Pointing to a number of fatal crashes in 2010, bicyclists in Wisconsin will lobby Tuesday for a vulnerable user law and tougher penalties against offending motorists.
About 200 advocates are expected to meet with legislators as part of the third-annual Bike Summit organized by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, the largest cycling advocacy group in the state. Their agenda for the lobbying session also contains state money for bike and pedestrian paths and access to land purchased through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.
The bikers will have several cases to cite - crashes that killed cyclists - as they argue that the current traffic laws provide inadequate penalties for motorists who commit a moving offense that seriously injures or kills a biker.
In Waukesha County, a 20-year-old driver who hit and killed Brett Netke, 42, while he pedaled on Highway 18 in the Village of Summit was cited for failing to yield three feet of clearance while passing. Samuel Weirick did not contest the citation, and paid a $114 fine.
In Brown County, authorities issued a ticket for an improper left turn to the 39-year-old who hit and killed Reinhold Herzog at a rural intersection in the Town of Wrightstown on Aug. 24.
According to an accident reconstruction, Herzog was stopped in the southbound traffic lane on Blake Rd., waiting to cross Hwy. 96, when the eastbound driver, Todd Gilson, turned his Ford F250 northbound and smashed into the 73-year-old man. Gilson cut the left-hand turn so short that he hit Herzog left of the centerline, according to an accident reconstruction.
Gilson was reportedly distraught after the crash, and told a sheriff’s deputy the sun was in his eyes and he didn’t see Herzog before he hit him.
The reconstruction specialist wrote: “Based on the evidence, I believe the primary factor that contributed to this accident was the improper left turn of Todd Gilson onto Blake Rd. The sun may have been in his eyes, but if he had made the proper turn by statute, this accident would not have occurred.”
Gilson was issued a ticket for an improper left turn, with a fine of $175, but the citation was dismissed on March 22, on a motion by Thomas Coaty, an assistant district attorney in Brown County.
On the same day, Gilson pleaded guilty to a drunken driving offense he committed four months after he killed Herzog.
His fine on the drunken driving ticket was $723.
Online court records show that in previous years Gilson paid a $176.90 fine for parking where prohibited and $273 for driving too fast for conditions. In 2000, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 18 months in probation for a battery in 2000.
He paid no legal penalty for killing Herzog.
Still pending in Waukesha County is the case of Jeff Littmann, 56.
A motorist struck and killed the popular bike shop owner, who was riding on Wisconsin Ave. in Nashotah. No charges or citations have been issued, and the case remains under review by the Waukesha County District Attorney.
“People who bicycle have been killed on our roadways and there has been for all intents and purposes no penalty assessed,” said Kevin Hardman, executive director of the Bike Federation. “We’re looking for reasonable ways to create higher accountability for operators on the roadway.”
In New York and Delaware, vulnerable user laws impose tougher penalties for motorists who strike and injure bicyclists, pedestrians, roadway workers and others specified in the statute. Penalties vary from state to state, but typically carry fines up to $1,000 and require violators to complete traffic safety courses.
Hardman said the members of the Bicycle Federation have been talking to legislators, seeking sponsors for a bill in the state.
In recent months, legislators have been focused intensely on the budget debate, and little progress has been made on the vulnerable user proposal.
The Bike Fed also plans to lobby on the budget: asking legislators to maintain the $2.5 million in state money dedicated to bike and pedestrian paths. The state support was included, for the first time, in the 2009-’11 biennial budget.
Gov. Scott Walker eliminates that spending in his budget proposal for 2011-’13.
A third issue on the lobbying agenda is the access to state land purchased through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program. The program does not specify biking as a use on property acquired through the conservation program, and the sport is excluded, in some cases.
Lobbying is one element of the daylong summit in Madison.
Wisconsin Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett will speak at the opening session starting at 9 a.m. in the Madison Concourse Hotel. During workshops throughout the day, advocates will share ideas on the bicycling business in the state, building local organizations and securing money for cycling projects.
Andreas Rohl, the head of bicycle programs in Copenhagen, Denmark, will deliver the keynote address Tuesday at 6 p.m.. In Copenhagen, Rohl has helped create one of the world’s best cities for bicycling as transportation.