Many Wisconsin municipalities prohibit adults from riding bicycles on sidewalks, largely to protect people walking at slower speeds.
You could hurt them, or kill them.
Johnny Boschma learned that on May 6, when he allegeldy ignored the law in Beloit – and basic bicycling rules – and crashed into a 58-year-old woman walking on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. According to police, Boschma hit Deborah Ambrose-McDonald about 1 p.m. on Friday, May 6. She died from her injuries a day later.
Police fined Boschma $187 for operating a bicycle in a prohibited place – the sidewalk along a busy downtown street with restaurants, shops and angle parking close to the storefronts. A police official said they would not pursue additional charges against the 18-year-old.
That closes the law enforcement chapter of the tragic case, but the lessons learned from the death of Ambrose-McDonald should be lasting.
Adults should not ride their bicycles on city streets crowded with pedestrians, except in circumstances where it’s the only safe option. West State St. in Beloit offered Boschma a wide and relatively safe alternative to the sidewalk.
Second, when riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, put pedestrian safety first.
“He’s the one who should have been really diligent and careful,” said Beloit Common Council President Dave Luebke. “Why wasn’t he in control of his bike?”
Luebke had another thought when he first learned of the death: cities need to provide safe places for people who chose to ride bicycles. Bike lanes would make streets safer for people driving cars, riding bikes and walking, he said this week.
“The answer is for cities and communities to be cognizant and to think about bike lanes when they design and build roads,” said Luebke, a retired high school principal. “It has to be built into the planning.”
There are no immediate plans to add a bike lane to W. State St. in Beloit, and Luebke said that he has heard of few problems with people riding bikes on the sidewalks.
Ambrose-McDonald’s death appears to be a very rare, and isolated case, but one that should serve to guide people to be more aware of the threat they pose to others when using the roads.
The Wisconsin Bike Fed promotes that message through the Share & Be Aware Program, in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The basic laws and rules of the road can be found on the Share & Be Aware page.