How could death of Sam Bell, 2nd cyclist killed on Milwaukee in 2022, have been prevented?

Milwaukee Avenue and Huron Street, where Sam Bell was fatally struck Thursday, looking northwest. Photo: Lindsay Banks Bayley
Milwaukee Avenue and Huron Street, where Sam Bell was fatally struck Thursday, looking northwest. Photo: Lindsay Banks Bayley

Tragically, Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago’s busiest biking street, is also one of the city’s deadliest corridors for cyclists. Here’s a list of reported bike fatalities on Milwaukee in Chicago from the past two decades.

Sadly, a sixth name was added to that list yesterday morning. An elderly driver who failed to yield while making a left turn fatally struck youth mentor Samuel Bell, 44, as he rode an e-bike on Milwaukee at Huron Street in River West. He was the second person biking to be killed on Milwaukee in this part of town since 2016, and the second person killed on the avenue this year.

According to Police News Affairs, on Tuesday, September 8, at about 11:45 a.m., Bell was riding an e-bike southeast on Milwaukee towards Huron Street (700 N.) (A person associated with the Divvy bike-share program told Streetsblog they are almost certain the the bicycle Bell rode was not an electric Divvy.)

The southeast-bound bike lane has concrete curb protection at this location, and the spot where the bike lane crosses Huron is highlighted with green paint to remind turning drivers to watch out for bike traffic. Unlike the northwest-bound bike lane, the southeast-bound lane is not located to the right of parked cars here, so there are unobstructed sight lines.

Milwaukee Avenue at Huron Street, looking northwest. The green paint should have reminded left-turning driver to yield to bike riders. Image: Google Maps
Milwaukee Avenue at Huron Street, looking northwest. The green paint should have reminded left-turning driver to yield to bike riders. Image: Google Maps

According to police, a 79-year-old man who lives in west-suburban Forest Park was driving a Hyundai Elantra sedan northwest on Milwaukee when he made a westbound left turn onto Huron, striking. Bell. The cyclist suffered head trauma and was taken to Northwestern Hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 12:20 p.m.

The senior was ticketed for failing to yield the right of way while making a left turn, police said.

Diagram of the crash from the police report.
Diagram of the crash from the police report.

The traffic crash report provides more details on what allegedly happened. The driver told responding officers that Bell “came out of nowhere” and the driver tried to stop in time but failed. Again, the street design gave the motorist plenty of warning that a cyclist might be approaching, and provided a clear view of the bike rider.

According to the report, the driver told police that Bell flew off his bike and landed on top of the vehicle before falling on the ground. The motorist said the bike rider was talking after the collision.

The driver agreed to submit to DUI testing at the University of Illinois at Chicago Hospital and was taken there, the crash report stated. But several nurses told police the facility doesn’t do DUI testing. When officers asked the motorist if he would go to Rush Hospital for testing, he refused.

Ashley Huerta, the woman mentioned in the above tweet, told Streetsblog she was biking northwest on Milwaukee on her way home from the office and had just passed Huron when she heard the crash and sprinted to the scene, where she was the first bystander to arrive. Bell was lying on top of his cycle, which Huerta said was a Monday brand “electric motorbike,” near the front-right corner of the car. He was wearing a helmet and a backpack. She called 911.

“His eyes were open when I got there, and shortly after that they closed,” Huerta recalled. “His breathing was labored. He was gasping for air with long pauses, and then he stopped and I didn’t know what to do.” Other bystanders arrived on the scene, and firefighters quickly arrived, followed by an ambulance and police. Huerta said Bell’s right wrist looked broken, there were scratches on his face, and when first responders opened his shirt, she saw scratches and bruising on his chest.

Samuel Bell.
Samuel Bell.

What could have prevented a tragedy like this? Requiring skills testing for driver’s license renewal would help ensure that as people age, they still have the reaction time necessary to safely pilot a multi-ton, high-speed vehicle with blind spots. And clearly there should be more severe consequences for killing someone with your car through negligence than a simple traffic citation.

One bike advocate noted on Twitter that Milwaukee and Huron intersect at a soft, roughly 135-degree angle, which allows drivers to whip along the corner at high speeds. At some intersections on Milwaukee, like Belden Avenue (2300 N.) in Logan Square, the city has modified the junction with paint-and-posts, which can be eventually be upgraded to concrete, to create a 90-degree angle, forcing motorists to slow down. “All streets intersecting Milwaukee should be at right angles,” the advocate argued.

Aerial view of Milwaukee/Belden, and a Street View looking southwest from Milwaukee towards Belden. Images: Google Maps
Aerial view of Milwaukee/Belden, and a Street View looking southwest from Milwaukee towards Belden. Images: Google Maps

Streetsblog freelancer Steven Lucy noted that if the bike lane had been continuous and raised above the street level, a common scheme in bike-friendly countries, the motorist would have been forced to hit the brakes before crossing the bikeway.

Bell worked at Midtown Educational Foundation which helps low-income youth by providing educational assistance, teaching life skills, and doing outreach to parents. He also served as a board member for the organization. “Sam had some of the most amazing stories [about] these children whose brothers and fathers died due to gang violence,” his coworker and friend Kevin Klein told the Sun-Times. “He was able to work with these kids to keep them off the street and keep them on a good path.”

“Meeting these kids he mentored as high schoolers or sixth graders as adults, and seeing the impact he had on their lives and the regard that they held him in, was just so amazing,” Klein added. “He was so focused on helping others.”

Fatality Tracker: 2022 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on surface streets (including one scooter-on-sidewalk case)

Pedestrian: 22
Bicyclist: 8

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.

2022 Chicago pedestrian fatality cases (including one scooter-on-sidewalk case)

2022 Chicago bike fatality cases

  • On September 8, 2022, Samuel Bell, 44, was riding an e-bike southeast on the 700 block of North Milwaukee in River West when an elderly Hyundai Elantra sedan driver made a left turn onto Huron Street, fatally striking Bell.
  • On August 27, 2022, an SUV driver ran a stop sign and fatally struck Fengan Yan, 55, at 26th Street and Stewart Avenue in the Armour Square community.
  • On August 11, 2022, a van driver struck and killed Pablo Rodriguez, 55, near 99th Street and Avenue L in the East Side community and fled the scene.
  • On June 24, 2022, a cargo van driver fatally struck Joshua Avina-Luna, 15, near 62nd Street and Austin Avenue in the Clearing neighborhood
  • On June 9, 2022, a semi truck driver ran over and killed Elizabeth “Lily” Grace Shambrook, 3, riding in a child seat on the back of her mother’s bike at Leland and Winthrop avenues in Uptown. The mother was uninjured.
  • On May 4, 2022, a Nissan Versa sedan driver fatally struck Nick Parlingayan, 22, on his bike at Milwaukee and Kilbourn avenues in Irving Park.
  • On April 16, 2022, an allegedly intoxicated hit-and-run Volkswagen Jetta driver fatally struck Paresh Chhatrala, 42, near Madison and Peoria streets in the West Loop.
  • On February 28, 2022, a BMW sedan driver ran a red light at Balbo Drive and DuSable Lake Shore Drive in the Loop, fatally striking Gerardo Marciales, 41, on a Divvy bike.

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