Sad News from Chicago

Yesterday morning, 32-year-old attorney Neill Townsend was biking to work when a man in a Nissan Altima opened his car door into the bike lane and Neill’s path, causing him to swerve suddenly and fall under a flatbed semi truck passing to his left.  He died on the scene.  The man who opened the car door was cited for a traffic violation.  You can read more about Neill’s life and a vigil held in his memory in this Chicago Tribune story.

I mourn for Neill and his family and friends.  This sad news has shaken me, as I bike past the exact spot every day.  The bike lane lines are faded to almost nothing.  There are severe pot holes through the bike lane that force bicyclists either to swerve far out into the main traffic lane or inch closer to parked cars than is comfortable.  There is a high school where parents park in the bike lane to drop off their kids.

This exact type of collision occurred only one block over in 2008, when Clinton Miceli was doored and struck by passing traffic.  The city needs to build protected bike lanes to the right of parked cars, which would avoid collisions like this.  At the very least, it needs to keep existing and heavily used bike lanes well-striped, buffered, and free of dangerous potholes.  Drivers and passengers need to take a second to look for coming bicyclists before swinging their car doors open.   The city must do more to educate and remind drivers of this.  Bicyclist should try to avoid the door zone, but I well know that is not always possible in Chicago.  The entire bike lane where the incident occurred basically is the door zone.  Grid Chicago wrote a more detailed examination of this infrastructure problem.

Biking home from work yesterday with this tragedy fresh on my mind, I took care to bike extra far from parked cars.  Almost immediately, a driver in an SUV honked at me.  I assume he wanted me to move over to the right.  We have a long way to go in Chicago.

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36 thoughts on “Sad News from Chicago

  1. Les Connally says:

    So sorry. Rash of Texas cyclists killed recently also.

  2. Les Connally says:

    So sorry. Rash of Texas cyclists killed recently also.

  3. [...] the rest here: Sad News from Chicago « Let's Go Ride a Bike – life on two wheels … This entry was posted in Blog Search and tagged bicyclists, bike, day, faded, lines, main, news, [...]

  4. eriksandblom says:

    Sad news.

    I agree that protected bike lanes would help improve safety. But it’s also worth noting that large trucks are dangerous to both pedestrians and cyclists. Goods vehicles make up only 5% of traffic in Great Britain, but are involved in 19% of cyclist deaths and 12% of pedestrian deaths. The CTC advocates fitting trucks (lorries in UK English) with sensors, alarms and bigger windows. See their website, http://beta.ctc.org.uk/campaigns/views/goods-vehicles

    I try to stay well in front or behind big trucks, and avoid being on the side where the driver can’t see me.

    • LGRAB says:

      I agree that trucks are a big danger. Trucks pass me all the time on that road. There is no way to avoid being next to them when they’re going faster than me.

    • David P. says:

      Erik, I have noticed that heavy-duty trucks in Europe have barriers between the tractor axles and trailer axles, or between the cab and rear axle. I presume that these were put in place to reduce the danger of motor vehicles getting caught between axles in collisions, but would imagine that it would have some impact in a collision with a cyclist or pedestrian, like this one. Do you know if this kind of accident in Europe has been affected by this?

      • eriksandblom says:

        David, yes I’ve seen those and I thought they were for pedestrians and cyclists. Maybe they are helpful to motorists too. I don’t know if there’s any research into how effective they are. It’s one of the demands on the CTC page I linked above, but they also say more research is needed.

        One measure taken by some towns in Sweden has been to prohibit trucks longer than 10m in the town center. On the national road network, trucks over 20 meters are allowed. Personally I think large-scale freight should be shifted over to rail and waterways.

  5. eriksandblom says:

    Sad news.

    I agree that protected bike lanes would help improve safety. But it’s also worth noting that large trucks are dangerous to both pedestrians and cyclists. Goods vehicles make up only 5% of traffic in Great Britain, but are involved in 19% of cyclist deaths and 12% of pedestrian deaths. The CTC advocates fitting trucks (lorries in UK English) with sensors, alarms and bigger windows. See their website, http://beta.ctc.org.uk/campaigns/views/goods-vehicles

    I try to stay well in front or behind big trucks, and avoid being on the side where the driver can’t see me.

    • LGRAB says:

      I agree that trucks are a big danger. Trucks pass me all the time on that road. There is no way to avoid being next to them when they’re going faster than me.

  6. Oh geez… So sorry. :(

  7. Bobbin and Sprocket says:

    Oh geez… So sorry. :(

  8. guy says:

    Saw this on WGN, the same day I biked to a vigil for a fellow cyclist rear ended and killed in my small AZ town, Sierra Vista. I had been biking with Terry for the past 20 years. It happend on a rural road, wide and clear. The woman that hit him, rear ended, was “preoccupied” while driving, no further details have been provided.
    Sorry for your loss in Chicago.

  9. AdamHerstein says:

    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? The whole idea of “share the road” is fundamentally flawed. We need more cycle tracks, now – not conventional door-zone lanes.
    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.

  10. Fjnkindelan says:

    This is truly tragic and is something my family fears will happen to me while I commute in Chicago. Ironically, the bike lanes in the city are the most intimidating places to ride because of the liberties parkers take in opening their doors into the lane, the frequent double parking and bus occupation of the lanes, and the lack of “rights” you have to enter the “car” lane because in the drivers’ view, you have a lane. These bike lanes with parallel parking to the right and high speed traffic to the left are worse not safe and are poor efforts at providing bicyclists a safe riding area.

  11. meligrosa says:

    terrible news. strength and plenty of love, my thoughts are with his family +loved ones <3

  12. Fjnkindelan says:

    One more thing regarding Neill — this is one of the very reasons Denmark had a social uprising in the 70’s and demanded safe bike infrastructure — increased motor related deaths. How many people have to senselessly die? Do you realize the loss society faces when anyone dies especially a conscientious attorney? I propose a huge surge of demand to the City to fix our bike lanes IMMEDIATELY before someone else gets hurt.

  13. Simply Bike says:

    This is so sad to hear, my heart goes out to the family and friends of Neill. I really wish the city would do something to prevent any more senseless tragedies like this!

  14. Julie Hardee says:

    Sadly, the whole country’s got a long way to go.

  15. RobW says:

    After seeing a cyclist breathe their last from a collision, it sickens me every time I hear of another cyclist involved in such tragedy. Apathy and entitlement seem to reign supreme when motor vehicles are involved. All it takes is a few minutes of observation in any parking lot to see that drivers dont care how they drive, park or conduct themselves as long as they are not inconvenienced. I fear, until there is a real threat of losing one’s driving privileges, or excruciating fines, this trend will become epidemic in scope. Sadly, people just dont care it seems. Prayers for the family and friends of this cyclist.

  16. Oldbikerider says:

    Where are you Mr. Mayor?

  17. Barbara says:

    This disgusts me! How can such a stupid, but deadly accident like this still happen in our day and age? A 32 year old man with his whole life ahead of him still taken away because a person in a car just could not take 30 seconds of his/her life to look in a miror and see if it was clear to open the door!
    Reading this made me sad and angry. I just do not understand how officials still ignore this problem. It seems as though everything is done for cars, but pedestrians and cyclists don’t get any consideration.
    My thoughts go to all cyclists, those who have gone too early and those still at risk.

  18. David P. says:

    A detail that I noticed from the most recent revision of the story was that Neill was described as a man who liked to cycle to work (paraphrasing). The choice of words makes a subtle statement, one that the writer may not have even been aware of, about transportation modes and what is or is not normalized. One does not see, in sentences about motor vehicle deaths, sentences like, “Neill was a man who liked to drive a car to work.” Considered normal, it requires explanation. Cycling to work implicitly requires some sort of explanation. I was about to write that I don’t mean this as a value judgment, but actually I do – not about the writer, but about the society in which such a sentence is written. I do not think that such an explanation should be necessary.

    • David P. says:

      Sorry, that should read, “Considered normal, it requires no explanation.”

    • Heather says:

      I think you could turn it around and put a positive spin on it too, to say that the writer has highlighted that riding a bike to work can be enjoyable! :) I doubt there would be many people who would honestly say they enjoy their car journey to work??

  19. David P. says:

    A detail that I noticed from the most recent revision of the story was that Neill was described as a man who liked to cycle to work (paraphrasing). The choice of words makes a subtle statement, one that the writer may not have even been aware of, about transportation modes and what is or is not normalized. One does not see, in sentences about motor vehicle deaths, sentences like, “Neill was a man who liked to drive a car to work.” Considered normal, it requires explanation. Cycling to work implicitly requires some sort of explanation. I was about to write that I don’t mean this as a value judgment, but actually I do – not about the writer, but about the society in which such a sentence is written. I do not think that such an explanation should be necessary.

  20. steve_a_dfw says:

    Perhaps saddest is the message behind the news. Any city installing a door zone bike lane values human life less than taxpayer-subsidized car storage.

  21. Ken C. says:

    Dooring is all the more tragic because it is preventable; drivers must take the few moments to insure doors can be opened safely. Your post indicated that the Nissan driver was cited. In the case of a fatality or serious injury, it would be more appropriate for the driver to be arrested, and charged with manslaughter. That old canard/excuse “sorry, Officer, I didn’t see the cyclist/pedestrian” should not be acceptable. Drivers have a DUTY to exercise normal care and be alert, and when they hit pedestrians or cyclists, they have not fulfilled their duty. Perhaps the bike paths are too close to the curb, or there are potholes/debris in the bikepaths, or it’s nighttime or rainy/foggy–the infrastructure/environment may be secondary or contributing factors; the driver is ultimately responsible for the safe operation of his or her vehicle. The Nissan driver failed in his duty, with fatal results, and must be held accountable.

  22. anniebikes says:

    I’m very saddened to hear about this again…Ugh. Poor Neill and his family.
    I think many of us have this fear of falling under a big rig’s wheels. I certainly do and wrote about it here on my blog.

    http://anniebikes.blogspot.com/2011/12/wiggle-room.html

    Please be very careful out there. It will take time, unfortunately, for tragedies like this one to have an overall effect on bicycle infrastructure. In the meantime, be as safe as you can, including hypervigilence, Always check your rear view mirror.

  23. [...] light of this sad post on Let’s Go Ride a Bike, I thought it would be good to share this infographic recently published in the Boston Globe on [...]

  24. This makes me tear up because I was hit by a car as well and they booked it. Chicago needs to enforce public and transportation safety. Same thing on my campus as well. This is getting out of control when it can be fixed.

  25. UkExpat says:

    If the bike lane isn’t safe, take the traffic lane. Yes, certainly we should press for safer cycling infrastructure and the accident is plainly the fault of the driver who opened their door into someone (thus breaking the law). However, as a defensive cycling measure it’s best to stay out of the door zone even if that means getting honked at. I know that’s easy to say and harder to do, but I also think hearing it from fellow cyclists makes it easier for us to stay firm about our own safety.

  26. spare_wheel says:

    Dooring and right hooks can be avoided by taking the lane. Narrow bike lanes and other deeply flawed infrastructure is producing a false sense of security that is leading to unnecessary tragedy. Until we have the money and will to build safe infrastructure, effective cycling skills are a must for cyclists in the USA.

  27. spare_wheel says:

    Dooring and right hooks can be avoided by taking the lane. Narrow bike lanes and other deeply flawed infrastructure is producing a false sense of security that is leading to unnecessary tragedy. Until we have the money and will to build safe infrastructure, effective cycling skills are a must for cyclists in the USA.

  28. Paul says:

    So sorry for this young man losing his life so tragically, When we ride we can not trust that others are looking out for us, I understand everyone’s anger, But I suppose each of us is the only one we can really trust when we ride, I feel so sad for Neill and his family, May God bless him and his family.

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