JP Davis was once told by fellow bike-riders that if he wasn’t hit by a car, he wasn’t biking hard enough.
That theory came to fruition when Davis was struck by a car while riding his bike between Q and R streets on 13th Street at about 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 3. He tried to pass a car that was stopping for a pedestrian, but was hit when the driver proceeded to make a U-turn to pull into a parking spot.
“In my situation, it was determined that both the car and I were at fault,” said Davis, a freshman journalism major and photographer for the Daily Nebraskan. “I tried to pass on the left and the car turned left, passing over a solid yellow to get to a parking spot on the left side of the road.”
Based on what he knows from riding his bike on the road, Davis said drivers will try and circumvent the laws to get to where they want as fast as possible. He said most cyclists know their burden to be extra-aware of their surroundings because of their vulnerability to car drivers who aren’t paying attention.
“When I bike I usually try to be as focused as possible on whatever is happening in front of me, on either side of the road, and to make predictions on what those people are going to do so I can work around it,” Davis said. “In this situation, I simply got distracted.”
While both parties in Davis’ case may have been distracted, other situations prove how attentive cyclists are when riding.
In the spring of 2013, a car hit UNL alumnus Caleb Uerling while he was riding on a bike trail. And although Uerling had the right-of-way, he was ticketed for the accident because he didn’t ride his bike across the crosswalk.
“I knew of the law but I didn’t think it pertained to bike trails,” Uerling said. “I didn’t think I was going to be at fault because he had the red light, and I had the green light. But Lincoln has a city ordinance that you can’t ride your bike at a crosswalk. So even though he had a red light, I received a ticket for it.”
Uerling said it’s important for cyclists to know biking laws if they’re going to ride on the streets. Oftentimes when cyclists are hit, they are at fault for it, even if they are the ones who receive the injury.
While some states have laws that require bicyclists to wear helmets, Nebraska’s helmet safety laws differ by region. Uerling said he was wearing a helmet when he was hit, and he always wears a helmet.
But many casual cyclists will opt to not wear helmets because they don’t think they’ll get hit, and in Davis’ case, he wasn’t wearing one because he didn’t think they were aesthetically pleasing. With the Centers for Disease Control consistently reporting that cycling is one of the leading causes of concussions in young adults, Davis said not wearing a helmet is something he isn’t risking anymore.
“My dad picked me up from the hospital, and we went straight to the bike shop and bought me (a helmet),” Davis said. “Getting into an accident like this is the only thing that will encourage some to start wearing a helmet. I think this happening has – no pun intended – knocked some sense into me, and encouraged me to ride more carefully in the future.”
According to Lincoln Police Department reports, as of Oct. 31, there have been 125 total bike and car collisions reported to LPD so far in 2014, and 107 of those included injuries.
During the 2014 year, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department has responded to four calls regarding bike accidents, and UNLPD Sgt. John Backer said accidents don’t typically happen during more severe weather, but rather happen at random. He said they are usually happening in places where there’s the most movement on campus and where vehicles and cars change direction. In the past, they have been concentrated in places where cars and bicycles meet, such as parking lot exits and at the end of driveways.
“Vehicle versus bicycle accidents are most often due to distracted driving or failure to yield to right of way,” Backer said. “The laws with bicycles sometimes aren’t very well known. If a person is riding a bicycle on a street they are required to abide by every traffic rule, so they’re actually held to the same rules and laws, but unfortunately that’s not always seen in the behavior of bicyclists.”
Backer said that UNL is looking into ways to separate car, pedestrian and bike traffic, but these discussions are still in early stages and part of a future plan for campus.
Uerling, who was on the cycling team and regularly traveled to other cities for races, said many places that are of comparable size to Lincoln have substantially more established cycling infrastructure.
While Davis understands the accident was partially the cause of him being distracted, he said it’s part of a larger issue of not having a safe place for bicyclists to ride. He said there’s animosity coming from both cars and pedestrians towards bikers, and the lack of bike lanes on campus and in Lincoln for cyclists frustrates him.
“I get so bummed out every time I see bikers on sidewalks bumping into pedestrians and such, especially on campus,” Davis said. “I think a lot of bikers are afraid to ride on the road, and adding more bike lanes would get bikes off of sidewalks and away from pedestrians, as well as on the road but away from cars.”