Thursday, September 3, 2015

Please Don't Kill Me

"Please don't kill me..."

It's a plea I make every time I cross an intersection while riding my bike. Whether in a protected shoulder or designated bike lane, I am acutely aware of the dangers still present to myself as a cyclist sharing the road with motorists.

What I am even more acutely aware of is the blatant callousness with which many drivers regard the value of my life. Whether simply not looking both ways before making a right turn, pulling out well past a stop sign and in to an intersection I'm entering, or maliciously tailgating and honking at me for being in the road, the streets are a dangerous place for those who choose to navigate them on two wheels.

Please, please don't kill me, or any of my friends on bikes. It shouldn't have to be stated, but apparently it does: we are humans with lives, families who love us, and dreams we want to accomplish. The 10 seconds it takes out of your trip to slow down behind me before you pass me is not cause for vehicular manslaughter.

I have been involved in two wrecks since beginning to ride. Thankfully, both were relatively minor. The first, I was in a bike lane heading through a green light, and a car turn right after only looking left for oncoming traffic and not right to check the bike lane. I flipped over his hood and landed in the street. My handlebars bent and I broke two fingers. The driver stopped and immediately apologized, but possibly only because another woman stopped her car and jumped out to ensure he didn't flea the scene, as she witnessed the incident and knew I was not at fault. I assessed myself, knew I was "ok," and left the scene after talking with him about the importance of being aware of cyclists in the road. It could have been worse, but it wasn't.

The second was just yesterday. I was on my now much more expensive bike (it's worth almost what my crappy car is worth!) and riding once again in a designated bike lane. Traffic was backed up at a red light, but I pedaled forward, as my lane was clear. When the light turned green, traffic began moving and as I came up next to a city bus, it drifted in to my lane. To avoid being hit by a bus, I moved to the right, catching my tire on the edge of the curb and taking a nice long slide on my right side along the concrete.

I lay there on my side after dragging my bike in to the grass and out of the road and at least 30 cars drove right by me without stopping. The bus (which likely never even saw me) did not stop. The guy walking down the sidewalk where I lay bleeding did not stop. While my bleeding cuts and scrapes hurt, what caused my tears was that not one single person cared if I was OK or not. 

I assessed my bike, noting a few scrapes in the shifter and brake lever, as well as my rear derailer, but the groupset still worked fine, the brakes were good after I twisted it back to the right position, and my tires and wheels were fine. I was, mechanically speaking, in OK shape to get the hell out of there. I got back in the bike lane and pedaled the last 8 miles to work. At least there, our secretary and CEO were worried that I as hurt. At least off the road and in an office, there were people who asked if I needed to go to the hospital (I should have just in case, but I didn't.)

At least off my bike, bleeding, covered in road rash, and gritting my teeth to fight off tears (Ironmen don't cry!), I was seen as a human being in pain. As a person worthy of compassion and concern.

My fiance, understandably shaken by me being involved in yet another accident, begged me to stop riding. "It's you on a bike versus a bus or a truck or a car. You aren't going to win. I know you're passionate about sharing the road and cyclists having rights, but I don't want you campaigning for it from a wheelchair."

These words are coming from a man who races cars at upwards of 200mph. Who has gone unconscious after wrecks, who could be trapped in a car on fire. Who puts himself in danger for the hobby he loves, and is infinitely more terrified of me doing the simple act of riding a bicycle.

As I rode the rest of my way to work, I mentally screamed and shouted at every asshole thing I've heard people say. I imagined myself setting straight the jerks I see dumping their diesel exhaust on cyclists (who are on the shoulder and not in the way!), or tailgating someone just trying to pump their way up a hill, or making ignorant, callous comments on social media.

Well, you say, cyclists should just stay on the sidewalk. 

No. First, this is so so incredibly dangerous. Drivers do not expect cyclists to be there, they do not look, they pull out across sidewalks to get a better view of oncoming traffic. It is illegal for cyclists to be there because we are considered vehicular traffic. I top out at almost 40mph going down hill- I could kill a pedestrian on a sidewalk if I hit them at that speed. A car would most certainly kill me if they cut me off across a sidewalk.

Bikes are in the way, I swear I'd just ram them if it weren't illegal. 

I've actually done the math on this. When I leave my home I go one mile down a county road before I reach a road with a shoulder for me to ride on. When a car comes up behind me, if they're not immediately able to pass, they average 10 seconds or less behind me while oncoming traffic passes before they can go around. 10. Freaking. Seconds. That's enough of your precious, entitled time to negate the worth of my human life? There is absolutely nowhere you need to be where 10 seconds will make a difference. What terrifies those of us on bikes is that this is common thought- not all drivers, but so, so many of them. Not only do I need to worry about negligence, texting drivers, distracted drivers, but also just plain, disgusting malice and disregard for my self as a person.

Is this how people feel when they come up behind a tractor (common where I'm from!) Or a hearse, or when they have to slow for police or ambulance responding to the road? Would you just ram a senior citizen who is trying to drive slowly and more carefully as they are also terrified of aggressive drivers like you?

I don't have to share the road, I pay taxes on it with my car, bikes don't.

Uh, yea bud, I pay taxes too. Thanks to incredibly poor transportation infrastructure in this country, there are a minuscule amount of people who can use bikes as their only mode of transportation. I drive a car. I pay for gas. I have just as much a right to that pavement as you do. The number of wheels under me makes no difference.

Cyclists are just a bunch of law-breaking jerks, so it's their fault if they get hit.

Riiiight, because you have never once gone over the speed limit, rolled through a stop sign, changed lanes without signaling, or broken any other traffic laws. When I see one car do it, it does not mean all cars do it. When I ride, I go out of my way to over-emphasize my abidance of traffic laws because I KNOW some people are literally looking for an excuse to write me off as roadkill. There are lawbreakers out there who man all types of vehicles, but statistically, it is motorists breaking the laws, and it is the breaking of these laws that takes lives. 

I could go on, but currently I'm very sore and mentally exhausted. There are many campaigns out there doing a better job than me, including Pass Them Like you Love Them, and Austin's Please be kind to Cyclists

Circulating currently online in cycling circles is this excellent article on what you are legally able to do as a cyclist if you are involved in an accident.   Triathlete Magazine share it and it was heartbreaking the dozens of accidents people discussed, just in the comments section. Almost no one who rides a bike regularly makes it out unscathed. The article is great because it calls us, tough triathletes and cyclists, scientifically proven to handle pain better than most  to action, reminding us that just because we feel fine at the moment, we need to take steps to protect ourselves just in case it turns out we aren't. After my accident yesterday, I called the non emergency number and filed a report, as well as reported it to Capitol Metro, just in case I woke up the next day with more injuries than I was aware I had. I documented my injuries and damage carefully, dating and timing everything.
My poor, horrified coworker snapped this for me. Road rash sucks. 

This is so important to do, especially if you're in a hit and run situation. Gather the information you can, flag down witnesses, take pictures, take action. Of course, some of us aren't lucky enough to be able to do that. A well- known case in Austin is that of firefighter Colin Camp who was hit by a driver who admitted to taking Ambien before getting behind the wheel, then tried to flea the scene. The cyclist is still in rehab, and the driver was just acquitted of charges. Had the driver, as put in the statement at the link, hit a pedestrian, or ran in to a home and killed someone there, a jury would easily press charges and convict. But, once again, it is made clear to cyslists that our lives lose value when we clip in to our pedals. That we are asking for our own death and dismemberment by going outside to get exercise. 

I'm seriously considering getting a camera, just in case I'm left unable to speak for myself next time.

Because, with the way things, there will likely be a next time. I just hope I'm able to come back and write about it if it happens.

We are all humans on this earth. We have different values, goals, interests and hobbies. We have different modes of transportation. We do not have different worth.

Please don't kill me. 

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