Monday, June 20, 2005

Greetings from Bicycle Unfriendlyland!

I used to ride my bike everywhere when I lived in Madison, WI, (OK, not when the snow was deep, and sometimes when the temp was in the teens or lower I'd have problems with brake freeze-ups so I'd walk or take the bus.) Madison is a wonderfully bike-friendly place, and people in cars there know perfectly well to look out for bicycles on the road. Not only that, but so many people bike in Madison that in the summer there are bike cops who will give you a ticket for riding on the sidewalk or disobeying traffic signals (I was ticketed for running a stop sign once. I watched my friend Jarka get out of a ticket for running a red light by presenting her international student ID card and pretending she spoke no English.) Madison was a pretty enlightened place. I was in such great shape in those days ...

Chicago was also a great place to bike. When I met Mr. Pants, his bicycle and the CTA were his only modes of transportation. He had never bothered to learn to drive because he didn't need to. Chicago was transportation heaven.

So now Mr. Pants has started to ride his bike to work. Until recently he was working a couple of counties away--way too far to bike. Too far to drive, even. But now that he's actually working in the same city in which he lives, he's decided to try and curtail his car use. It's admirable, but around here it's a little bit crazy. Drivers have no idea how to react to a cyclist. Roads are often too narrow with dangerous gravel shoulders as the only escape from the clueless and/or asshole drivers. He has ended up planning a route that puts him on a lot of sidewalks, which is safer for him but illegal and perpetuates the misguided belief among all the local fat-ass SUV drivers that bicycles don't belong on the road.

But today I got an e-mail that reminded me of the fact that even though Durham has a reputation as a "progressive" place and North Carolina is making great strides toward civilization, there are still some troglodytic, Deliverance-worthy asshole morons running around who know they can run down your pinko bicycle-riding ass and get away with it. I don't know the actual identity of the guy who wrote the e-mail (it was forwarded to me), so I don't have actual permission to run it, but oh well:
I was biking down to Pittsboro yesterday ... I went through Chapel Hill and down Smith Level to 15-501. I wouldn’t normally ride on 15-501 at all, but I figured that south of Smith Level Road at 8am on a Saturday it wouldn’t be too bad. In fact, traffic wasn’t bad and usually there was a bit of a shoulder to ride on.

I was coming around a gentle curve . . . I think between Taylor Road and Andrews Store Rd . . . when the car coming the other way gunned its engines, crossed over the yellow lines, and headed straight for me.

My thought for a second was, “Surely, this guy (I say guy generically, because I didn’t notice anything about the driver) is just trying to scare me and will swerve back. By the time I realized that no, he wasn’t, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. His left wheels were already on the dirt and he was coming straight at me. I was still thinking, “This isn’t really happening,” but I did start to swerve to the right to try to get out of his way. 25mph + maybe 5mph didn’t give me much time. I thought perhaps I was going to make it.

The very left front corner of his car hit my left ankle, which was at the top part of the stroke. It shredded everything over the top of that big round bone on the outside of my ankle and broke a little bone in the side of my foot. They pulled plastic shards of the turn signal light housing out of my ankle at the hospital. However many milliseconds later, probably simultaneously, my left thigh sheared off the guy’s driver side mirror AND the front of his car smashed through the back of my bike, ripping the seat stays and chain stays off the down tube and tearing the wheel out of the frame.

I landed in the dirt, and before anything else, looked to see him skidding back onto the road, touching his brakes a bit, and then heading off towards Chapel Hill. Then I looked down at my leg. My cycling shorts were torn away and through a perhaps 8 or 10-inch gash in my thigh a big fist of thigh muscle was bulging up into the air. My left shoe had been torn off and there was bloody grass underneath my ankle.

Though several cars did drive by, despite my frantic waving, two eventually did stop and the people in them were very helpful. I grabbed my cell phone out of my backpack and called 911, where it took several rounds of clarification before the operator understood that I had been on a bike (“Sir, are you still in your car?”), was now not, and that I was looking at the inside of my leg. I didn’t know very well how to describe my location on 15-501, but eventually assorted fire, ambulance, and state police arrived. Nice people got me to UNC’s E.R. and I received excellent care there. I asked the surgeons how they got my thigh back together and
apparently a med student shoved the muscle back down into my leg, another doctor/resident pulled the skin together, and a third doctor winched the skin back together with some very heavy gauge wire.

I have to talk to the State Police again tomorrow, but they generally don’t seem interested at all. All he has written on the report for the other person is “unknown,” when in fact he had the mirror, color, and probable make of the car (sand/brown colored 4 door American sedan . . . he thought, based on the mirror, perhaps a Ford . . . I though Buick or Oldsmobile). I’m not sure he got in contact with any county sheriff’s departments or local police or did anything to try to move forward with the task of figuring out who this hit-and-run asshole was. There’s not much of a police report (yet) to turn into a news snippet.

MY POINT: I’m not sure. I can’t be positive that this was done on purpose. I don’t have many clues. My thigh and ankle are pretty screwed, though not permanently. Probably 6-8 weeks before they come out of their assorted braces/casts/etc. and I can start some physical therapy. I’m incredibly grateful for the few inches that saved my leg and perhaps my life, especially with a wonderful wife and a baby due in 2+ months. I wonder if riding in pairs is always safer? Be careful out there, because there are whackos who will not only yell at you and thrown *$#& out the window at you, but will actually try to end your life.

Now I'm kinda thinking maybe I'd rather have Mr. Pants burning up nasty petroleum and contributing to global warming ...

UPDATE: There are articles in today's Herald-Sun and today's N&O (registration may be required).


elsacapuntas said...

this makes me so angry! if i were this guy i'd go to every local paper and talk about how friendly the citizens and police of chapel hill are to a victim of attempted murder.

i am a regular biker-to-work, and while i've never experienced driver agression, most drivers in town don't seem to have the slightest clue that people on bikes actually have a right to be on the road. i think we need to get a triangle bike-advocates group together for a community-awareness campaign.

georg said...

Well the first thing this illustrates is that some people are fuckin' psychopaths who shouldn't be allowed out of the house, let alone behind the wheel of a car. For me, I've never thought "share the road" was a workable solution. Even with roads way better than the ones around here, it doesn't seem like an ideal solution to have unprotected humans in close proximity to screaming metal death machines. Separated bike lanes, at the very least, or dedicated bike paths, would seem saner. Sure it requires a bit more planning and space management but all those kids with urban planning degrees need to have something to do...

Lisa B. said...

"Share the Road" seemed to work pretty well in Madison and Chicago--although there were some dedicated bike lanes. There just seemed to be a different mindset. And it's hard to imagine separate bike lanes being built around here-- where city "planners" are just beginning to wrap their minds around the concept of sidewalks.

I like the idea of a community awareness campaign, but I'm not all that optimistic about it. I do think this event--attempted murder--needs to be publicized more.

lisa said...

i once visited malmo, sweden, and they have an impressive network of bike-only roads that are completely separate from the roads for cars. i think i have heard of at least one american city that has the same thing.

however, as ms. pants says, that will never happen hear (not to be all defeatist or anything...)

we should run a psa on xdu and send it around to all the other stations, though, about sharing the road.