drop, safety urged

By Cortney Erndt
Photo: MoBikeFed (flickr)

Michigan bicyclist deaths drop over 15 percent since 2011. Photo: MoBikeFed (flickr)

The number of Michigan’s bicyclist deaths dropped 17 percent between 2011 and last year.

Meanwhile, cycling groups continue to advocate more safety measures.

Fatalities are down from 24 in 2011 to 20 in 2012, according to the Office of Highway Safety Planning.

One fatal bicycling crash occurred in Holland and four in Grand Rapids between 2004 and 2011, Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, Josh DeBruyn said.

Overall, 788 crashes involving bicyclists were reported between 2004 and 2011 in Ottawa and Allegan counties, and 1,487 crashes in Kent County.

DeBruyn said there were no fatal crashes in Mecosta County, although 38 crashes involving bicyclists were reported.

Earlier this year, bicyclist Carl Morgan was fatally injured when he was struck by a vehicle in Flint Township.

And in 2011, Donna DeBoe of Zeeland was cycling southbound on State Street when she entered the intersection of the Interstate Highway 196 business loop and was hit by a vehicle traveling east. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

League of Michigan Bicyclists Associate Director Jenny Jensen said, “We certainly hope fatalities will continue to decrease, but we can’t just sit here and hope. We need to be out advocating bicycle safety.”

Jensen said the league promotes safety by training law enforcement officers on bicycling laws, attending public hearings and committee meetings of state and local governments and distributing safety booklets to clubs, shops, police departments, libraries and organizations.

The league also sponsors an annual Bicycle Advocacy Day at the Capitol to communicate the importance of bicycling safety to the Legislature, Jensen said.

Michigan’s counties with the most reported bicycle crashes in 2011 Source: Michigan Department of Transportation

Michigan’s counties with the most reported bicycle crashes in 2011
Source: Michigan Department of Transportation

Nationally, states spend less than 0.5 percent of their highway safety funds on bicyclists and pedestrians although they account for 16 percent of all traffic fatality victims in the U.S. each year, according to the league.

MDOT press representative Janet Foran said, “Even one fatality involving a bicyclist is too many. We need to remind drivers to be focused at all times while behind the wheel. These crashes are avoidable.”

Foran said center-line rumble strips cause unsafe conditions for bicyclists because some drivers feel uncomfortable passing bikers while crossing rumble strips.

Last year, MDOT conducted research that evaluated the benefits of centerline rumble strips on rural highways.

Project manager Jill Morena said although motorists tended to drive across the centerline when passing bicyclists, they do so less frequently when centerline rumble strips were present.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is required to establish national safety goals and performance measures, but isn’t proposing separate goals or performance measures to improve the safety of bicyclists.

But Jensen said, “How do we know if safety is getting better if we’re not counting it?”

A bill by Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, would let bicyclists go through a stop signal at an automated stoplight if it fails to detect a bicycle and change the signal to green.

Motorists proceeding through stoplights would be required to yield the right-of-way of bicyclists.

The bill is in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.