A "ghost bike" was set up at the scene of the accident on Summit Av. east of Snelling where Virginia Heuer-Bower lost her life Saturday morning. Ghost bikes are painted white and left near the scene of an accident to commemorate a cyclist who lost his or her life in a traffic accident.
As Rodney Scroggins rode his bicycle to work along Linden Avenue just north of downtown Minneapolis two weeks ago, he was hit by a motor vehicle. His next stop was Hennepin County Medical Center, where he remains in serious condition, being treated for a dislocated shoulder, broken bones and other injuries.
Scroggins' is one of the more serious bike-crash injuries doctors at HCMC have seen this year, and they have seen their share. Through July, the hospital admitted 88 bicyclists after crashes. By the time data for the final two months of the summer are in, the total is expected to surpass the 115 the hospital saw in 2007. There were 77 bike-crash-related admissions in 2003, 90 in 2004, 79 in 2005 and 84 in 2006.
With biking becoming more popular for transportation and exercise, and with cities upgrading bike paths and adding bike lanes and bike racks, more people are opting to pedal and leave the car at home. A recent U.S. Census report showed that about 7,200 -- or 3.8 percent -- of Minneapolis residents biked to work last year, up from about 4,840 -- or 2.5 percent -- in 2006. The report listed Minneapolis as the fastest-growing city in terms of bicycle commuting.
But that increase in popularity has come at a cost.
"It's up quite a bit from previous years," Greg Kassmir, data manager for HCMC's trauma services department, said of the injury tally.
Spotlighting the danger is the fact that four bicyclists died just in September as a result of collisions with motor vehicles. Jimmy Nisser, 65, of St. Louis Park, was killed when he was hit by a vehicle along Excelsior Boulevard near 32nd Street on Sept. 11. Dale Aanenson died Sept. 22 in Blaine. Nicholas Hector Fabio Morton, 18, of Minneapolis, was killed while biking last Tuesday on 5th Street near Nicollet Mall. Virginia Heuer Bower died when she was hit while riding Saturday on Summit Avenue in St. Paul.
North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale has seen an increase in bike-crash injuries, too, with a record 50 victims from May through August, compared with 28 last year.
"We have never treated this many bike-related injuries in one summer," said Alison Pence, of the hospital's injury-prevention program.
Regions Hospital in St. Paul said that the number of people treated in its emergency department for injuries suffered in bike-car crashes is up 30 percent from last year -- 61 cases from January through August.
Except for Regions, those numbers include only those treated for major injuries -- broken bones and internal and head injuries. Regions also included more minor scrapes, cuts and sprains.
More bikes on the road mean more potential for accidents, said Julie Philbrook, of HCMC's trauma services department. "People are now riding for transportation," she said. "People didn't used to ride downtown, and drivers are not looking for bikes. But bicyclists need to play by and follow the rules of the road."
So far this year, Minneapolis police have responded to 208 bicycle-vehicle crashes -- 187 involving injuries to either the bicyclist or driver, according to Don Pflaum, city transportation coordinator.
"Everybody needs to pay more attention," Pflaum said. "A lot of crashes can be avoided."
Pflaum said cyclists should follow traffic laws. He also recommended that they wear helmets and reflective clothing and use lights.
The helmet message was loudly echoed by emergency room physicians.
"A helmet can turn a tragedy into a temporary inconvenience" said Dr. Brent Asplin, director of emergency medicine at Regions.
Motorists also need to watch their speed and "expect to see bicyclists," said Pflaum.
Among the more alarming statistics is that there have been 47 hit-and-run accidents involving bikes and motor vehicles in Minneapolis this year. Police are still looking for the drivers who hit Nisser and Scroggins.
Statewide in 2005, the Minnesota Department of Health recorded 614 injuries resulting from collisions involving bikes and motor vehicles, including 471 in the seven-county metro area. In 2006, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 581 crashes statewide and 432 in the metro area.
"Biking is dangerous," said Dr. Rob Reardon, who works in HCMC's emergency room. "You don't have to be going very fast to get hurt or have a severe head injury. It only takes a split second to change your life."
Staff writer Josephine Marcotty contributed to this report. Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768