A bike crash Aug. 11 near the Royal Farms on Route 1 is the latest of a score of incidents involving bikes and motor vehicles. In the latest crash, a 24-year-old Polish woman was seriously injured and flown to Christiana Hospital for head trauma. She was struck while riding her bike north along southbound Route 1 at the same time that a Chevrolet Tahoe exited the Royal Farms parking lot while checking traffic heading southbound, police say.
Crashes like this in which bicyclists are traveling in the opposite direction of traffic and are not seen by merging drivers until it's too late were the focus of a Delaware Bicycle Council meeting Aug. 7. During the meeting, members heard a report by Richard Klepner, a bicycle council member and employee of the Office of Highway Safety, who presented an analysis of crashes this year involving bicycles and motor vehicles. His map showed four incidents in the downtown Lewes area, but the majority involve the Route 1 corridor, running from the Five Points intersection to the Forgotten Mile. Seven occurred in downtown Rehoboth.
Up until the Aug. 11 accident, only one of the crashes was serious – a collision on East Savannah Road in June when a cyclist was later flown to Christiana Hospital for a head injury. The rest of the incidents – 44 total – are listed as minor, involving possible injury or no injury. Klepner said he had no information on crashes involving only bicycles or pedestrians, or on crashes on the Georgetown-Lewes bike trail, but he said he would look into those incidents and provide information at a future meeting.
So far this year in Lewes, 21 people have been involved in crashes involving cyclists and vehicles, close to matching totals for the entire year in 2017 and 2018. Using data from police reports, Klepner said Aug. 7 there have been 19 crashes; one involved a vehicle and two bicyclists. In 2017 and 2018, Klepner said, there were 23 crashes, while the five-year average is about 10 a year.
“There are more weekend riders who are being hit, and they may not know the rules,” he said.
The Delaware Bicycle Council is looking into safety along Lewes' new bike trails following concerns raised by Lewes bike riders and pedestrians over trail etiquette, and a rise in traumatic bicycle injuries reported by Beebe Healthcare. In July, Dr. Kevin Bristowe, Beebe's medical director of emergency services, said Beebe's emergency department treated 11 patients for traumatic injuries from May to the end of June – more than double the four cases reported for the same time span in 2018. Bristowe said significant injuries included head trauma, bone fractures, and organ lacerations, all of which can be more severe depending on age. “Several injuries have been so severe they have required transfer to a level 1 trauma center,” he said.
Beebe spokesman Ryan Marshall said one of the injuries occurred on the bike trail; three were in Lewes; three in Rehoboth; two unknown locations; and one each for Milton, Millsboro, Dagsboro and Selbyville.
Compared to 2018 traumatic injuries through the end of July, current numbers have balanced out.
Marshall said this year's numbers for traumatic injuries from May to Aug. 11 have not been finalized, but so far there have been 14, compared to nine for about the same time period in 2018. Total bike injuries reported for the similar time frame in 2018 were 91 compared to 83 in 2019.
In July, more than 100 people concerned with bike safety on the Lewes bike trail met with officials at the Lewes library. Residents shared stories of near misses, reckless behavior and uncertain rules on the new trails.
After reviewing the map provided by Klepner, which shows no incidents on the bike trail, members of the bike council expressed concern over the Route 1 corridor.
“Route 1 lights up like a Christmas tree,” said James Wilson, council member and executive director of Bike Delaware, adding Route 1 should be the focus for bike safety.
“If we can redirect just a fraction of the passion and energy that people feel about the new trail, we can make some progress on reducing serious bicycle crashes on Route 1,” he said.
Along Route 1 where the majority of crashes were reported, bicyclists are allowed to ride on sidewalks, but they must be aware of traffic when crossing roadways, said Tom Hartley, chairman of the Delaware Bicycle Council.
“If you don't see the driver's eyes, then they don't see you,” he said.
A driver looking to merge into traffic in one direction is not looking for bike riders riding on the sidewalk in the opposite direction, said Lewes resident Bruce Kauffman.
“I plead with people never to ride the wrong way,” he said. “If you get on the sidewalk, make eye contact with the driver.”
For the next council meeting, Klepner said, he will get bike-related injuries reported by Beebe Healthcare and look into other information to analyze crashes specifically on the bike trails.
The Aug. 7 council meeting was officially canceled because only four members attended, not enough for a quorum, but Klepner presented his findings to council members who attended and about 10 audience members. The date for the next meeting has not yet been scheduled.