Most people who ride bicycles in Brevard County will never know the two deaths of the first week of May 2014. Sixty-five year old Michael Kaier was riding his vintage red Trek 330 south bound on Fiske Blvd. the first day of the month when hit from behind. Seven days later his fate was repeated on US #1 in Malabar. David O’Haver died May 7th in a similar crash though for a different reason. Their loss followed the near death of a triathlete six weeks earlier. All three were hit from behind, known to be the most deadly form of bicycle/vehicle collision.
The Michael Kaier crash exposes the incredibly poor road design and maintenance in Brevard County. Kaier was on a route often favored by riders cycling between Rockledge and the County government center in Viera.
The Fiske Blvd I-95 overpass is on this route and part of the very popular Sonic and Bagel Shop weekend group rides. These are fast group rides with experienced cyclists following the southbound route. They now pass a ‘ghost bike’ chained to a post reminding of the tragedy at 1:50 pm on May 1st.
The Fiske Blvd overpass features a wide, very adequate shoulder for both solo rider or group as it descends to a traffic light. There vehicles can turn left onto a ramp to I-95. But just before the light the wide shoulder disappears leaving riders with a sliver of shoulder less than 12″ forcing a shift abruptly into the vehicle lane.
Complicating the situation is the clump of concrete that apparently fell from a construction vehicle years ago forcing riders even further into the vehicle lane at the base of the decline near the traffic light. The police report includes this section of narrative:
“For unknown reasons, NM01 (non-motorist 1) left a direct path of travel and turned left to cross the southbound lanes of travel as V01 (vehicle 1) was passing alongside…NM01 was ejected off the bicycle and collided into the left side windshield…”
I’ve done the Sonic and Bagel rides dozens of times and know how riders are forced left. I ask the question, ‘how is it possible for anyone to not realize Michael Kaier was simply responding to a disappearing shoulder and a clump of concrete’? How did the investigating officer come to such a nonsensical conclusion? Kaier was not turning left and was not trying to cross the southbound lane! There is nothing on the other side of the road except the ‘on-ramp’ to I-95. He was riding just as riders have done for years, forced to ‘take the lane’ when the shoulder disappears or an obstruction comes in view.
It can easily be argued the driver was startled by the quick shift by the rider and unable to react in time. There is a solution and that is a painted ‘sharrow’. These are bike symbols with two chevrons indicating a bicyclist has the need and right to take the lane. If the driver on May 1st had seen this symbol as she approached the narrowing pavement she might have anticipated what Mr. Kaier was about to do on his Trek. These symbols are needed in so many places to avoid calamity.
Days later and fifteen miles south, 56 year old David O’Haver was riding his black Gary Fisher Tassajara mountain bike on US #1. At 4:35 pm he was hit from behind.
“D01 lost control of V01 which departed it’s travel lane and struck a pedalcyclist. He lost control of V01 due to a diabetic episode and was so incoherent that he drove 3.3 miles from the crash scene before coming to a stop after wrecking V01 for a second time.”
For Brevard cyclists it became the deadliest week.