Bike Safety An Issue In Wellington, And A Focus In Essay Contest

The winners of the 2024 Public Safety Art and Essay Contest were honored by the Wellington Village Council on Tuesday, May 14. Photo courtesy the Village of Wellington

Wellington High School junior Lucas Saenz said he learned the hard way the consequences of not wearing a helmet while riding on a bicycle.

While in the country of Colombia in 2017, he wound up in a hospital unable to remember precisely what put him there after biking helmetless with friends, he wrote in an essay. Saenz’s essay was honored by the Wellington Village Council on Tuesday, May 14 among other 2024 Public Safety Art and Essay Contest Winners.

“I don’t know exactly how it happened because I hit my head and forgot most of the events from that day,” Saenz wrote. “While at the hospital, I would wake up confused, asking my parents questions such as: ‘What happened to me?’ or ‘Why am I at the hospital?’”

He recovered, but not everyone has been so fortunate when it comes to cycling within the boundaries of Wellington itself.

Pedestrians and bicycles were involved in 21 of Wellington’s 132 collisions resulting in death or incapacitating injury in the 10 years ending in 2022, according to an analysis by consultants working on the village’s Vision Zero project. That’s about one in six.

“We really need to focus on that,” said Ruta Jariwala, a principal with California-based TJKM Transportation Consultants, at an April 18 workshop with Wellington Village Council members.

The goal of Vision Zero is to have zero traffic deaths or serious injuries in Wellington by 2030. Project organizers expect to present the council with recommendations in the coming weeks, from education programs to specific road or crosswalk improvements, with many tied to planned applications for grants from agencies or groups outside the village.

Bicycles, in particular, were part of almost one in 10 fatal or incapacitating-injury crashes in the village, records show. Bicyclists span a larger age range than car or motorcycle drivers, from younger children to adults to senior citizens.

The issue comes up when people in Wellington are asked about what kinds of crashes worry them and need addressing. Nearly 40 percent of residents’ comments on a program web site concerned pedestrians and bicycles, behind motor vehicles with 62 percent.

Saenz, the first-place winner in the high school essay category, noted that wearing a helmet does not guarantee a bicyclist will escape harm, but cited research showing it tends to spread the impact of a hit over a large area and “can be the difference between life and death in some instances.”

Another Wellington High School junior, Ryan Ranjiv Balliram, called helmets the “main priority” in his second-place essay.

He wrote, “Biking is the most enjoyable mode of transportation, as it is eco-friendly, and has become an integral part of many urban landscapes, including Wellington.”

Still, navigating bustling roads requires a “commitment to safety,” he said.

Motorists can play an important role themselves, by maintaining a safe following distance, allowing room to maneuver, and remaining mindful of cyclists in the area when parked and opening car doors.

Camila Diaz, a third grader at Binks Forest Elementary School, drew a picture of a young bicyclist near a crossing guard and speech balloons saying, “Did you know helmets save more than 1,800 lives a year? Bravo!” That won first place in the elementary school art category. Luciana Vivas Sanchez, in the fifth grade at Binks Forest, took second.

Other winners included Scarlett Kirk, in the seventh grade at Western Academy, and Ethan Barrett in the eighth grade at Emerald Cove Middle School in the middle school category.

For high school art, 11th grader Danielle Baig took first and Malle Manriquez claimed second, both from Wellington High School.

More than 250 submissions were made for the various contests. Winners were chosen by Wellington’s Public Safety Committee.