Driver hits, kills 74-year-old Woman riding in Door County

This screenshot from Google Maps shows the intersection where the fatal crash occurred. The view of the intersection is from the south, facing toward the direction the person driving the van came from.

Update: Information from statements made by the husband of Lou Branham, Gerald Branham, indicate Lou likely did stop at the stop sign on Juddville Road before entering the intersection.

“Her GPS readings show that she approached the intersection at 11.4 miles per hour, then slowed to 1.1 mile per hour in the intersection, then accelerated to 22.7 miles per hour when she was hit,” Gerald said in an interview with Myles Dannhausen Jr. of the Door County Pulse. “It seems to me that she had to have come to a stop to be going 1 mile per hour, which is a very slow walking speed. It looked like she almost made it through the intersection.”

The husband also described her as an experienced cyclist who rides 10,000 miles per year, and was familiar with the roads in the area. She was at the end of a 60-mile ride at the time of the crash. According to reporting by Dannhausen the couple has been camping in Peninsula State Park during the summer for 20 years.

According to statements made to police by the person driving the van, he came over the hill north of the intersection and saw Branham ride through the stop sign without checking for traffic. The driver further stated he was traveling at about 50 mph and applied his brakes, but was unable to avoid hitting Branham. He was the only witness of the crash.

The GPS data from Lou’s phone was provided to the Door County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday.

County Highway A is a recommended bike route on the “Door County Bicycle and other Silent Sports Route” map, but according to Dannhausen, most cyclists avoid it due to the lack of shoulders on the road and the 55 mph speed limit. The Door County Bike, Pedestrian, and Recreational Facilities Master Plan, authored by the Wisconsin Bike Fed in partnership with Alta Planning + Design, was adopted by the County Board in 2014.  Recommendations in the plan called for an off-road, shared use path for the 11-mile stretch from Highway 42 to County Highway V, and in absence of that shared-use path, construction of paved shoulders was recommended as an alternative.  The plan is available here, and Appendix I references the specific CTH A recommendations.

 

Lou Branham of New Brighton, MN was riding her bike in Door County on Juddville Road and crossing County Highway A when a person driving a work van traveling south on the highway hit her.

The crash occurred around 4 p.m. Saturday. It was reported by the person driving that Branham didn’t stop at the stop sign located at the three-way intersection. Reports don’t indicate whether she was turning left or right onto the highway and the Door County Sheriff’s Department was unable to determine if she was turning. A crash report is not available at this time.

The stretch of highway, which has a speed of 55 mph, where the crash happened is slightly hilly and leaves the intersection blocked from view when heading from the north as the van was. It is important to note that crashes involving speeds greater than 40 mph are nearly always fatal.

Though we can’t immediately know all of the conditions on the road at the time of the crash this serves as another important reminder of the duties both people driving and bicycling have. The crash remains under investigation, but neither speed or alcohol are believed to be factors in the crash.

Crashes happen less frequently on low-traffic rural roads than they do on busy urban arterial streets, but because of the higher speeds, they are more likely to result in serious injuries and fatalities. Whether or not an intersection is visible, when approaching in either role it is important to be cautious and reduce speeds as a driver and as a cyclist check twice before crossing streets with high speed limits.

People driving can also give cyclists who appear at intersections more space when there isn’t oncoming traffic and always slow down, as some cyclists may not hear an approaching car and could believe the roadway they just checked to be clear. A close call may get the heart racing, but that extra space and reduced speed could save a life.

When we are riding our bicycles and approaching an intersection, we should be aware that this is where most crashes happen. First, and most important, look for oncoming traffic in all directions long before you get to the intersection. Second, obey all traffic controls such as stop signs or traffic signals, even on very low traffic roads. Many people in cars tend to drive slightly over the speed limit because they know they won’t get a ticket and it gets them where they are going faster. For similar reasons, many people on bicycles will ride through stop signs or red lights, particularly on low traffic roads where conflicts are infrequent. While both speeding slightly and rolling stops are unlikely to earn you a ticket, the consequences of both can lead to a crash or change an injury to a fatality in case of a crash.

When riding straight through an intersection, watch for oncoming cars that might be turning left across our path. Sometimes people don’t use turn signals, so we have to be prepared. When in the right parking lane or shoulder, move left enough to make clear you are not turning right. This might mean riding completely to the left of a marked right turn lane at channelized intersections. Be particularly cautious if you are moving past a queue of motor vehicles on the right side. The illustration below shows proper lane position. A more detailed version of this illustration with other safety tips can be found on our Share and Be Aware pages here.

The green riders are in the correct position to ride though the intersection.

Last year at this time, eight people had been killed riding bicycles compare to two this year. More careful driving can help to reduce these numbers and avoid these tragedies.

Through the Share and Be Aware Program and the Safe Routes to School Program, the Wisconsin Bike Fed works to make both cycling and walking safer for everyone. Safer streets for walking and biking increase our independence and make our neighborhoods more vibrant and engaging. Every year in communities across the state, our Share and Be Aware Ambassadors and Bike Walk Instructors teach thousands of kids and adults how to safely walk, bike and drive.

While we can all work collectively to reduce the chances of fatal crashes like this happening, it’s important to remember riding a bicycle remains an incredibly safe and healthy thing to do. The number of crashes has been decreasing for years, even as more people ride bicycles for transportation. If you factor in the health benefits of cycling, riding a bicycle is more likely to help you live longer than result in a fatal crash.

The fatal crash numbers are so small, that the variations from year to year are probably statistically insignificant. Of course our goal is to make that number zero.

Note that in the graph below, it was common to have 30-40 fatal bicycle crashes in the 1970s and today we average around ten. We have bike lanes and education to thank for the huge reduction in fatal crashes. In fact, our Share & Be Aware Program is one of the biggest programs we run at the Wisconsin Bike Fed. If you would like to request one of our S&BA Ambassadors for a class or to table an event, make your request online here. We can also give you free safety information to share in your community or at your employer.

“For individuals who shift from car to bicycle, we estimated that beneficial effects of increased physical activity are substantially larger (3–14 months gained) than the potential mortality effect of increased inhaled air pollution doses (0.8–40 days lost) and the increase in traffic accidents (5–9 days lost). Societal benefits are even larger because of a modest reduction in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and traffic accidents.

Conclusions: On average, the estimated health benefits of cycling were substantially larger than the risks relative to car driving for individuals shifting their mode of transport.” Source: Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks? Jeroen Johan de Hartog1, Hanna Boogaard1, Hans Nijland2, Gerard Hoek1.

4 thoughts on “Driver hits, kills 74-year-old Woman riding in Door County

  1. “The stretch of highway, which has a speed of 55 mph, where the crash happened is slightly hilly and leaves the intersection blocked from view when heading from the south, but not when heading from the north as the van was, according the sheriff’s department.”

    This is backwards: The intersection is invisible when southbound, or when coming from the north, as the van was.

  2. Unfortunately, though it is a beautiful place to ride, Door County is not a good place to ride. There are no bike lanes, many of the roads basically have no shoulder and most drivers are distracted/tourists. Even with the fantastic Sunset Trail in Peninsula State Park, Fish Creek is a cluster to get around in on a bike, that main street should at least have a protected bike lane from city center to park given the volume of bikers.

  3. The town of Fish Creek doesn’t even acknowledge the presents of bikers on the main street (42) through
    Town with Sharows to alert visiting drivers to allow room .

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