As you may know, I ride my bike to work, year-round. I've been doing it for the last 2 years, almost every day. I have my route all figured out... down the street I live on, over to Howard, south, into Rivefront Park, across the river, out onto Howard again, left on Main, a few more turns, and I'm at work. Every day, that's how I go - an optimal route because there is not much traffic and there are bike lanes on Howard. Nevertheless, I always ride cautiously, always expecting cars stopped at intersections to go without seeing me and always staring at their drivers waiting for that eye contact, my hands ready on the brakes.
One and a half weeks ago, I headed out on a beautiful Wednesday morning. The summer weather has finally
arrived - it only took it until nearly the end of June to get here. It was 67 degrees at 8:30 am when I left, so I packed my jacket into my pannier and headed out in a white shirt with high-contrast black flowers on it, and a black skirt that I tied up around my thighs to keep it out of the rear wheel. It was a great ride - the perfect temperature, the perfect weather. I was looking forward to going to Summer Parkways later that night.
I pulled up at the stoplight at Howard and Boone behind another bicyclist. Shortly after that, a third one pulled up behind me and asked what the best route was to get to the Convention Center. I told her to go down, go into the park, and take the Centennial Trail. When the light changed, we all took off. I smiled because not only were their other bicyclists on the road with me (numbers that seem to climb every day), but both of them were women. The woman ahead of me took off on her fancy road bike, in her lycra shorts and cycling jersey. I followed, more-or-less keeping pace, while the woman behind me grew more and more distant as the small wheels of her foldable bike could not match our pace.
Down the hill we went, the same way I go every day... riding on the far right edge of the bike lane as it passes by the arena, because those 8 inches are made of smooth cement. Looking ahead, as I coasted down the hill, I watched the woman in front of me move into the car lane, preparing for the left-hand turn into the park ahead. As she moved into the lane, a car was coming down Mallon, a road which curves and then becomes Howard (the road we were on). The car turns the corner, drives slightly up Howard, and then begins to turn again - starting to perform a U-Turn. Now I see it's a PAML courrier.
He sees the woman in front of me and stop in his lane, perpendicular to the direction of travel, to let her pass and enter the park. I signal and move into the car lane, preparing to also make a left into the park. Since the car had stopped, I continue forward, but as I always do, I place my hands onto the brakes and look at the driver, waiting for his eye contact when he looks for oncoming traffic before proceeding forward across the painted median. He stays stopped, letting the woman ahead of me completely cross the street and enter the park.
Suddenly, and without looking, he begins to drive. He is headed straight for me and does not ever look in my direction. Because he's driving straight for me, my frantic squeezing of the brakes is not sufficient, and he strikes me on the right corner of his hood, on my left hip. I go up onto his hood, land on my shoulder, and then my bike and I slide off and fall onto the street in front of the car, where I catch myself with my left knee and right hand.
Now he has stopped, and as I begin to stand up and pick up my bike, the cyclist who had been in front of me has come back, and the cyclist who had been behind me has caught up and comes and picks up my water bottle that had been knocked out of its cage. I walk over to the curb and appraise myself: a puncture in the large muscle at the base of my right thumb has produced a nice bead of blood, and more blood oozes from an abrasion on my left knee. My left shoulder hurts rather a bit, and my left hip feels like it's already bruised.
As I sit down on the curb, the cyclist from behind me holds my bike and the cyclist in front of me calls 911. The driver of the car has pulled over slightly down the street, and he comes to make sure I'm ok. I tell everyone that I'm ok, other than scrapes and soreness. Everyone's very concerned about me and doesn't seem to really believe me that I'm as ok as I'm telling them I am. Another woman is also there, she was apparently in her car on the road behind me and witnessed the collision. The cyclist behind me was too far back to see anything.
After about 5 minutes, the EMTs arrive. Shortly thereafter, the police. I find myself surrounded by people, everyone asking me questions all at once. After a few more minutes, the paramedics also arrived.Are you ok?
Pretty much, just my hand and my knee here, and my shoulder hurts.What's your name?
Rachel...Were you wearing a helmet?
Yes.What's your phone number?
509...Good. Did you hit your head?
No.Can I have your id?
It's in the bag on my bike. If you lift up on that handle it will come off.Can I take a look at your shoulder?
Here you go.Thank you.We would like to put you on a backboard and take you to the hospital.
No, I don't want to go to the hospital. (because I don't want to deal with the ER and I'm 99% sure I'm fine)Ok, you have the right to decline. Is it ok if I bandage you up instead?
Yes please.And can I take your vitals?
Sure.Were you wearing a helmet?
Yes.Good. So many people don't.Did you hit your head?
... Thanks to the adrenaline, I was multi-tasking beautifully. I'm not sure how someone who's hit their head can handle it. I would imagine everyone just has to wait their turn.
Looking back, I am a bit put off on how everyone asked "were you wearing a helmet?" before
they asked "did you hit your head?" The insurance adjuster and the ER doctor also asked me these two questions in this order.
(Why does it matter if I wear wearing a helmet if I did not hit my head? Shouldn't you first be asking if I hit my head and if I say yes then ask if I was wearing my helmet?
Helmets are a great thing, but they are not the magical-save all in an accident. They only matter if you hit your head, and while they can reduce the severity of head trauma, they do not automatically save a life nor prevent other types of injury. I think the order of these questions asked by everyone goes to show how over-played the efficacy of helmets is.
After the EMTs were done checking me over, they told the paramedics and the police that my vitals were good and they left. Soon thereafter, the paramedics left. Standing up, I see that the car-driving witness is not there anymore, and the cyclists tell me that she left to take her daughter to day-camp and was going to come back. Of course, she never did come back.
Soon we're joined by a third woman cyclist - the friend of the woman who had been ahead of me - they were going to meet up in the park for a ride together. She asks me where I work and I tell her the name of the building. Then she asks me where
I work, so I tell her the name of the company. She looks at her friend and says, "isn't that where Mikey works?" and her friend's eyes light up as she says, "yes!" After determining that I know Mikey, she calls him to tell him I've been hit.
After hanging up and telling me that Mikey will come check on me at work later, they suggest that I go get the driver's insurance information and take pictures. As I was nearing him, one of the police officers stopped me and told me not to, as they'd be giving me a police report with all of that information on it. I say ok and go back to my spot on the curb. After sitting down, the woman who had been behind me asks for my email address and says she'll email me pictures.
After waiting for a while more, I get up again to go talk to the police. They had been bent over their paperwork for quite a while and still hadn't come to ask me about the accident. The same woman officer comes up to me and I ask her if they were going to ask me what had happened. She was surprised that they hadn't asked me yet, so I tell her what had happened. After I'm finished, she nods and says that my story matches the other three they had already received.
I go back to my spot on the curb. Upon returning, I see that the cyclist ladies have detached my front brake cables and bent my fender stay so that my front wheel would turn again. It was, of course, bent from the collision. There was definitely no way I'd be riding my bike, but at least now I could push it the rest of the way to work. Sitting down again, I pull out my phone and shakily emailed my boss:
Hit by a car
Finally, after what must have been 15 minutes since the paramedics left, the police are finished and they hand me my copy of the police report, telling me that the driver was cited for an illegal U-turn. The driver is standing near his car, talking with three other PAML employees who showed up about ten minutes prior (and one of them also came to check that I was ok).
Police report in hand, I begin to load my bike back up so that I can push it to work. At this point I'm closer to work than home. The other cyclists make sure I'm ok, and after we've crossed the street on foot, they mount their bikes and ride away. I discover that the toe strap of my left sandal has come undone and I stop to fix it. After walking a few more feet, it has come undone again. I realize that it had been bent by the collision and wouldn't stay closed, so I take my shoes off and walk barefoot.
After getting to work, everyone checks to make sure I'm ok and asks why I came to work. I tell them all that it was closer than home, I don't feel that bad, and I have a three year old at home so it's actually more relaxing at work. I check my email and see my boss had replied to my email, "Holy shit! I hope they arrest that guy!"
Then I go to the IT department to borrow some pliers to fix my sandal. After telling them what had happened (two of the three are cyclists, one a triathlete and the other a time trial rider). This then sends one of them off into a 10 minute rant about how drivers don't share the road - passing too closely, honking, telling him to get off the road, and whatnot. In return, he explains how he's a an asshole right back to the drivers, flipping them off and shouting at them.
Glad to get out of there, I go back to my desk and drink some tea and just sit and breathe so as to relax. After a bit, I slowly start to do some work. A little while later, I start to ache, especially my wrist and shoulder, so I take some ibuprofen, which helps.
They day goes on. At some point, Mikey comes in to check on me and says he's glad I'm ok and asks if I'm having "small world syndrome."
I spend a bit of time going back and forth between working and focusing on the accident. I have to keep calling the driver's insurance company because I keep being sent to voicemail and no one was ever calling back. I spent about 4 hours of the day working. Finally, at about 4 pm, I heard back from them. They told me it would be ok to take my bike to the shop for an estimate only, and that the adjuster would contact me within a day or two.
Later I get a co-worker with an SUV to drive me and my bike to the bike shop. I think she was pretty nervous about being a good driver, because she ended up not driving very well at all. It kind of scared me, and luckily nothing happened. After dropping my bike off, I got her to take me home.
I had been so looking forward to going to Summer Parkways and felt pretty ok, so I pulled out a bike and headed over there. I had a lot of fun and saw lots of people I knew. Some of them even knew I had been hit that morning and were surprised to see me. Most of all surprising was when I ran into the woman who had been riding in front of me, and her friend that had shown up later. They finally believed me that I was in as good of a condition as I had said I was.
The next day I rode my other bike to work. I wasn't any more worried about riding on the road than I had been before. I know that every day I take a risk, and because of that I'm always as careful as I can be while still obeying the laws (no sidewalk riding in downtown Spokane). I have ridden nearly every day for two years and this was the first incident, and there had only been one other near-miss when, after being stopped behind a car at a stoplight for about a minute, the car decided to start backing up and nearly ran me over. I banged on their rear side window as it passed inches away from me.
Later, I heard from the claims adjuster. He conducted a recorded phone interview with me, and told me that they would pay for my medical, lost wages, and my bike repairs. He asked that the bike shop give him a copy of the estimate, and then after that I could authorize repairs.
After work, I rode over to the Steamplant Grill for the Bicycle Alliance of Washington's Hub and Spoke tour. Partway into the meeting, the friend of the cyclist who had been in front of me came into the meeting.
Afterwards we talked and I learned that her friend's name is Sarah and that she was Martha Jones, mother of a boy who had been hit during a bicycle race in Cheney 14 years ago, and killed. The anniversary of that event was the next day, two days after my collision.
She started to tear up and asked for my address so she could send me a pendant in memory of Cooper Jones and all bicyclists who have ever been hit by a car. I gave her big thanks and have worn the pendant every day since I received it.
The story of Cooper Jones was so sad and tragic. At only 13 years old, he was hit and killed maybe two months before my family and I moved to Cheney - and all these years and I had never even heard about it.
Cooper Jones loved sports. He really loved cycling, both mountain and road. His biggest joy was riding and racing for the Baddlands Cycling Club. On June 24th, 1997, Cooper was racing in the Twilight Series in a time trial. A few miles into his race, while riding between the fog line and the edge of the pavement, an elderly driver hit him from behind at highway speed. Cooper never recovered and died a week later. Racing in Washington State was in limbo. At that time there were no laws against racing but there were also no laws allowing it... through the efforts of Cooper's parents, David and Martha Jones, you are once again able to race safely and legally in this state. Please think of Cooper every time you ride your bike or enter a race.
-Baddlands Cycling Club
I am moved by the wonderful things the Jones' did in response to this tragedy. In addition to helping make bike racing more formally recognized and protected by Washington State, they are responsible for the Cooper Jones Act
and the Share the Road
license plate which helps fund bicycle education programs through the Bicycle Alliance of Washington.
Please remember - drivers, cyclists, even pedestrians and skate boarders and any other kind of road-user - be careful, pay attention, look all the time all around you, and proceed with caution. Never assume the other people on the road are going to obey the rules, always be ready for them to do something unexpected.
If you drive a car, please drive mindfully knowing that a collision with someone on a motorcycle, bicycle, skateboard, or on foot could kill them. The difference between 20 miles an hour and 30 miles an hour can be the difference between life and death. It's better to be late than to kill someone. Please remember to look for small objects (like people) and not just large objects (like cars) both waiting to cross the road and in the path of where you plan to travel. Know the laws as they apply to bicycles and pedestrians - it could save a life.
If you ride a bike, skateboard, or walk, please be cautious and careful. Unfortunately, you shoulder the burden of being overly cautious, because it's you, not the cars, who can be killed - no matter who's at fault. Follow the rules of the road because they are there to protect you and make all road users predictable. Signalling, using lights, crossing at intersections. There will be cars who do not obey the rules of the road ... who don't give you right of way, don't stop to let you cross (only stop for pedestrians, not bikes, please), or don't even look, so you have to be proactive in the interest of your own life. Know the laws as they apply to bicycles and pedestrians - it could save your life.
I am fortunate and grateful that I am still alive and was hardly injured. I am lucky that the car was going very slowly. Just a little bit more speed and this could have been another one of all-too-many tragedies.
Please share the road, everyone. Please be courteous, even when other people are not courteous to you. Please follow the rules of the road so that you are predictable. Please slow down - you won't actually loose that much time and you might just save a life.
It's sad to say, but I was almost hit again two nights ago by another car doing an illegal U-Turn. However, it is good to say that I wasn't hit and I'm fine.
The car was parked in the bike lane, with it's flashers on. As annoying as that is, I moved into the car lane to pass on the left. Without checking his blind spot, the driver pulled out from the bike lane and across the road, doing a U-Turn. Luckily, I was able to stop just in time before I ran into him. The driver never once saw me and someone getting out of their parked car adjacent to the bike lane shouted out, "wow, that was close!"
I was able to shout over to him and ask him to look next time.
Please look. Please follow the rules. Please don't block the bike lane, and if you do, expect bikes to be passing you on the left.