Photo of crash scene by Alex Garcia

2012 Chicago fatality stats*:

Pedestrian: 21 (9 have been hit-and-run crashes)
Pedalcyclist: 5 (1 is a hit-and-run crash)
Transit: 7

The Chicago Tribune reports:

A bicyclist was struck and killed by a semi truck on the Near North Side this morning, apparently when he swerved to avoid an open car door, authorities said. Police at the scene said the accident happened just before 9 a.m. on Wells Street in front of Walter Payton High School, just north of Oak Street.

The bicyclist was in the southbound lane and turned suddently to avoid an open car door and fell underneath the front wheels of the truck’s flat-bed trailer, police said.

As of 10:20 a.m., rescue crews were still working to remove the body. The bicycle lay near cars parked along the curb. The victim is male, but no other information was available.

I gather from this report that the bicyclist had a choice between two evils, but the one to their left – the truck – probably wasn’t known. From the photo in the article, it appears the truck and downed bicycle are closer to Maple Street than Oak Street. We can see a completely faded bike lane in the photo. While it’s speculative to link the bike lane’s condition to the crash, it’s not to link this design to the crash. Transportation planners and designers who come from countries where crashes like this are an extremely rare occurrence have said that parked cars should protect bike lanes and not have bicyclists protect parked cars. In other words:

Can you believe that there are still traffic engineers elsewhere putting painted bike lanes on the LEFT side of parked cars and not along the sidewalk? Actually getting paid to design them like that? It boggles the mind that these people aren’t relieved of their duties. 100 years of cycle track experience. You’d think that they would know better.

This bike lane design is obsolete and deficient as it causes bicyclists to ride in highly unsafe situations.

A similar crash happened in 2008 with Clinton Miceli, a recent college graduate. He was bicycling north on LaSalle Street (which doesn’t have a bike lane), was doored, thrown into another lane of traffic and run over by a second automobile and died. Until the day comes when we’re willing to give up parking spaces for safe bicycling routes, “share the road” is the best place we’ve got.

Updates

October 6, 2012: The cyclist was Neill Townsend, 32 years old. There was a vigil held at the crash site Friday night. Here’s a photo one of our contributors took at the event.

October 8, 2012: Townsend graduated from University of Kentucky, where his father is a professor. The Lexington Herald-Leader posted an obituary, and information on memorial services in Lexington.

October 9, 2012: This isn’t news, but needed to add it: the driver who opened the door leading to this crash, Alexander Squiers, was cited for opening a car door in traffic (Chicago Sun-Times). “[W]hen such violation interferes with the movement of a bicycle”, the fine is $150, while “if such violation causes a collision between a motor vehicle and a bicycle”, the fine is $500. We don’t know which level of fine Squiers received. (See 9-4-025 and 9-80-035 in the Municipal Code of Chicago.)

View Wells and Maple Streets (looking north) in a larger map

This is the second fatal semi-truck and bicycle crash this year. The driver fled from the crash in August and I believe is still at large.

* The information is only accurate as of this post’s publishing time and includes only people who died in the Chicago city limits. View previous Fatality Tracker posts.

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  • Eric Roggenbuck

    I witnessed the aftermath of this accident. The fire department had just arrived on the scene. A part of this street just finished construction. The lanes have not been repainted. I keep hoping they would use this opportunity to turn this street into a protected bike lane. This accident could have been avoided. A man could be alive. I think I’m going to email this article to the mayor and hope it spurs some action.

    • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

      I have ridden this section of Wells several times in recent weeks. North of Division, the bike lane has not yet been restriped where construction was recently finished. When I rode there last week (most recent trip), the bike lane markings south of Division (including the accident area) varied from mostly faded to non-existent, and pavement was rough in many spots.

      This terrible accident has gotten a lot of discussion on the Chainlink already today. People have raised a lot of good points about the increasing challenges of riding this section of Wells and the need for educational efforts about dooring to continue.

      As I mentioned in the Chainlink discussion, traffic on this section of Wells, as well as adjacent north-south streets, is likely to be heavier and more difficult for a while due to major construction projects nearby: the Clark/Division subway project, and the closure of the Oak St. ramp to Lake Shore Drive. As a police officer friend pointed out, a lot of people going to/ from Lake Shore Drive who would ordinarily have used that ramp may detour further west (Wells, LaSalle, etc.). The Clark/Division project is going to mess up traffic in that vicinity, similar to what we’ve experienced in recent years for the Chicago/State and Grand/State projects. Construction vehicles are likely to add to that traffic increase. Good reasons for extra caution while riding through River North and Old Town for the foreseeable future.

    • jeffgee1

      Unfortunately, freshly painted bike lane lines would not have prevented a careless driver from opening the car door without looking first.

  • efi

    Coming to Chicago from a city (montreal) that tends to follow the parked cars protect bike lanes philosophy, I have found it hard to adapt to the bike lanes next to parked cars. I find myself riding at the far edge of the bike lane so as to avoid the need to swerve into track to aviod getting doored.
    I am not sure if Chicago will get to point of having safer bike lanes.

  • Emily

    I rode by this accident on my bike shortly after it happened. The fire department was not yet at the scene. What a horrible tragedy; my heart goes out for the man and his family. I am still quite shaken.

    I agree with the author that the bike lines in Chicago are outdated and unsafe. I commute to and from work in the Wells bike lane and was disappointed when the roadwork did not improve the lane’s safety.

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  • Tim P

    I almost had an incident a little north of here about a month ago with a red semi truck as well. (It actually looks almost identical). I was riding south on Lincoln around Armitage towards wells. There was road work going on and traffic was stopped. The bike lane was clear so I slowly rode past it. Suddenly an impatient red semi flatbed truck cut off oncoming traffic and floored it past the road work and he then swerved back to the right lane at an unsafe speed. All of the oncoming cars had to stop for him. When he swerved back to the right lane, he crept into the bike lane as I was riding right there. I hit the brakes and stopped until his carelessness got away from me. Makes me wonder if it was the same truck driver and or company involved.

    • devodare

      Doesn’t look like the truck driver did anything wrong…

  • T

    I almost had an incident a little north of here about a month ago with a red semi truck as well. (It actually looks almost identical). I was riding south on Lincoln around Armitage towards wells. There was road work going on and traffic was stopped. The bike lane was clear so I slowly rode past it. Suddenly an impatient red semi flatbed truck cut off oncoming traffic and floored it past the road work and he then swerved back to the right lane at an unsafe speed. All of the oncoming cars had to stop for him. When he swerved back to the right lane, he crept into the bike lane as I was riding right there. It scared the crap out of me. I hit the brakes and stopped until his carelessness got away from me. The area where today’s accident happened has been full of potholes and I can visualize the exact area where it happened. Parent’s drop off their kids at the high school there and I’ve actually been close to being doored there before as well. Perhaps this rider was riding closer to a parked car than he usually would because of the proximity of the semi truck.

  • C L

    Horrible. I agree that this design doesn’t make sense. From the article, it’s not clear if the door had been open for a moment before the cyclist approached and swerved, or if the door was opened suddenly when the cyclist was right there — giving the cyclist no choice but to swerve or crash right into it due to momentum. If the driver opened the door when the cyclist was a couple of feet away, this makes it his or her fault — at least partly.

    • BAP

      No it does not make it the bicyclist fault at all even if the cyclist was 10 feet away or more. As a motorist you are responsible for not opening your door into the path of a bicycle or other vehicles, stop. You don’t have wiggle room. You need to get your head in the right place and stop being car centric.

      The only solution for bicycles in this circumstance is to take the full lane and cite that the bike lane was unsafe. That may make drivers angry but you are safer right in front of them and nowhere near doors.

  • jeffgee1

    I’ve been doored twice. In the the worst one I broke a finger and a rib and bent the front wheel but fortunately no car was behind me to run me over as I went sprawling in the street. The driver who opened her door told the cop that she only opened her door “a crack”, and didn’t kick it open wide and that I should have been riding on the other side of the street, against the traffic.

  • Mcass777

    I rode from Peterson/Lincoln to Wells and the loop last week for the first time in years. I was on guard every second. Lots of potholes, lots of traffic and, painted or not, a really small bike lane. I have been an Elston regular for over 14 years. On Elston, you can ride on the far left of the bike lane and not have a constant fear of being doored or getting hit by a moving car. Are there standard bike lane widths? THis stretch seems tight. Than means you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times, have all safety equipment, a helmet, brakes. etc. I am not a fan of protected bike lanes everywhere, but see them needed on streets on tight streets like this.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      Wells Street is not just a “tight” street, it’s a high-bike traffic route. I’ve heard from other commenters that some stretches of Wells Street were repaved recently, which presents a great opportunity to change the street design.

      There are standard bike lane widths. For bike lanes next to curbs, they can be as narrow as 4 feet. For bike lanes on the left side of parked cars, the minimum width is 5 feet. The Elston bike lane (that’s not a cycle track) is normally 6 feet.

  • bikerocker

    Didn’t you used to work for the Chicago Bike Department? Is this why you left?
    “Can you believe that there are still traffic engineers elsewhere putting painted bike lanes on the LEFT side of parked cars and not along the sidewalk? Actually getting paid to design them like that? It boggles the mind that these people aren’t relieved of their duties. 100 years of cycle track experience. You’d think that they would know better.”

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      I left because I was no longer a student and I was an intern.

  • Mark Twain

    There is no reason to have that grotesque photo in this story. All it provides is shock media and detracts from the story.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      Don’t you want to see the truth?

      • Mark Twain

        Given that you aren’t actually reporting any news yourself–face it, you’re merely a conduit for mainstream media–I’d say the photo is there for shock value.

  • Melissa

    Another senseless death thanks to American-style bike lanes, which are usually worse than nothing. When I lived in Sweden, which has almost 100% protected bike lanes, I almost never had to hear about such grisly deaths.

  • AdamHerstein

    A very unfortunate collision that could have easily been avoided. It’s sad that bad roadway design and oblivious motorists are still causing countless lives to be lost. When will car drivers realize that they are operating deadly weapons and take responsibility for their actions on the road?

    I ride by this every day on the way to work. Due to the construction, the northbound bike lane is nonexistent – it’s been covered by a shoddy concrete job. The southbound lane is full of potholes and is completely faded. I hear that this area is getting a buffered bike lane all the way to North Ave, but a protected lane would be even better.

  • AdamHerstein

    Your idea of bikers not riding their bikes is not a solution to this problem.

  • devodare

    If bikers stop riding, then what will be the incentive to create more bike infrastructure? Horrible idea!

  • Concerned Citizen

    This young man was a close friend of our family. This is a senseless and horrible tragedy. A young man’s life cut short and his family and friends left to grieve and mourn. Neill will be missed. All of us need to speak up to prevent future losses…. easy fix to move the bike lane inside the parked cars and DO IT NOW.

  • http://twitter.com/eloisemason Elliott Mason

    Why in the world is the driver not being charged with, at minimum, negligent homicide?

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  • Dennis McClendon

    I’m not so certain that protected lanes will be perfect. To begin with, passengers aren’t used to checking their mirrors before throwing open their doors. But more worrisome to me is having a couple of SUVs parked at the far end of the block, where they completely block the right-turning motorist’s view of the paralleling cyclist.

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  • Lynn

    Neil Townsend was a classmate of one of my sons in middle school and high school in Lexington, KY. He was a smart, kind, witty young man. This is such a terrible loss. Another of my sons lives in Lincoln Park and bikes to work in Humboldt Park every day. About a month ago, he was “doored.” Because of this, my awareness has been heightened about the dangers to cyclists. I saw the photo of the very faint bike lane line and, although this may not have prevented the accident that took Neil’s life, I believe that the current bike lane situation is out of date. If the lanes were between the curb/sidewalk and the parked cars, accidents like Friday’s would not be happening. Does anybody know who to contact to start pressuring the city to change the bike lane situation?

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  • Ryan

    I was really sorry to hear about this. My heart goes out to Neil’s family, friends and the cycling community.
    The $150 and $500 fines exist to keep people from opening their doors without looking first. It is illegal because it is known to be dangerous. Just like speeding, wreckless driving and driving under the influence. So, the person opening the car door was doing something dangerous and illegal and the outcome was a wrongful death. That means he committed “constructive manslaughter” or “vehicular manslaughter” in my opinion.
    Let’s just take the car lane when we feel that the bike lane might be unsafe. Ride down the center of the lane until the bike lane is safe again. Being polite and leaving space for motorists to squeeze by is dangerous and only feeds thier inflated sense of entitlement. Most of the time cars are just racing to the next red light or traffic jamb anyway. They might honk at first but they usually get the point when they arrive at the rear of the stopped car they’ve been following for the past few blocks a couple of seconds behind schedule.

  • Wightzian

    Near my street there is a bike lane that people easily ignore, this is due to a combination of horrible drivers and the fact that the original paint from a double car lane was not removed completely. Every time I ride near that area I am looking more to what is around me than what is in front of me, which it is dangerous in itself.
    Then there are drivers including Bus drivers that honk and bitch at bicyclist for riding in our lane. like it is our fault that we only get limited space and they need to go around us.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      Which street (and cross street) has the double car lane that was not removed completely?

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  • jamesjm

    I train for triathlons and I’m very familiar with close encounters with motor vehicles. This is a very sad story that happens all to often. States are adopting the “4 foot safety rule”. Pennsylvania is the most recent state to proactively sign this into law. ” Vehicles passing on the left of a bicycle shall pass NOT LESS THAN 4 FEET at a careful reduced speed”.

    When this new safety code is adopted in illinois, it will greatly reduce bicycle/vehicle related accidents and fatalities as it has in other states. It’s all about safely sharing the road.

    For more information, go to http://www.bicycleAccess-PA.org

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      The law in Illinois and Chicago is to pass with three feet. This law, to my knowledge, has only been enforced when a crash occurs.

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