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Fort Collins strives to reduce bicycle collisions

The Coloradoan: Fort Collins strives to reduce bicycle collisions

Bike racks on ambulances accommodate crash victims

Oct. 15, 2011 

Bicycle crashes are so common in Fort Collins that ambulances are equipped with bike racks.

About 22 percent of all severe and fatal traffic crashes in recent years involved a bicycle, and the cyclist most often was at fault, according to reports from the city of Fort Collins.

"I've noticed a lot of cyclists that take a lot of risks, and it drives me crazy - as a cyclist and a motorist both," said Andrew Mitchell, 25, a cyclist on the mend. "Not only is it reckless, but it gives everyone a bad view of cyclists."

Mitchell, an assistant brewer commuting to his job at Funkwerks, broke his leg last month after he ran a red light in Old Town. He was being "overly cautious," watching a pickup in the next lane that appeared to be driving aggressively, and his attention was diverted from the light, he said.

As the cycling way of life continues to grow in Fort Collins, David Kemp, the city's bicycle coordinator, said infrastructure improvements and education aim to address safety issues between motorists and cyclists. The police department's patrol captain said traffic laws are being actively enforced for bicycles as well as motor vehicles, but more resources are needed to help with cycling issues.

Mitchell said he would like it if yellow lights lasted longer, but responsibility usually is on the cyclists.

"I think people know (the rules)," he said. "The biggest thing is people blowing lights, and people know better."

A report from the city shows bicycle crashes made up 4 percent, or 585, of traffic crashes between 2007 and 2010. But they are the largest share, 22 percent, or 38, of severe/incapacitating injury and fatal crashes in the study.

The next most-common crash types were right-angle and approach-turn, both at 16 percent; crashes involving pedestrians were 9 percent.

"I've had some pretty seriously injured patients from auto-bike wrecks: multiple fractures, a guy dragged by a car (with an) abdominal cut," said Wyandt Holmes, spokesman for Poudre Valley EMS.

He said that each year, a "spike" in bicycle wrecks is noticed "right as we turn our clocks back from daylight savings time (Nov. 6)."

"It seems that the evening commuters aren't used to the darkness, and the bicyclists are less visible," Holmes said in an email.

Enforcement, education

The most common type of bicycle-involved traffic crash occurs when a motor vehicle broadsides a bike, when the cyclist is riding illegally against traffic on the sidewalk or crosswalk.

Fort Collins Police Capt. Jim Szakmeister said there are no police officers dedicated full time to bicycle enforcement, but the Old Town area has had more enforcement during daylight hours.

"We've had a 300 percent increase from last year to this year as far as bicycle enforcement, because we dedicate an officer or two down there to do foot patrol and necessary intervention," he said.

Szakmeister said people often ask for more bicycle enforcement, but there aren't enough resources.

While "hundreds of people" continue to ride bikes on the wrong side of the road and ignore other laws, "you can't be everywhere all the time," and motor-vehicle enforcement usually takes priority, he said.

Fort Collins has had three bicycle traffic crash fatalities since 2007. The most recent was in August 2009, when ]Urangua "Sisi" Mijiddorj, 14, collided with a vehicle at Drake Road and Iowa Drive. The driver did not face criminal charges in connection with the crash.

"Three fatalities within four years is too high," Kemp said. "We're working toward zero deaths in our roadways."

The city's Bicycle Safety Education Plan 2011 describes plans to decrease bike crashes by 25 percent in 2012 and 50 percent in 2013 relative to 2009.

Objectives include resolving traffic conflicts and increasing bike lanes, bike trails and more.

Bike boxes, a colored area at a signalized intersection that allows cyclists to pull in front of waiting traffic, are intended to reduce conflicts with motorists. One was installed at Shields and Plum streets across from the CSU campus in June, and more could be coming.

The intersection at Shields and Elizabeth streets is the site of a higher-than-normal concentration of bicycle-related traffic crashes. Kemp said that is being addressed.

"At this point, it's rather a free-for-all," he said. "There's not an orderly fashion at which (cyclists are) instructed and encouraged to get east and west."

Kemp said the city is examining a "host of options" with Colorado State University to improve the safety there.

"A number of things go into it. It's almost like a puzzle," he said.

The city offers several ways to increase awareness of bicycle laws, and a variety of information regarding bicycle and other traffic issues is available at www.fcgov.com/traffic. Pre-sentations are available through www.healthylarimer.org/ bpec.shtml.

Poudre Valley EMS recently started a Bicycle Emergency Response Team of paramedics and EMTs deployed to special events to help with quick emergency response. The team is involved with safety classes and helmet-use education.

Holmes said proper helmet use is "key" for protection when riding a bicycle. However, when helmets are used they must be worn properly to avoid injury.

A uniquely Fort Collins service

In the past year, Poudre Valley EMS has added front-mounted racks for two of its ambulances to remove a crash victim's bicycle from the scene.

If one of those ambulances isn't available, the bike is locked at the scene until another ambulance picks it up.

Szakmeister said the service helps police, who might be busy investigating the crash, and it's a convenience for those injured who don't have to pick up the bike later at police headquarters.

Holmes said the racks serve to help people who end up at the hospital, which is part of the same company. The service was started after a number of homeless people were finding their bikes to have gone missing after a mishap.

But bikes ranging up to $3,000 have been moved on the ambulance racks.

The racks are carried in the ambulance and affixed when needed. Often times, a separate ambulance will carry the bike.

Pridemark Paramedic Services, which provides ambulance service in Boulder, Arvada, Wheatridge, Littleton and more, is one of the state's largest providers. None of its ambulances have bike racks.

"We take our patients and we get them transported, and we leave all that stuff to local law enforcement," Pridemark spokeswoman Courtney Morehouse said. "We don't take or keep patients' belongings unless they get lost."

Days after Poudre Valley EMS treated and transported Andrew Mitchell to Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, he picked up his bike from the ambulance service.

He said it is in the shop after sustaining extensive damage. But in the next few months, he anticipates he will be healed enough to again be spinning his way to and from work.