On a warm afternoon late last month, Debbie Zimmerman’s 16-year-old daughter went out for a bike ride. Zimmerman’s daughter had ridden the path through Springbrook Prairie many times before.
On that April afternoon, Zimmerman received a phone call no parent wants. A car had hit her daughter. After spending nearly two hours in the emergency room, Zimmerman brought her daughter home. But, weeks later, her daughter is still recovering from the accident.
With summer on its way and the warm weather bringing out more cyclists and runners, Zimmerman wants drivers and cyclists to be more cautious and aware when they are out riding on Naperville’s streets or paths.
“I can't tell you how frustrated and sad this whole situation makes me,” Zimmerman said.
The driver who struck Zimmerman’s daughter was ticketed for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk and failure to provide information, said Sgt. Gregg Bell of the Naperville Police Department.
The woman was not cited for a hit-and-run, though she did leave Zimmerman’s daughter. Bell said the woman asked if the teen was OK before leaving and offered to give her a ride. Zimmerman said her daughter was not about to take a ride with someone who had hit her and who she didn’t know.
The fact that someone hit her daughter and left without knowing if the girl would be OK incensed Zimmerman. Since the accident she has heard from many more friends who reported they have also been hit while cycling.
Zimmerman’s daughter was going westbound on the path when she was hit while crossing at the intersection of Book Road and 75th Street. The car that struck her daughter was turning south onto Book Road and hit her head on.
While some may think getting hit from behind while cycling is the dominant type of crash, Ed Barsotti, executive director of the League of Illinois Bicyclists, said that kind of accident is actually fairly rare.
The accidents more likely to occur are those like Zimmerman’s daughter encountered, he said.
“Accidents occur more at intersections and the reason for that is bicyclists may not be expected or may not be visible,” Barsotti said. “If someone is biking off road, if their route is against traffic they are more likely to get hit. But the average person doesn’t think that.”
Cyclists have to be predictable when riding and they need to follow the rules of the road, he said.
“You have to ride your bike as if you are driving a car,” Barsotti said. “You have to be predictable. If you are riding in a predictable pattern traffic adjusts to you fairly well.”
Motorists may not stop at the stop line at an intersection and may not notice a cyclists or a pedestrian trying to cross, he said.
Two other main mistakes motorists make are the right and left hooks, he said. The right hook occurs when a motorist speeds around a cyclist and then turns right in front of them, often underestimating speed. The left hook happens when a motorist is turning left in front of an oncoming cyclist that is going straight. They end up coming toward each other and the motorist turns left into the path of the cyclist.
“What we see is that both bicyclists and motorist have to learn a lot about coexisting,” Barsotti said.
Coexisting on the road
Cycling through Naperville is for the most part a pleasant experience, said Todd Stocke, a local cycling advocate. Until recently Stocke was involved with the city’s Bicycling Pedestrian Advisory Committee, which the city has recently eliminated.
The trickiest spots for riders in town are anywhere key trails meet major roads, Stocke said. He said there is a history of accidents taking place at Book Road and 75th Street, he said. Other areas where bike versus vehicle accidents often occur are at The DuPage River Trail crossings at Hobson and Bailey roads, and especially the newer crossing at Washington (just north of the river).
Though there is a lot of signage, the bike and pedestrian crossing at Book Road and 87th Street continues to be a spot where accidents take place, he said.
“The dangers at each of those spots are almost always with turning traffic,” Stocke said. “Cars turning left rush to an opening only to find themselves face-to-face with legally crossing pedestrians or bikes. Right turners look left for cars but not at bikes or pedestrians right next to them. And right turners that fail to stop before the intersection, instead rolling right into the crosswalk (they're always surprised that someone might actually be in that crosswalk).”
Not all of the accidents are caused by motorists alone, Stocke said.
“The dangers can just as easily be caused by cyclists and pedestrians, most specifically by those who fail to use marked crossings, or fail to obey signals. Those riders give the majority of us a bad name,” he said.
A new danger
As if it weren’t enough for cyclists to keep an eye out for drivers and vice-versa, Stocke said there’s an even bigger concern on the roads: Driver’s who text.
“As a cyclist, I used to think drivers on cell phones caused the biggest risk to me,” Stocke said. “They've been replaced by drivers who are texting. Invariably the cars that don't keep their lanes, that swerve unpredictably, and that roll intersections have something in their hands (and it ain't the steering wheel).“
Nearly two weeks after her daughter’s accident, Debbie Zimmerman is concerned about her daughter’s recovery. She has memory lapses and has been seeing physical therapists twice a week for rehabilitation.
She wishes the city of Naperville was making more of an effort to be pedestrian- and bike-friendly, particularly outside of downtown. She said she believes the motorist who hit her daughter got away with minor citations.
Zimmerman said part of the problem could be the way people in Naperville talk on the phone, text and rush around all the time.
“Maybe everyone just needs to take a deep breath and watch the world around them,” Zimmerman said. “Keep people safe this summer. Leave 5 minutes early and be prepared to stop and wait. If everyone took a few minutes to be a safer driver, think of the difference it would make to our 'kid-friendly' city.”