Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bicycle/Car Crash in Dousman

This is so sad. Brett Netke leaves behind a wife and three young kids, and surely many friends in the cycling scene. The driver is only 20 years old and will have to deal with the anguish of knowing that the car he was driving killed another human being, and with the trauma of replaying the scene in his mind over and over again.

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?


  1. I would have to whole- heartedly agree with your views. While Officer Hazelton may have mis-spoke it certainly sounded like an indictment of the cyclist.
    In general, I would tend to think that 95% or better of serious cyclists know and abide by the rules of the road. While some may not abide by them all the time, they certainly know them. In this case, I believe that Mr. Netke was, just as you said, on a training ride.
    I know exactly where you are talking about and yes, it is hard to not ride on 18 there. I prefer the roads over trails for just that reason. I have had close calls as well but overall, I feel safe as a cyclist.
    Now if only we could get the non-riding public to practice some patience just as they would when passing a patrol squad or any other slower moving transportation that has a legal right to share the road? God bless you and your family and may you rest in Peace Mr. Netke.

  2. Not to sound presumptuous, but what do you think the chances are that the driver was either A. On the phone, B. Texting or C. Just not paying attention?

  3. I'm really disappointed by the entire situation and hope that ONLY good things come from something so horrible. My heart goes out to not only the family but to other cyclists like myself that have stepped off the road for a bit. This truly hit close to home and the moods of people commenting on the accident are harsh and disturbing. I have had multiple close calls lately and I hate to admit it but I am so scared to ride the road in general. Every time I head out alone, I am constantly spooked and holding my breath by drivers who do not respect the 3 feet law.
    A friend Steve Donaldson started the organization CARD, Cyclists Against Reckless Drivers and its so sad to see how many cyclists die weekly from being hit by cars. When can one throw their arms up in the air and scream ENOUGH IS ENOUGH ! I suggest any cyclist join his group and unify to put an end to these said headlines day after day.

  4. Thanks Kate, I will have to take a look at the link you provided. Now another cyclist has been killed in Brookfield! I am down in Dayton, Ohio at the moment and just heard this through a friend last night.
    Through further research, I see that it was on Bluemound near Brookfield Rd.? Now Bluemound is a BUSY road, but that still does not excuse someone getting hit. My heart goes out to the family and the cyclist.
    I have started riding on the trails more around here but there are some nice roads to the north of where i am but I am staying off the roads for a while as well. I am normally out in the East Troy/Elkhorn and Burlington areas if I ride on the road.

    As far as the three-foot rule is concerned, it needs to be publicized much more through PSAs on the radio and television and fines/penalties along the lines of those for road construction zones.

    For the lady that hit and killed the triathlete and severely hurt her training partner to only get two years? That is crazy after leaving the scene and trying to get her friend to help cover things up! The judge should have penalized her to the max and set a precedent! If i were to act that foolishly and irresponsibly, I would expect the same!

  5. I think that a lot of people just assume all bikers should be on the trails when they are available. They just seem to think all bikes are the same and all riders are at the same skill level. All serious bikers that I know prefer to ride on the roadways because they are guaranteed a hard surface and because they are going so fast they wouldn't feel comfortable riding on a trail. Anyone who has ridden the Glacial Drumlin Trail or the Fox River trail knows that there are all kinds of people using the trail from people walking with headphones on to roller bladers to little kids riding slowly with their family. Having a person cruising through the trail on a roadbike would be a recipe for disaster.

  6. That is 100% accurate. The "recreational trail" does not only mean bike trail. Its sad that people just assume riders should be using it. You never see people just go to a swimming pool to dive and do cannonballs.... you can do laps too. Or should the lap swimmer be in with the aqua exercise group or the kiddie lessons ? For some reason, probably never to be understood, drivers have an issue with sharing the road. Its not just bikes either, it could be for farm equipment, police officers on the road, construction workers ...you name it. Its a sense of entitlement that comes with your license plate I guess. I didn't get one, did you ?

  7. If people want to put an end to these headlines and feel 'enough is enough', I think more than joining a group or Facebook page is needed. In the matter of Brett Netke, why are people not writing letters to the police department to make sure appropriate charges are filed against the driver? Why not join forces and find ways to educate the police and public rather than be frustrated with comments people make or lack of action that seems to be occurring?
    People came together in herds during the 60's to protest, or do whatever it took to create change. Now, we have allowed drivers to scare us from riding on the roads? I think cyclists need to stand their ground, somehow, and find ways to go face to face with police, individuals in government positions, etc.

  8. Fleeinggypsy: Excellent point. One way to make sure Mr. Netke's death was not in vain would be to redouble our efforts to educate drivers and law enforcement officials about the rules and rights of the road.

    One of the things I hope that the Waukesha Bicycle Alliance has time to do in the coming year is work on that very issue.

  9. It is always upsetting to have so much aggression aimed at cyclist. Even when there aren't accidents, many motorist think it's OK to buzz cyclist. There are some great points made, but I think there's one other thing to consider. Education needs to start before a driver's license is issued. Maybe making a non-motorized class part of the curriculum that leads to a driver's license would make sense. The class should give first-hand experience on the roadways for students as bicyclist, runners, and walkers. If a potential driver learns what it is like riding on the road, I think they will be less likely to be careless around cyclist and other users.