I feel the need to speak up about the crash because the court of public opinion (the JSOnline comments section) has already condemned the bicyclist—an amateur racer who probably was an experienced road rider—for being at fault, since he wasn’t riding on the nearby Glacial Drumlin Trail at the time. In WTMJ’s report about the crash, Town of Summit Officer Dana Hazelton said there normally aren't many bikes on the highway because of a nearby path specifically for bike riders: "There's actually a bicycle trail that's just south of Highway 18 that's probably 20 feet off the road that's made for bicyclists."
Officer Hazelton seems to imply that he should have been riding on the bike trail. Officer Hazelton may not have meant to say that, but it comes across that way. That assumption is wrong.
- First, the Law. Wisconsin State Statutes treat bicycles as vehicles, and therefore they are granted the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of any other vehicle. They are allowed to ride on state highways, and should ride as far to the right as practicable (not as far right as possible).
- Most serious cyclists don’t use recreational paths when they’re training. Why? Because there are a lot of different users on the paths: strollers, joggers, people walking dogs, bikes with kiddie trailers. That’s wonderful, but it’s a dangerous mix if you are trying to get your heartrate up. When you are riding over 15 mph, it’s hard to call out in time to warn people going 5 mph that you are overtaking them. It’s also scary for kids and dogs to be overtaken by a cyclist whizzing by them on the trail.
- The way that the bike trail is designed in that section actually compels people to ride on Highway 18 if they are coming or going to Dousman Road (a common cycling route). I was surprised that Hazelton said that there aren’t that many bikes on the highway at that point. Really? I have ridden that section several times (on both the road and the trail) and I’ve concluded that I have to ride on the road for that section if I am traveling between Wales and Oconomowoc. I spoke with several other cyclists and they agreed with me. Let’s take a look at the map, shall we?
Let’s say you are riding on a skinny-tired road bike west on the Glacial Drumlin Trail. When you get near Dousman, the trail heads north and east, skirting a cornfield, then heads back south, going through downtown Dousman. As it leaves the town, it becomes a crushed-limestone path. Because you’re on a road bike, you don’t want to ride on crushed limestone. You would like to continue on the road. Hwy 18 is really busy, but you could just ride it for a little bit, turn north on Dousman Road, and then ride along a lovely country road up towards Oconomowoc.
“Well,” you think.“This will be easy. I’ll just ride the trail until the intersection of Hwy 18 and 67, then hop on Hwy 18 for a mile until I turn on to Dousman Road”. WRONG. The way the trail is designed it makes this maneuver difficult. If you zoom in you will see that there is not a direct access from the bike trail to the intersection. So, it makes more sense to leave the trail at one of the access points along Hwy 18 (see white arrows), and ride on Hwy 18 until Dousman Road. And that’s just one example.As I look at the map, I see that cyclists would have to traverse this section of Hwy 18 if they want to go between Dousman Road and Waterville Road, or between Sawyer Road and Main Street in Dousman—all common bike routes.
One last thing. Drivers, please share the road with bicyclists. It sounds cliché. But really, it’s not unreasonable to ask that drivers wait to pass a cyclist until it’s safe to do so with the 3 feet of passing distance they need, just if they were overtaking a car, a slow-moving tractor or buggy, or passing a stopped police car. Drivers do this all the time. Why does it suddenly become an annoyance when it’s a cyclist?