By now most people have heard the details about the tragic crash last week Wednesday that killed Fr. Victor “Vic” Capriolo as he rode his bicycle east on the Prairie Trail in the Town of Taycheedah. According to police reports, several witnesses at the scene saw the 67-year-old priest ride into the path of a southbound vehicle driven by Janice A. Gauthier, 74, of Fond du Lac.
Capt. Dean Will of the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office said, “For whatever reason — and we’ll probably never know why — he failed to yield to the car and traveled right out in front of it,” said Will, noting that Capriolo was wearing a helmet, goggles and riding gloves at the time of the crash. Of the seven fatal crashes involving people riding bicycles this year, this is the first in which the person on the bike was at fault.
While we may never know why Fr. Capriolo rode his bicycle into the intersection, we do know that the design of the intersection is pretty good. The image below is a combines satellite and street view from Google map of the intersection where the Prairie trail crosses Highway 151 at WH.
You can clearly see that the Prairie Trail crossing is at a signalized intersection with a pedestrian refuge island (outlined in orange below) and painted crosswalk lines. Other than a separated grade crossing, such as a bridge or an underpass, that is about as good a design as we can hope for. From a facilities design standpoint, the only way we might make an at-grade crossing like this more bicycle friendly would be to eliminate the right-turn bypass (red arrow in image below) and make all motor vehicles come to a stop prior to making the right turn (green arrow below).
We can’t say whether those geometric changes would have made a difference in this crash, but in the current situation, drivers heading south into the right turn bypass tend to look to their left for cars approaching on Hwy 151 rather than looking to the right for people on walking or on bicycles coming off the Prairie Trail. With the current geometrics, people coming off the trail really need to be careful and look far to their left for cars coming around that big bend. We have a request in for a copy of the MV4000e crash report, which includes a diagram of the crash scene. When we get that, we should know more about possible geometric countermeasures.
In general, I prefer to get rid of right turn bypasses from a bicycle safety perspective. Traffic engineers can tell you that comes at a cost of increased delays at signalized intersections. It also means longer crossings for pedestrians. The devil is always in the details when it comes to situations like these, so my general preference against right turn bypasses must really be thought out carefully in each situation. I only raise the point so everyone takes extra care when we go through them, either on foot, on a bike or when driving a motor vehicle.
The Bike Fed reviews all fatal crashes for their safety implications to see if we as an organization can suggest countermeasures to reduce the chance of a future tragedy. We are in regular communication with the staff at the Wisconsin DOT Bureau of Traffic Safety (WisDOT BOTS for you acronym fans). We also work with local law enforcement, local traffic engineers and local bicycle groups to improve facility design, improve enforcement and improve public awareness about the laws regarding bicycling and walking.
We are able to do most of this work through our Share & Be Aware program, funded with a grant from WisDOT BOTS, Bike Fed membership funds and donations. That program allows us to fund local Bike Fed ambassadors around the state, allows us to run public service announcements on television and radio, and helps us get billboards up along highways with share the road safety messages. Thanks to generous support form Wheel & Sprocket, the Nancy Sellers Memorial Foundation and Tri-Faster, there are three big 3 ft passing law billboards up along I94 in Milwaukee. These signs are seen by nearly 200,000 people every day. They rotate to different outdoor signs in the region.
We also have billboards up in Wausau and around the rest of the state as well. If you are interested in getting billboards up or PSAs played in your community or just want yard signs with safety messages on them, contact us me or Kevin Hardman at our Milwaukee office.