Jennifer Rygg was riding her bicycle west on Second Street east of the Canal Route when it happened.
As she was riding in the far right lane, a big blue truck “kept inching me over into the curb,” Rygg said. “I was literally pounding on the side of the truck, trying to get him to recognize I was there.”
But the driver, who was on his cellphone, was “completely oblivious” to her and eventually moved ahead of her and turned right at Hydraulic, Rygg said.
“I don’t think he ever knew I was there,” Rygg said. “I almost went under his wheel” when he turned in front of her.
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Though it happened in 2008, the near-miss remains vivid in Rygg’s mind and returns to her thoughts whenever she hears about a biking friend who has been hurt in a collision.
That’s happening more and more lately, she said.
Spike in collisions
Police records show collisions between bicycles and vehicles have spiked more than 37 percent each of the past two years in comparison to 2013.
There were 97 such collisions in 2014 and 96 in 2015, compared with 70 in 2013.
There were 88 vehicle-bicycle collisions in 2012 and 80 in 2011.
“You just look at absolute numbers, and it’s ‘whoa,’ ” said Scott Wadle, a senior planner with the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department.
Given the surge in bicycle riders in Wichita over the past few years, Wadle said, the rate of bicycle-vehicle collisions is actually probably dropping – though no hard data is available yet.
“That’s kind of a tough thing for us to get at right now,” Wadle said.
The total number of people in Wichita who use bicycles to commute is still so small, the statistical margin for error is larger, he said.
Rygg and other bicycle riders say the statistics provided by police don’t tell the whole story, because for every collision reported, there are probably four or five that are not. They go unreported because the rider wasn’t hurt or is too embarrassed to make a report.
“Your numbers of people getting hit are increasing because people out there biking is on such a huge incline right now,” Rygg said. “Every year we get more and more cyclists.”
More bike lanes coming
There are now more than 100 miles of bicycle lanes and pathways in Wichita, according to city officials. That number has jumped by one-third in the past two years alone.
More lanes will be added this year:
▪ From Kellogg to Mount Vernon on Market and Topeka
▪ The “Green Street Bikeway” from First Street to Wichita State University
▪ The “Woodchuck Bikeway” from University near Ridge Road to the Sedgwick County Park
▪ Along Ninth Street from McLean Boulevard west past West Street
Wadle said he hopes the bike lanes lead to fewer collisions. Still, he said, with growing numbers of bicyclists in the city, it’s clear that more safety education work is needed for motorists and cyclists alike.
“I think it’s definitely something we need to work on, absolutely,” Wadle said. “We’re going to look towards opportunities for more outreach and greater education efforts. Citizens have told us that’s something they want to see happen.”
Cyclists at fault, too
A review of the circumstances surrounding recent collisions shows about half were the fault of the cyclist, Wadle said.
“Everyone is going to have to understand what the rules are so they feel more comfortable,” he said.
Among those rules:
▪ Motorists cannot drive down the bike lane at any time.
▪ If motorists are turning right through a bike lane to access a side street or a driveway and a bicyclist is in the lane, Kansas state law stipulates the driver can make the turn only when it is reasonably safe to do so.
▪ If drivers are parked in a space to the right of the bike lane, they must check to see whether a cyclist is coming down the lane before opening a vehicle’s door.
▪ Bicyclists are expected to follow the same traffic rules as cars. They must signal turns and stop at all stoplights.
▪ Cyclists are allowed to ride on sidewalks except in the Central Business District. It’s common, however, to see cyclists using sidewalks along Douglas in downtown Wichita.
The city is distributing free bicycle headlights, taillights and warning bells to Wichitans to improve safety, Wadle said.
The Wichita Street Safety Education Initiative introduced in November has a bicycle education component, including a reminder that motorists need to allow for at least 3 feet of clearance when passing a bicycle.
‘You can never be too safe’
All of these measures are good, bicycling enthusiasts say, but more needs to be done.
“As riders, we need to wear high-visibility clothing – not just high-visibility but a color combination,” said Ruth Holliday, owner of the Bicycle Pedaler at 330 N. Rock Road. “We have to be a little more on the cautious side.”
Holliday refuses to carry black clothing at her store because she doesn’t want riders to be hard to see in the dark.
Cyclists must have a front headlight and a taillight on their bikes. But Holliday encourages riders to also buy lights that go on wheel spokes and to buy even riding pants with reflective dots on them. As cyclists ride, the moving dots will catch the eye of a motorist.
“You can never be too safe,” Holliday said.
Holliday and Mike Scanga say distracted driving is a major factor as well.
“The texting is just terrible,” said Scanga, owner of the Bicycle X-change at 908 W. Douglas.
He often notices cars weaving downtown, he said, and it’s because the drivers are texting.
Scanga said he hopes the advent of bicycle lanes will make the streets safer for cyclists. Lanes downtown were first installed on First, Second, Market and Topeka last fall.
“This spring will be really interesting to see what happens,” said Wadle, the city planner.
Lane redesigns coming
Already, Wadle said, city officials are recognizing the need to redesign the bicycle lanes at Central and Market and at First and Washington because of driver confusion.
“There’s a little bit of a learning curve for people driving,” Wadle said. “There’s also a learning curve for how we design these things.”
Rygg, who is on the board of a local organization called Bike Walk Wichita, pointed to a problem at First and Broadway as well.
“They think it’s a turn lane,” she said of the bike lane at the intersection. “It’s not. There’s a lot of education that needs to happen.”