FORT COLLINS - Avid bicyclist James Fogelberg, 64, got off work and was finishing his routine ride in Fort Collins when a truck hit him.
Hours later, the husband and father of two was dead.
His wife, Eugenia Klagstad, didn't know what happened until the hospital called.
"It was a very normal day," she said, adding that she'd normally leave messages for him when he'd go on rides to find out when he'd be returning home to Boulder. "I hadn't gotten hold of him. He usually didn't answer me until he stopped riding."
The call came from Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, and she rushed there as doctors were trying to save Fogelberg's life. The result has devastated the family; life will be "black-and-white different," Eugenia said.
The driver of the pickup truck, Bradley Hansen, 50, was traveling westbound near sunset Oct. 8 on Harmony Road when police say he turned the 2004 Nissan Titan he was driving left into Fogelberg's path, at Hinsdale Drive. Police said charges were pending, but none had been filed by Tuesday.
With a surge in fatal motor-vehicle crashes before the one involving Fogelberg, the officer in charge of those investigations is "really swamped," Fort Collins Police Sgt. Joel Tower said.
From Sept. 11 through Oct. 8, the city had four crashes with fatalities. The one involving Fogelberg was the first fatal vehicle-versus-bicycle crash in Fort Collins since 2009. It occurred during a stretch of an apparent swell in bicycle crashes, with Coloradoan reporters sometimes visiting multiple scenes in a day.
"Our crashes are definitely trending up," city traffic engineer Joe Olson said. "What we don't know is whether it is less safe or whether there are more bicyclists on the road."
Climbing crash rate
The city's bicycle-crash rate hit 12.1 per 10,000 people in 2012. That's the highest yet and has been climbing since 2000, when the rate was 9.5 per 10,000, according to city data.
Tower said it's difficult to say why these crashes are happening.
"Sometimes it's the bike's fault; sometimes it's the car's fault," he said.
City data shows 57 percent of bike-car crashes are the motorist's fault and 43 percent are the cyclist's fault. In a quarter of crashes, both parties are at fault.
Clay Young, a captain with Poudre Valley EMS, said the setting sun could contribute to crashes. That appears likely in the case involving Fogelberg, as Harmony Road runs east and west.
While the investigation continues, police have indicated Fogelberg was not at fault. He was traveling with traffic in the bicycle lane. He was also wearing a helmet. And he had experience: He'd been in the Triple Bypass, a 120-mile road-bike ride through the mountains, five times, Klagstad said.
She declined to comment on whether Hansen should be charged, but she said motorists need to be aware of cyclists.
"Even if it was a total accident, there was still a fatality," she said. "And I think that people who claim that they don't see bicyclists - I just think that they're not driving well."
With its speed limits posted at 40 mph, Harmony Road has cyclists riding next to cars going substantially faster.
"You've got to be comfortable with what you're doing on a bike to transit on Harmony Road," Young said. "There's not a lot of room for error. ... Speed has everything to do with schematics and injury."
He also said he believes there are more vehicle-versus-bicycle crashes in Fort Collins than the records show. If the injuries aren't bad, he said the crash is usually only reported if a third party sees it and calls 911.
"People are in a hurry, so they just keep going," he said.
Platinum, but not perfect
The most common type of crash, representing 57 percent of cases, is when a vehicle and a bike collide at a 90-degree angle. For example, Emma Walton, 21, was hit while riding through a crosswalk on Prospect Road across the Timberline Road intersection on Oct. 16.
A Chevrolet Cavalier hit her, and she was taken from the scene with nonlife-threatening injuries. Police gave her a municipal citation for running a red light, a ticket that carries a $100 fine. The ticket, however, doesn't deduct points from one's driver's license because cyclists aren't regulated like cars.
"They should be operated like motor vehicles, and they should be treated like motor vehicles," Young said.
Young said the relative ignorance of some cyclists can be dangerous. Ambulances rushing to a scene, for example, must be vigilant for people wearing "urban camouflage" - black and gray - and disregarding stop signs, he said.
The city has taken numerous measures to make it safer for bikes and cars to share roads. There's a green box at Plum Street and Shields designated as bicycle-only, and bike lanes and road-line adjustments are part of the engineering effort. The city's robust approach to public education is illustrated on its website.
The efforts and the cycling culture central to life in Fort Collins have resulted in the city's enviable Platinum status with the League of American Bicyclists. Among the requirements of this recognition are for bike crashes to be limited to 50 per 10,000 daily commuters, with fewer than 0.02 fatalities. With a recorded crash rate of 12.1 per 10,000, the city appears to remain a relatively safe place to ride a bike.
In Fort Collins, the top bicycle-crash locations are City Park Avenue and Elizabeth Street, where 14 crashes were recorded between 2010 and 2012. College Avenue and Drake Road, as well as Shields Street and Drake, both recorded 12 crashes, according to the city.
In a study from 2007 to 2010, the most dangerous intersections for all crashes, ranked by the highest potential for costs and injuries, were Timberline and Harmony, Lemay Avenue and Harmony, and College and Horsetooth. Timberline and Harmony now has a traffic camera that results in tickets being mailed to motorists running through red lights. Olson said the city's working on an update to this information, taken from the city's 2011 Traffic Safety Summary.
Young offers a few tips for cyclists to avoid crashes:
- Wear a helmet.
- Don't ride against traffic on the sidewalk: That's the most likely way to get into a crash.
- Wear bright colors.
- Don't ride on College Avenue between Laurel and Harmony, because it's against the law. But don't even ride on the sidewalk. Take the Mason trail or Remington Street.
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