Road Cycling

‘We are people’: Spate of cyclist deaths in Indianapolis spurs demands for change – The Indianapolis Star

World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims came at a somber time this year for cyclist and pedestrian safety advocates in Indianapolis, who held a candlelight vigil at Lugar Plaza Sunday.

The pain of the loss of Frank Radaker, a biking community staple, less than a month ago is fresh. By nonprofit Bike Indianapolis’ count, he’s the city’s seventh cyclist since mid-July to receive a fatal blow from a car. In each of the previous six years, the city recorded between one and five fatal crashes with cyclists, according to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization’s crash dashboard.

About Frank Radaker: Cyclist was patient, passionate fixture of biking community

So the two dozen cyclists, helmets on heads or in hands, held onto a moment of silence for seven minutes Sunday evening.

“I think it will feel too long,” Bike Indianapolis marketing director Sylva Zhang said as she set a phone timer. “But this was too many deaths.”

The organization is calling for more timely and transparent means of understanding the scale of the problem.

Specifically, it is asking the city to: establish a crash response team of city-county employees and independent citizens to examine crash sites involving cyclists and pedestrians and recommend preventative infrastructure and policy improvements; respond to these recommendations with plans; and create a database of crash data and reports immediately after they are submitted.

City-County Councillors Ali Brown and Crista Carlino attended the vigil to listen. 

“I am learning from our cycling community about what direct action we can take to make their rides safer,” Brown said. “I appreciate Bike Indy and the community for being so forthright and honest about what they need to be supported.”

City engineers do currently review all fatal crashes with the police department’s traffic investigators looking for potential infrastructure changes, a Department of Public Works spokesperson previously told IndyStar. Bike Indianapolis is pushing for a team that includes councillors and residents.

City spokesperson Mark Bode said multiple city agencies work on promoting safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, through infrastructure improvements, police traffic enforcement campaigns and through the Indianapolis Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, which includes local advocates. 

“We are open to continued conversation on how to enhance these efforts,” he said.

Before the pandemic, the city hovered between 20 and 30 pedestrian deaths a year due to car crashes. That figure jumped up to 42 in 2020, a 70% increase from the year before.

Crashes in which cyclists are killed are far less frequent in the city, a range of 1 to 5 in a given year between 2015 and 2020; however, in 2021, Bike Indianapolis has counted seven cyclist deaths by aggregating news reports.

Fatal car crashes in which drivers are killed have risen, too, by 80% from 45 in 2015 to 81 in 2020.

Alice Avidor shared her experience biking on Mass Ave. and getting knocked off her bike when the driver of a pick-up truck sped up to make a left turn. She escaped without serious injury, but for bumps and bruises.

“I was beyond lucky,” she said. “I don’t see this as a blame game. Instead I see this as an urban design issue.”

Advocates argue that narrower streets with pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, like bollards and bike lanes, can help save lives by creating more visual queues for cars to slow down.

Read:Washington Street fatal crashes spark debate: Is road design to blame?

“We’re not out to be a nuisance,” said Courtney Hawk, who bikes on errands and socially. “Every stat is a person. We are people.”

Contact IndyStar transportation reporter Kayla Dwyer at kdwyer@indystar.com or follow her on Twitter @kayla_dwyer17