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Local cyclists see crash course

BY BENJAMIN TOWAR | FEBRUARY 12, 2015 5:00 AM

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Johnson County remained in the same gear last year in terms of bike collisions.

Recent data from the Iowa Department of Transportation Traffic and Safety Office revealed that Johnson County ranked second for the most bicycle collisions in the state, behind Polk County.

In both 2013 and 2014, the county accounted for 11 percent of all bicycle crashes in Iowa. Johnson County ranks fifth in the state in population.

With larger metropolitan areas such as Davenport and Cedar Rapids having more population, some area residents were left scratching their heads about why Johnson County surpasses such areas in bicycle-related accidents.

“Probably the simplest answer is that we have more bicycles,” said Mark Wyatt, the executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition. “Typically, college towns tend to have a higher frequency of bike accidents.”

Iowa City is no exception.

For many, riding bicycles to class proves much more time- and energy-efficient than walking, as well as being much more convenient and affordable than a car, UI student and bike rider Kiana Ihm said.

In 2014, Johnson County had 34 of the 313 bike crashes in the state.

Of the 313, 159 had minor injuries, 42 had major injuries, three were fatal, and three were unknown. The remainder was recorded as possible injuries.

Ryan Baker, the owner of World of Bikes, 723 S. Gilbert St., said residents come in for damages relating to car collisions a few times each month.

“A lot of responsibility falls on the rider,” Baker said. “How they are riding, where they are riding, if they’re riding defensively, it all depends … I see a lot of students riding with earbuds in,” noting that their focus is not on the street.

“There are two main things to tell us why we see a difference,” said UI researcher Cara Hamann, a University of Iowa postdoctoral researcher in occupational & environmental health.

She noted that is it’s difficult to tell just how many people are riding bicycles in Iowa City compared with Des Moines.

“Second is reporting bias … several people choose not to file a report when they get hit,” she said. “But in a place like Iowa City, there are a lot more people who witness the crash, so it gets written up.”

Hamann provides a perfect example of such an instance.

While an undergrad at the UI, she was hit by a car while on her bicycle, yet chose not to file a report to the police, who were also present.

“It could have been way worse,” she said. “But I had no serious injuries, so I didn’t press the issue.”

Safety remains the prime concern for everyone on the road. Hamann devoted years of her doctoral research toward how Iowa City could make streets safer for everyone, she said.

“Protective bike lanes are a good thing,” Wyatt said.

Both Wyatt and Hamann are pressing the community for safer and more efficient facilities for bicyclists, including more extensive bike trails, shared bike lane arrows, and “SHARE THE ROAD” signs.

Wyatt said he remains optimistic about the statistics.

“Crashes are going down,” he said. “We’re not trying to portray bicyclists as dangerous; we’re highlighting areas where there can be improvement.”


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