22.4.14

FTFY Bike Crash Journalism #1

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[Note: this is the original version of the story that appeared in the Star Tribune. The newspaper made some interesting changes, which I have detailed at the bottom.]

Minneapolis bicyclist in critical condition after accident crash at Snelling and Summit


A 51-year-old Minneapolis bicyclist faces life-threatening injuries after being struck by an SUV on Saturday morning in St. Paul.
The man underwent surgery at 3:30 p.m. at Regions Hospital in St. Paul and was in critical condition Saturday night, said St. Paul police Cmdr. Matt Toupal, who wasn't wearing a kevlar vest.
He was biking west on Summit Avenue into the intersection of Snelling Avenue about 7:30 a.m. when the driver of an eastbound SUV turned left onto Snelling, Toupal said. As the SUV turned, it struck the bicyclist, who wasn't wearing a helmet, Toupal said.
The SUV driver, who wasn't paying enough attention while driving, called 911 after the collision, said St. Paul police Cmdr. Steve Frazer, who wasn't wearing reflective clothing, and the bicyclist was taken by ambulance to Regions Hospital.
The bicyclist's name has not been released pending notification of family.
Frazer said it was unclear whether the driver or the bicyclist was at fault, though the bicyclist was in a bike lane. He said the driver was not taken into custody, and authorities were piecing together how the accident happened.
"It would appear this whole thing is a horrible tragedy predictable given the dangerous design of the intersection," Frazer said.
Frazer said he didn't know how many people were in the SUV at the time of the accident or how fast it was going when it hit the bicyclist.
St. Paul police spokesman Howie Padilla said the driver wasn't intoxicated or impaired in any way.
St. Paul police and the St. Paul Fire Department assisted at the scene.

Update:
 A more recent version of the story include the following graphs... 
The intersection has two lanes in each direction on the main road, then service roads on either side. Summit also has bike lanes.
[...]
The bicyclist was at some point in the bike lane, but not necessarily when the crash occurred, the commander said.
The intersection is already the site of a white “ghost bicycle” memorial in remembrance of Virginia Heuer, who died after an early morning crash in September 2008 when she was struck by an SUV turning out of a service road onto eastbound Summit.
[...]
The intersection is a critical artery in both directions with Macalester College on the southwestern corner. The Twin Cities Marathon also passes through on Summit as runners make their way to the Capitol. The roadway is popular for bikers, walkers and runners throughout the seasons
At the time of the accident, the sky was overcast but the roads were dry and in good condition.
Police haven’t released the name of the bicyclist pending notification of his family.
Frazer didn’t rule out that a citation could be issued or charges filed in the future, but also said the incident could have been “truly accidental,” a “sad coincidence” of place and time.
The Star Tribune's changes are all big improvements, and call attention to the role that street design played in this "accident." Perhaps most notably, Olson and her editors removed any reference to helmets from the piece!
Contrary to popular opinion, bike helmets are not required by law, and they do not have a convincing safety record. See former Minneapolis bike coordinator Shaun Murphy's recent Commentary (in the same paper) for a sensible take on the great helmet debate: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/255245771.html
Props to Rochelle Olson and editors at the Star Tribune for adopting a more nuanced and informative approach to reporting bicycle crashes.

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