11/04/10

Biking Walking & Blogging: Cutting It Too CloseBiking Walking & Blogging: Cutting It Too Close

From Amber Collett, Communications Associate

As a regular bicyclist in the Twin Cities, I'm used to bicycling in traffic. I'm a confident bicyclist, but I don't take too many risks, and I follow traffic rules. If the road is particularly narrow or steep, I take the full lane because I know that I can (and should!) for my own safety. That being said, I worry about drivers becoming agitated. I usually ride on the far far right side of a lane because I hate being honked or yelled at by drivers.

A few weeks ago, the decision to ride on the far right side of a lane radically altered my view of bicycling. I was approaching the intersection of Washington and Broadway in NE Minneapolis. There was a semi-truck making a right turn on red in the right-turn-only lane and I was coming down the rightmost through lane , but riding far over to the right .. (There isn't a bike lane on the road, so I was conscious of the fact that cars could try to pass me in my lane.) As the light turned green, I started forward and was clipped by the semi truck's tail-swing as the back end of the truck crossed into my lane. My bicycle stopped, but I didn't. I was thrown up and over my handle-bars. I landed on the crown of my head and my helmet was destroyed. I know that I never again want to be made to feel as vulnerable and fragile as I did when the truck hit me. From now on, I will take the full lane at intersections-and I encourage other bicyclists to do the same.

As I waited in the ER, I kept picturing the accident in my head and how it could have gone differently. If there was a bike lane, the semi-truck driver might have been more conscious of bicyclists on the road. A bike lane's dedicated space would have encouraged me to bike farther to the left of the right-turn-only lane and I might have missed the tail-swing. There are a lot of "might-have-beens" in this situation, but I also realized that being a confident bicyclist does not mean I can be an unaware one. I was too focused on making it through the intersection and didn't pay enough attention to the truck next to me.

While I was lucky only to have a mild concussion, this accident (and others one hears about) highlights the importance of both infrastructure and culture change. For drivers and bicyclists to be on the same roads, everyone needs to follow the rules to keep each other safe. Bicyclists should strive to be good role models and show that we can be trusted on the road and that we won't be jetting in front of motorists suddenly or running red lights at busy intersections. We all have to work to build a culture of trust and awareness; infrastructure will help us do that, but so will public outreach and involvement in your own community. Bicyclists, be out on your bike and encourage others to bike safely in the Twin Cities. Drivers, respect our safety and give us space on the road. Mutual respect, awareness, and well-designed infrastructure are all crucial to helping prevent crashes like mine.