Friday, September 18, 2009

Fridays shouldn't be like this

The day before the Knoxville Double Century, my riding companion for tomorrow wrote an email to let me know he had been in a collision caused by a driver making an illegal move. It brought to mind a similar experience I had a few years back, which I first wrote about here on the Internet Bridgestone Owners Bunch list. Below is the text from that posting to ibob.

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One less MA 2 rim in the world.

Flush with the promise of the impending weekend, Fridays are supposed to start out better. Stuff like this is more suited to the cliche of dismal Monday mornings. What can I expect though, when Thursday didn't really end on a high note. I got a late start out the door under the fog of the coastal marine layer. On San Pablo Avenue the construction crews were redirecting cars on the other side of the road away from the new layer of pavement being laid down. The outside lane on my side had been done a few days before so that was a small plus. The trip through Albany, then Berkeley, Emeryville and West Oakland was uneventful and all was looking quite typical for my ride to work in Alameda. It was as I rode through the warehouse/Port of Oakland area, where that would change.

The East Bay Bicycle Coalition working with many other groups was instrumental in getting not only bike lanes added to 3rd Street and the rebuilt Mandela Boulevard, but it also got those two streets connected when they hadn't been connected before. My favorite part of that route is seeing the road sign that warns that the old street is 'Not a through street'. Someone expertly altered the 't' in Not into a 'w'. The changes in the streets (as well as the sign) were a great plus for my commute route because I had fewer stops, fewer railroad crossings and for those that remained of the latter, they were graded much better (and therefore more safe for me). So I was enjoying the fruits of the labors of local bicycle advocacy groups, cruising along the bike lane on 3rd when my progress was brought to an abrupt halt by the front bumper of a car. The driver of the car had spotted a parking spot on the opposite side of the road and after seeing no cars ahead or behind, executed a U-turn. The trouble was of course that I was there, right in the trajectory of that U-turn.

I've been hit before and sometimes I can recall every moment of the collision (I'm trying to avoid using the word 'accident'), and sometimes I can't. This time though I do recall each instant. A complete U-turn would involve an arc 180 degrees. The driver had completed between 90 and 150 degrees of the turn when his car hit me. I recall the sound of the grill and bumper hitting my bike, in amongst the sound of him braking, me braking, and then after a split second of silence when I was airborne, followed by the sound of me, my bike and various now loose accessories from my bike hitting the ground. Of those various bits and pieces, I traveled the farthest from point of impact. Well, my pump was underneath me but more of me was further from the point of impact than the pump. It's funny to think of being competitive about some aspect of this crash, but there you have it.

Only in TV shows perhaps would the tough guy bounce right up and show no effects. In my case it hurt enough for me to want to close my eyes and grit my teeth for a bit as I lay on the ground, but that eased. I sort of lost track of what vehicles were where and I thought the car moving right next to me was someone just passing by but it was the driver pulling away slowly. I didn't sit up right away, wanting first to make sure that things like arms, legs and what not were as they should be. Having taken stock, I knew that nothing was broken on my body, nothing was bleeding but I thought the driver had 'fled'. The next order of business was to sit up I guessed, so I did that. That worked well enough so I figured I better collect myself, check out my bike, and well, go back to what I was doing which was going to work. Before I could stand up though, the driver showed up. When I thought he was leaving, he had just pulled his car out of the traffic lane and parked beyond the two tractor trailer rigs that were also parked ahead of the collision. The street at this point is completely wide enough for two wide lanes of traffic, full, legal sized bike lanes, and wide parking at the curb on both sides of the street. I could do with out parking to the right of the bike lanes, but that wasn't going to happen when this bike route was planned.

I don't know if I can say that *most* people these days try to blame someone or something else right away when things have gone wrong, but I do think we see too much of that right now. It wouldn't have surprised me then if the first thing the driver said to me was why didn't *I* stop or swerve or something that indicated that I could have prevented the collision or that bikes shouldn't be there on the road. Maybe that is a sad reflection on me or the world around me that I wouldn't have been surprised.

The first words spoken in a situation like this can often determine the path of the rest of the exchange. I only can see this with any clarity now, later, after time has passed but I feel it was important that what the driver said to me were "Are you ok?", then when I asked him if it was he that had hit me he said "Yes. I very am sorry" and then "It was completely my fault". Even though both would dissipate later, I was angry and in pain as this exchange transpired.

On my ride to work I pass by a spot near a hardware/lumber store in Berkeley near the freeway. A great many immigrant workers gather there hoping to get day jobs with the contractors that come to pick up supplies, or even the home owners stopping by to get the things they need to do yard work at their homes. I wonder as I pass them what a life would be like that would make this present circumstance an improvement over the conditions in the place they had left behind. Until I figure out why I was born to parents that had the means to afford better than adequate housing in communities that had better than adequate services and schools, I have to figure it was probably just luck that I now have a college education, a job with benefits that includes better than adequate medical coverage for me and my family.

The driver that had just hit me with his car was luckier than those others hoping to get day jobs. He didn't have to get up at 4am to walk or ride a bike to get a prime spot on the corner to increase his chances of getting a job for one more day. Neither did I. While the driver that hit me was also a recent immigrant though, he could speak enough English to ask me if I was ok and tell me he was sorry for what he did. In the spectrum of personal transportation, his car was a piece of shit, but it ran and he didn't have to walk miles or ride a bus in the early morning hours. In the unlikely event that a hurricane would aim itself toward the Bay Area, he could get in his crappy car and drive to a safer place and live another day. No hurricanes are headed our way and he had a crappy job at the docks, but next Monday and the day after it was still his job, however crappy it was.

As lucky as the driver that hit me was, he wasn't as lucky as I am. I'm going to be sore in places tomorrow, maybe even a little later today. I'm going to be 49 next month and 48 year old bodies don't fly through the air at 18 mph and hit the ground with out being sore later. But I wasn't seriously hurt at all. Both wheels on my bike were tacoed, most likely bent when I was hit and not from hitting the pavement. I'm sure I'll get grief from some that hear what I did next. I'll never know for sure if I was right about this. After totaling up the damage, realizing it was probably nothing greater than two bent wheels, I figured there was little to be gained by calling the police, involving insurance companies, filing claims. I believed the driver when he expressed remorse, and I also think he was truly scared about this collision. In some European countries traffic fines are assessed according to the financial status of the offender. In this case, I think I can be satisfied with the driver being sorry and probably scared and probably a driver that will pay, if maybe only for a little while, more attention to bicyclists on the road.

Through gritted teeth, I told the driver I believed he was sorry, and told him I was probably unhurt. And I told him I was leaving. What more would it cost me to get a check from some insurance company and what might a ticket at best or loss of insurance do or even undo for this driver. I was still pissed enough that a block down the street I yelled F*&K as loud as I could a few times. I had to vent. My front wheel was an 36 hole MA2 and the rear was a wheel built by Rich at Rivendell and was as close to the bullet proof rear commuter wheel as I had ever found. Now they are junk. I walked a few blocks then realized that I would miss the ferry connection that was now my backup route to work, so I opened the QR on my brakes and in spite of both wheels still rubbing on both sides of the calipers, I rode the last 7 or 8 blocks to the ferry landing.

A lot of things can happen to people, even on Friday morning. Some of those things can be bad things. Me, I'm lucky. I got hit by a car while riding to work.

2 comments:

Joe B said...

Hi Rob,

Great post! Me, I'm nursing a separated shoulder and broken coracoid process of the scapula from a close encounter with a car door almost 5 weeks ago. I, too, was suppose to be riding Knoxville this weekend, but it's not to be.

Good luck at Knoxville. Tim will be there so say hi as you roll by.

Take care,

Joe Bartoe

René said...

Amazing stories. I'm always blown away by the resilience of the human body and spirit. A car also hit me 10 years ago and I can still remember the slow motion feeling of flying through the air.