Fatal Madison crash involved person riding on sidewalk


Motorist hit the gas instead of brake in Madison bicyclist fatality

Posted by Tom Held

The driver of the car that struck and killed a bicyclist in Madison on Oct. 3 told investigators he hit the gas pedal instead of the brake when the rider suddenly appeared in front of his car, from the sidewalk, according to a preliminary report released by police.

No citations have been issued in the death of Tyler Knipfer, 21. Madison Police Capt. Sue Williams wrote in an email sent Tuesday that the crash remains under investigation, and criminal charges are possible.

The accident report provides some detail on the crash, which took place on Aberg Ave. at Huxley St., about 3 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon.

Knipfer was bicycling westbound on the sidewalk on the south side of Aberg Ave. The motorist, a 53-year-old man from Sun Prairie, was stopped at a stop sign, facing northbound on Huxley, preparing to make a right-hand turn to travel east on Aberg.

Read the rest of this story here on Tom Held’s blog, The Active Pursuit

It is no excuse, but this tragic crash illustrates why riding bicycles on sidewalks is typically more dangerous than riding in the street, even though some people feel safer away from motor vehicle traffic. Getting hit from behind is an extremely rare type of crash on an urban roadway because statistics show the vast majority of crashes happen at conflict points where two vehicles are moving in different directions and must negotiate the right of way. Intersections are the biggest conflict point on our roads. The risk of riding a bicycle on through an intersection on the sidewalk is compounded because when driving up to an intersection, people often only use their peripheral vision to scan for people on the sidewalk.

Most of us drive cars, ride bicycles and walk. Imagine you are driving a car and think about your behavior and expectations prior to making a right turn at an urban intersection. As you drive up, you are braking in order to stop at prior to the sidewalk and stop sign.  As you slowly approach the intersection, you can see anyone walking on the sidewalk who might cross the street. You stop behind the sidewalk and stop sign and look to your left for any approaching motor vehicle traffic. Assuming there is a safe gap, and knowing there was no pedestrian traffic within walking distance on the sidewalk as you approached the intersection, you begin to take your foot off the brake as you turn to look forward and then right as you begin forward motion and make your right turn.

Depending on how quickly that all happens, a person on a bicycle might have time to ride into the intersection from a block or two away, far out of sight when the car initially approached the intersection. Suddenly the bicycle is in front of a moving car.

So even though many people feel uncomfortable riding in the street with motor vehicle traffic, unless they move at near pedestrian speeds and take great care going past every driveway and intersection, it is usually safer to ride in the street than on an urban sidewalk. Given that studies show the majority of people who ride bicycles are uncomfortable riding in traffic, how do we get people to stop riding on sidewalks?

Even very people who are very traffic intolerant report that they feel more comfortable riding in the street after they take an adult cycling class. The Bike Fed offers these classes throughout the year, you can call one of our offices to find out when the next adult cycling class will be held in your area. As a society we certainly need to reduce inattentive driving and better educate people about sharing the road with bicycles.

Better education and enforcement are part of the solution, but roads that have been engineered with bike lanes tend to have much lower numbers of people who ride on the sidewalk, and encourage more people to ride. While bike lanes have been proven to improve safety, the majority of people who ride bicycles report they still feel uncomfortable in bike lanes, especially on roads with high traffic volumes or higher speeds. If we want that bigger slice of people to ride more, we need to build roads with bicycle facilities that appeal to the majority. Bicycle boulevards and cycle tracks, sometimes called protected bike lanes, are the answer.


The protected bike lane on Elston Avenue in Chicago puts a smile on most people's faces.

Diagram for a typical bicycle boulevard on a local side street.

Bicycle boulevards are lower volume side streets that include traffic calming and intersection treatments that reduce speeding and cut through traffic. This makes them more attractive, comfortable places to ride bicycles without reducing access for residents or businesses on those streets. Even people who don’t ride bicycles but live on bicycle boulevards often report they feel safer letting their kids play in the front yard due to the reduction in traffic in front of their house.

Cycle tracks are bicycle facilities separated from motor vehicle travel lanes, parking lanes and sidewalk by pavement markings or coloring, bollards, curbs/medians, raised pavement or a combination of these elements. Installed primarily on major arterial roadways, people report “protected bike lanes” offer a similar experience to riding on a separated path. Even in cities with extremely heavy traffic, like Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., protected bike lanes have proven to dramatically increase the number of people riding bicycles for transportation.

The Bike Fed would like to see many more cities in Wisconsin building bicycle boulevards on the residential streets and looking to install cycle tracks on arterial streets. Once only found in places like Copenhagen or Amsterdam, because of their effectiveness, these comparatively inexpensive facilities are becoming much more common in urban centers in the US.

Until we get more attractive and convenient bikeways, those of you who don’t like riding on busy streets, please take great care when riding bicycles on sidewalks where it is legal.


About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

16 thoughts on “Fatal Madison crash involved person riding on sidewalk

  1. This is a very sad story, but we can learn a few things from it. Not only was the cyclist on the sidewalk, but he was on the wrong side of the street. Motorists are not expecting vehicular-speed traffic on the wrong side of the street. The motorist could have even looked right, not seen anyone there, then looked left, and a cyclist traveling at full speed on the wrong side of the street could have appeared on the scene and entered the intersection in front of the car.
    It is never a good idea to ride on the wrong side of the street, whether you are on the sidewalk or on the street. If you choose to ride on the sidewalk, you need to treat every intersection as a stop sign, or at least a yield. Any of these actions by the cyclist would likely have prevented this tragedy.

  2. Given that studies show the majority of people who ride bicycles are uncomfortable riding in traffic, how do we get people to stop riding on sidewalks?

    Interesting question for me since I recently decided to start riding on the sidewalk in a very specific spot of my daily commute since I’m sick of cars passing close enough to me to reach out and touch them.

    In the past, I used the whole ‘take the lane’ tool, but that didn’t stop people passing and nearly clipping me. My mindset now is that in the right circumstances, the sidewalk is the right decision regardless of whether it is legal or not. I’ll take a ticket vs. being roadkill.

    Having said that, I know riding on the sidewalk has it’s cons

  3. This crash raises the issue that since the Starkweather creek path (the the east) effectively dumps bicyclists heading west to the Ruskin designated route onto the sidewalk going against traffic, it may be time to look at adding a westbound bike lane or path at the intersection of Aberg & the offramp to Packers. I would note there is a desire path in the location today, and inadequate shoulder space to ride a bicycle:


  4. Will be interesting to see if criminal charges are brought.

    Not familiar with the intersection, but if the sidewalk Tyler was riding on abuts a building, then, per local ordinance, Tyler should not have been operating his bicycle on the sidewalk to begin with. In Madison, it is permissible to ride on a sidewalk as long as the sidewalk does not abut a building. So, even if car operator was negligent, Tyler’s own negligence may exceed the driver’s.

  5. Right on Dave. Riding a bicycle the wrong way on a sidewalk (I see it all the time in my neighborhood on Johnson street, because the opposite way bike lane is on Gorham which is much more hilly than the relatively flat stretch of Johnson) is incredibly dangerous. Motorists crossing the street or turning simply are not looking for or expecting vehicle speed (faster than a pedestrian) coming from the opposite direction of motor vehicle traffic. I think the city really needs to step up enforcement and ticketing for bicyclists in Madison riding the wrong way on one way streets. It is dangerous and unacceptable to ignore the laws or behave as if they don’t apply to you because you are on a bike and not in a car.

  6. <>. This seems like a too general of a statement. Uncomfortable in both heavy traffic and light traffic? For the majority of the people , how much less ‘uncomfortable’ do they feel when they are in a bike lane ? The question ask in these studies need to be more specific.

  7. hmmm, the quote below should have been in between the <> marks in my response above.

    “Given that studies show the majority of people who ride bicycles are uncomfortable riding in traffic”

  8. This is exactly why I made the comments that I did on an earlier post on this blog, regarding the Hank Aaron Trail (the post in question is here). What I find strange was that in my comments, I mentioned that much of the Hank Aaron trail is actually just a wide sidewalk, and that I don’t like using it because I’m afraid of cars at the intersections looking left when I’m coming from the right.

    Strangely enough, in *that* circumstance, Dave suggested that he wasn’t worried about it. But this seems very, very similar to me. I agree completely that riding on a sidewalk is dangerous… even if the sidewalk is labeled a bike trail.

    • Hey Nick,

      I think there is an important distinction between side paths and sidewalks. The Hank Aaron State Trail is a side path intended for bicycle traffic. It is put in on a roadway without a sidewalk on the other side of the street. There are relatively few intersections with roads and where there are intersections, they are well marked with signs and pavement markings to warn people in motor vehicles about their responsibility to yield the right of way. There are also very few driveways that intersect the path and those driveways primarily serve employees who are familiar with the traffic on the trail because they go to work 5 days a week. Each driveway has a well marked crosswalk, those with poor sight lines have curved mirrors to help people in motor vehicles see down the trial before crossing and each employer gives instructions to their employees about the need to yield to trail traffic prior to crossing it. I think that is pretty much best case scenario for an urban side path.

      I have ridden that trail to work virtually every day for the last 10 years. I never drive to work, but have on rare occasion taken another route. And I ride it often on weekends when I go to Bay View or even out to the east side. I am a cautious but assertive rider and I can say that of those thousands of trips I have taken on the trail I can count on one had the problems I have had at driveways or even the roundabout crossing. I have had far more conflicts with people driving cars on the street network in Milwaukee.

      Even the pinch points near the power plant are OK at this point because it does not get super heavy traffic. When I have to negotiate those sections and there are other trail users, I just slow and we work it out like reasonable people would.

      Based on my personal experience and the lack of any significant crashes on the Hank Aaron State Trail, I would rate it as a well designed side path. Riding on sidewalks is a whole different deal and I do think there are many cases where side paths are a bad idea. On suburban roads next to big box stores with tremendous traffic volumes out their driveways for example.

  9. I am glad to see the BFW notes that “Getting hit from behind is an extremely rare type of crash on an urban roadway …” because Urban vs Rural is an important distinction. As for “extremely rare”, numbers are better than words.

    Unfortunately, “Motorist Overtaking” type collisions as defined in the bicycle crash literature and the most commonly used crash documenting software, [see http://www.walkinginfo.org/facts/pbcat/index.cfm) are not what I would term “extremely rare”. They also result in a disproportionate portion of fatalities.

    The often cited major US study is “Bicycle and Pedestrian Crash Types of the Early 1990′s” (FHWA-RD-95-163). Of their 85 crash types, 5 (6 including “Type unknown) are in the “Class D: Motorist overtaking bicyclist”. They compared their data to the 1977 Cross and Fisher study and for this class of crashes:

    1977 study, Total Fatal=166 of which 37.8% were motorist overtaking, Total Nonfatal=753 of which 10.5% were overtaking
    1990′s study, Total Fatal=41 of which 29.3% were motorist overtaking, Total Nonfatal=2453 of which 9.8% were overtaking.

    As you can see, the Motorist Overtaking class has a disproportionate fraction of the fatalities in both studies and and was not a rare crash.

    However, all of that data is (obviously) before cell phones, texting, and a variety of other new causes of distracted driving as well as possible improvements in highway safety such as better motor vehicle headlights, better bicycle reflectors, better bicycle lights etc. and improvements in emergency trauma care. Some more recent data:

    In Wisconsin 2003 (http://on.dot.wi.gov/wisdotresearch/database/reports/05-18bicycle-f.pdf):
    City crashes: 5.22% motorist overtaking;
    but for Rural crashes 12.02%; Motorist Overtaking Undetected Bicyclist was the most common crash type.

    The 2003 City of Toronto Bicycle/Motor-Vehicle Collision Study (“http://www.toronto.ca/transportation/publications/bicycle_motor-vehicle/pdf/car-bike_collision_report_execsum.pdf) found city (not rural) motorist overtaking was 11.9% of collisions, the second most common type It accounted for 4 of the 10 fatalities.

    N. Carolina crashes (fatal and non-fatal) from 2001 through 2007 rural/urban vs. crash type and aggregating the motorist overtaking collisions you get:
    Urban, motorist overtaking: 373 of 4550 = 8.198% of all crashes
    Rural, motorist overtaking: 553 of 2194 = 25.205% of all crashes
    Graphing the N. Carolina data shows a steady increase in the percent due to motorist overtaking to most recently about one-third of rural crashes.

    Finally, NHTSA began recording PBCAT (Pedestrian and Bicyclist Crash Analysis Tool) data in 2010. All the data is available online for download. In 2010, Motorist Overtaking crashes accounted for 155 of the 626 or 24.7% of bicyclist-motor vehicle fatalities. Also, 80% of all fatalities were on roads with speed limits over 30 mph.

    I would not characterize a cause of 24.7% of the fatalities as “extremely rare”. Cycling off sidewalks to cross an intersection from the opposite direction of traffic is clearly dangerous. However, implying that motorist overtaking is not something to be concerned about is incorrect, particularly in rural settings or on roads with speed limits over 30 mph.

    • J Berry,

      Excellent summary of the numbers! You ever want a job reporting on crashes, we have a spot for you on our blog team ;)

      I was involved in the WisDOT study that used the PBCAT software. I think that study and all your other studies back up my claim that overtaking collisions are not the ones to be concerned about in urban areas. The right hook and left cross at intersections along with drive outs are the most important crash types to watch out for as an adult riding a bicycle in an urban area. Fatal crashes in urban areas are rare to begin with primarily because of the low speed differentials. You note that in the NHTSA study, where of the 24.7% of fatal crashes that resulted from overtaking collisions, 80% were on roads with speed limits over 30mph. In Milwaukee, and may urban areas in the midwest, the vast majority of roads are posted 30mph or slower. We have a few posted 35mph, and in the more suburban areas of the City of Milwaukee, a few higher than that. So I stand by my statement.

      If we are talking about national statistics, one might be able to argue that there are urban areas with higher speed limits on their roads. But in Wisconsin, I think it is fair to say that fatal crashes in urban areas are relatively rare compared to the number of people who ride. I agree that numbers are better than qualitative generalities, but in my role as a bicycle advocate, I think they are often more useful. If I were a traffic engineer, public safety officer, planner or other occupation where I was designing bicycle facilities, I would be more specific and take a closer look at numbers in each traffic safety situation.

  10. Nick I agree with you about the Hank. The crossings at 32nd, 25th roundabout and Embers are tricky and motorist don’t realize it’s a bike trail. But like Matt I think the risk is worth it to stay off Cannal St.

    • Barry,

      I know you ride the HAST to work almost as often as I do. I can honestly say that I rarely have problems at driveways or at the two main road crossings at 32nd or 25th. I am quite assertive, but cautious as I approach those intersections. I look down the road well in advance and time my crossings to minimize conflict with motor vehicles, but even so, I think they are pretty easy places to cross.

      That said, I have often ridden through the crossing to the north of the 25th St. roundabout when there were other people waiting to cross. I get through because I am assertive and they are left still waiting there because they won’t try crossing until all the cars are gone. I on the other hand expect people to yield the ROW to me when they have time to slow or stop and ride across the crosswalk. Are you similarly assertive? If so, do you have similar experiences to mine?

      • I consider myself quite assertive-

        I only use the HAT weekly.
        Many times I’ve almost been hit on 25th street from southbound traffic coming from the highway with tires screeching and horns blowing and almost just as often (1/4) at 32nd southbound coming down the hill but with out all the extra sound effects.
        The section I thought would be the worse is actually not bad and thats the when the trail crosses from the northside of Canal to the southside of Canal. Traffic has alway yielded to me there.

  11. This is where I think we might get some benefit from supplemental technology in automobiles. We already have back-up sensors and Honda, I think, is advertising sensors that will activate brakes or deceleration from getting too close to the vehicle in front. Perhaps there should be some sort of advocacy campaign toward car and truck manufacturers and the NHTSB, in particular each time there is a crash involving bicyclists. This doesn’t make up for epidemic “presumptive driving behavior” - driving almost absent-mindedly, as if there will not be an unusual circumstance demanding special attention, but it will help. I remember there have been too many times when I just missed seeing a pedestrian approaching on a sidewalk or not rechecked in the direction of my turn to see if it was still clear before going. Yes it will make cars more expensive, and they should be. They are exceedingly dangerous. Driving a car is the most dangerous thing most of us do on any particular day. If they are too expensive for most people, the free market will start to make other accommodations so we can get to where we need to go - right?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>