The story of a kid whose helmet saved his life, why road cyclists are in danger, and how we can work toward solving the issue.
By Savannah Cottam —
Nickolas Jensen’s Story
On October 17, 2023 around 7 am, 14-year-old Nickolas Jensen, was riding his e-Bike to school when a SUV came speeding down the wrong side of the road.
Nickolas recalled, “All I remember is a car coming towards me and I couldn’t see. I was going so fast, like 20 mph. I had to make a quick decision where to go so I swerved over, and it was so fast I hit a parked car. I broke my knee cap, did something to my ACL, broke my nose and got stitches in my upper gums, chin, and lips.” Showing no remorse, the driver sped off without stopping.
Luckily, a neighbor drove by a few minutes later and helped Nickolas get home to his father’s house, where he knocked on the door dripping with blood. They rushed to Intermountain Medical Center and have been working towards Nickolas’s recovery ever since.
Nickolas’s dad, Erik, reflected, “It was a nightmare; it keeps going through my head and makes me physically react. The helmet was the difference between planning a funeral. The incident occurred on Oakledge Road, a neighborhood with no bike lanes and unnecessarily wide roads. Cars go too fast”.
Nickolas told me, “I’m scared to get back on my bike because I’ve almost gotten hit a lot of times.”
Unfortunately, this is a reality that all cyclists face. Nickolas says, “People should pay attention and there should be bike lanes. They could put in speedometers, slow down speed limits, and put in more bike lanes.”
Nickolas’s dad Erik Jensen writes in an email, “We are canvassing the neighborhood to see if you have any possible video footage of a white SUV with possibly a Brighton High school parking pass on Oakledge, October 17th that you can share with us. Please reach out to me @ 801-205-1811.”
Are road cyclists in danger?
According to the Utah Crash Summary of 2012, “Between 2003 and 2012, 7,283 crashes involved bicyclists, with approximately 660 injury crashes and five fatal crashes involving bicyclists each year in Utah.”
With Utah’s growing population and popularity of cycling these numbers are on the rise. “Nationally, nearly 1,000 bicyclists die and more than 130,000 are injured in crashes on roads every year,” according to a recent article in Utah Stories magazine (“Number of Cycling Accidents in Utah Increases”).
The week Nickolas got ran off the road, one child was critically injured and another was killed, both by being hit by cars on Fort Union Boulevard, a major street in the Salt Lake Valley.
It seems like I hear about a new crash every week. I wanted to get perspective to see what changes should be made.
I reached out to Jen Cottam, a candidate in this year’s Cottonwood Heights, Utah City Council election. Jen says that one reason she ran was because she recognized the transportation issues in Cottonwood Heights.
[Disclosure, Jen Cottam is related to Savannah Cottam, the author of this article. Note that the interview has been edited for clarity.]
What prompted you to run for city council?
Jennifer Cottam: My son got hit-and-ran [sic] off the road while biking on two separate occasions. I went sliding across the pavement after crashing on a dug-up bike lane. I started replaying all the things that had happened just to my family. Then I saw the kids wheel chairing [sic] to school and I’m like, how’s that for them? I recognized our streets were unsafe and it was an issue so I started going to City Council meetings to urge them to implement action. The reaction was crickets. I thought, I’m gonna through my hat in the ring and see what happens.
What changes need to be made so cyclists can feel safe?
JC: “The United States Department of Transportation has a Safe Systems Approach called Safe Streets For All (SS4A). It’s a standard that transportation planners should use in road design to protect all modalities of travel. A lot of it is slowing traffic on the roads down and putting in traffic calming features where it’s too fast. You can do some of that pretty inexpensively. Paint is cheap.”
“So, let’s say there is a problem of people cutting through Oakledge to get to Creek Road, then the city can narrow the road with paint so drivers feel it is tighter as they navigate the road. For instance, by painting a 5-foot bike lane in each direction, it takes away a lot of the road for cars. Then, if the city implements a speed limit of 20 mph, it is tight enough that a driver’s natural reaction is to go slower.”
“You have to put things in the street to make people aware. Our city currently prioritizes getting cars to their destination fast. If infrastructure for cyclists is not there, then they don’t feel safe and stay off the roads. With fewer cyclists on the roads, it makes it more unsafe for those who do ride, it’s a spiral effect. It’s things like that that the city has to budget for.”
To sum up
After conducting these interviews, I have concluded that in order to make our roads safer, it is important for cyclists to take personal responsibility by wearing a helmet, being well lit, and maintaining their bikes. We have to slow down traffic on our roads and give cyclists a safe place to travel, because expecting drivers to be aware of cyclists simply is not working.
Statistically, if cities are able to get more cyclists on the road, it becomes safer for those riders. In fact, this is even more important than cyclist safety gear. In order to improve cycling infrastructure, let your voice be heard, vote strategically, and get on the road.
- Jensen, David E. “Number of Cycling Accidents in Utah Increases.” Utah Stories, 16 June 2023, utahstories.com/2023/04/number-of-cycling-accidents-in-utah-increases/