Beth Russell can frequently be found traveling the Monon Greenway through Hamilton County, even though it’s where she had a near brush with death.
The Carmel resident was bicycling south across 191st Street in Westfield on July 27, 2019, when she was struck by a pickup truck driven by a man who told police he never saw her coming. She suffered a shattered pelvis, punctured right lung, a broken collarbone, head trauma, extensive road rash and other injuries.
But before long, she was back on the Monon as a pedestrian. And less than a year after the accident, she pedaled along it once again.
“I did make myself bike last summer, and I was super-duper cautious,” said Russell, 53. “I was like, ‘I’ll be darned if I’m going to let something keep me from doing something I love.’ Am I going to do it as much as I used to? Probably not. But I will make myself at least do it.”
Russell said she has always been careful to follow the rules and stay safe on the Monon, which is why the accident caught her by such surprise. But that’s why she wants to share her story — to remind community members to be cautious, because accidents can happen to anyone.
“You need to be in charge of what you’re going to do. Don’t bank on anybody stopping for you,” she said. “It’s like crossing a street in your subdivision. If there are cars coming, if you step out in the middle of the street, you’re going to get hit. I think because (the Monon) is a walking, running and biking path, people assume that they’re safe, but they’re not. There’s no good solution.”
A closer look
Hundreds of people use the Monon Greenway at various intersections each day in Carmel, and accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians or bicyclists have been rare. According to information from the Carmel Police Dept., five accidents occurred in 2017; two in 2012; one in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2020; with no accidents reported in 2013, 2014 and 2016.
On the stretch of the Monon in Westfield, four accidents involving pedestrians or cyclists were reported in 2020, three were reported in 2019 and one was reported in 2017. There had been none reported this year as of May 28.
But for Dr. Tim Hannon, a member of the Carmel City Council, with the city’s focus on improving pedestrian opportunities and the rapid growth near the Monon Greenway, he believes it’s only a matter of time before the number of serious accidents increase.
It’s a concern he’s had since long before being elected to the council. An anesthesiologist and Navy veteran who has studied aviation and patient safety, he’s witnessed more than one accident and many close calls from his home near the Monon Greenway.
“As we continue to move toward more high density and population, the statistical chances of flesh meeting metal, so to speak, increases every year,” Hannon said. “There’s a compelling need to get in front of it, because statistically we’re more likely with each passing year to have those serious accidents. One of the primary goals of safety is not to be reactive and wait until we have fatalities. It’s to anticipate and prevent them.”
Hannon said he’s had some initial conversations with some other councilors and city department heads about creating a task force or similar group to take a systematic look at how to improve safety at all of Carmel’s intersections, not just along the Monon. He would like the group to work with an independent consultant to do a comprehensive review of the city’s crossings and develop best practices for each of them.
“The issue is both vehicle behavior and pedestrian behavior. That’s why this needs to be a very comprehensive, systematic approach to looking at this that needs to involve the parks department, streets department, engineering department, alternate transportation, as well as citizen input,” he said.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said the city engineer’s office looks into the circumstances regarding pedestrian accidents in town but that there aren’t many because the crossings are already designed to be safe.
“The biggest challenge is getting people on the trail to follow the signage, but everybody should slow down and be careful,” he said. “We don’t have serious accidents at our crossings.”
‘We are so lucky’
As for Russell, she believes it’s a miracle that she has completely recovered from her injuries, and the experience has strengthened her faith and appreciation for one of Carmel’s most-used amenities.
“We are so lucky (to have the Monon),” Russell said. “I want people to continue to enjoy it, but I want them to be enjoying it and knowing, ‘Hey, I’ve got to be extra-cautious when I come to the intersections.’ That’s all.”
Who has the right of way?
According to Indiana law, pedestrians are required to stop at intersections — vehicles are not. However, once a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, cars must yield.