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Thomas Travers, 59, fatally struck while biking in on Milwaukee in Jefferson Park

The 5300 block of North Milwaukee Avenue, looking north. The wide, five-lane layout of Milwaukee in this part of town encourages speeding. Image: Google Maps.

I first learned of this case from a Sun-Times report.

Last Saturday afternoon, Thomas Travers, 59, was fatally struck by a minivan driver on a five-lane stretch of Milwaukee Avenue in Jefferson Park where speeding is common. He was the fifth person to lose their life while biking on Chicago streets this year.

According to the Chicago Police Department, on Saturday, July 24, at about 4 p.m., the Travis was biking northbound on the 5300 block of North Milwaukee. The motorist, a 70-year-old man, was heading southeast on Milwaukee.

Police said the driver, his passenger, and third-party witnesses told responding officers that Travers was riding against traffic and "weaving in and out of the bike lane" when the motorist struck him.

Traverse was transported to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, and pronounced dead at 1:20 a.m. Monday, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

According to police, the minivan driver was not cited.

Proposed layout of Milwaukee Avenue with protected bike lanes, north of the Jefferson Park Transit Center. Image: CDOT
A redesign of Milwaukee Avenue with protected bike lanes, north of the Jefferson Park Transit Center, proposed by CDOT. Image: CDOT
Proposed layout of Milwaukee Avenue with protected bike lanes, north of the Jefferson Park Transit Center. Image: CDOT

On this stretch of Milwaukee, north of the Jefferson Park Transit center, Milwaukee is generally a five-lane road, with four travel lanes and a turn lane, plus bike lanes. It has too much capacity for the number of vehicles it carries, which leads to speeding and a high crash rate. In the early 2010s, the Chicago Department of Transportation proposed implementing a road diet on this part of Milwaukee by converting two of the travel lanes to protected bike lanes, which would have calmed traffic.

At a community meeting on the plan in January 2014, CDOT staffers noted that in the previous five years there had been 970 crashes on this stretch, including one fatality and 17 serious injuries. They projected that the safety overhaul could could reduce crashes by 30 percent. However, due to a backlash to the proposal from local drivers, led by 45th Ward aldermanic candidate John Garrido, the road diet idea was scrapped, and the department simply converted the existing conventional bike lanes to buffered lanes.

According to @Suntimes the @Chicago_Police say the "man was weaving in and out of the bike lane."

Chicago law holds that a driver should "exercise proper precautions" when seeing a confused or incapacitated person on a roadway. #bikeCHI

— Mike Keating (@ILBicycleLaw) July 28, 2021

Despite the testimony that Travers was biking against traffic and weaving, if the road diet had been implemented, this tragedy might have been avoided. While we don't have information on how fast the minivan driver was traveling when he struck the cyclist, if speed was a factor in the crash, having fewer travel lanes would have encouraged the driver to obey the speed limit, perhaps giving him enough time to avoid striking the victim. And if Travers had been traveling in a curbside, parking-protected bike lane instead of next to moving traffic, he would have been out of harm's way in the first place.

Fatality Tracker: 2021 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on surface streets

Pedestrian: 10
Bicyclist: 5

Note: Streetsblog Chicago’s traffic death numbers represent fatal crashes on Chicago surface streets, based on media reports and/or preliminary Chicago Police Department data released by the Chicago Department of Transportation.

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