Accidents happen, be careful out thereMay 4, 2012 by: Samuel Scheib
In an emergency situation there are two kinds of time: slow motion and missing. The driver-side wheel of the Ford crossed the solid white line of the bike lane in a way that was instantly clear to me would continue. A guttural yell escaped my lips, something primitive that once may have announced the killing of a wild boar or signaled victory in battle. I think it contained the word “no,” and I think it was equal parts warning to the driver and protest at the situation whose conclusion was obvious: I was going to be hit by this truck.
For me, time went missing; the front quarter panel was in my lane, then I was on the sidewalk, or close to it, escorted by the driver. His arm was around my shoulder and he asked several times if I was okay. He was visibly shaking and alternated between asking me how I was to a theme-and-variation on “You scared me to death.” I could feel my calf barking, where it seems the bumper hit, but I was standing on my own and everything seemed to be working. The abrasion on my arm looked ugly and stung, but I fancy myself a tough guy and the driver was looking so terrified that I just wanted to reassure him and said I was fine. He was very well prepared for striking bicyclists, immediately producing paper towels, a bag of ice, cold bottled water, and a full pack of Marlboro Menthols to take the edge off and pass the time while we waited for the police. There is nothing like the smell of burning tobacco and mint in the morning.
I’ll call the driver Horvath because it rhymes with war path. Not that he hit me intentionally, but he seemed so angry, at Obama’s healthcare law, at the state department of transportation for building the interstate the way they did, at the police for the ticket—failure to yield was the law’s gentle take on it—even though Horvath kept saying there was no one at fault, he just didn’t see me.
Horvath was certainly at fault but he had a point about FDOT. Thomasville Road, from the point I started a few miles north until my ride abruptly concluded, is a six lane divided highway with bike lanes. There is a calculated risk to riding a bike but usually the cyclist has a fighting chance. At intersections stop signs and traffic signals, imperfect though they are, provide an acceptable level of control. Right turning motorists usually look to the left before turning and the cyclist can gauge the motorist’s awareness and try to make eye contact with the driver.
There is one special case, however, where this coordination disappears entirely. When Interstate-10 disgorges southbound traffic on Thomasville Road it does so with a gently curving turn lane, a wide turn radius that makes few demands on the brake, and then empties into a tributary called an acceleration lane where motorists increase speed and merge with the flow of traffic. This facility is designed explicitly to keep automobiles moving as quickly as possible. And the acceleration lane is immediately adjacent to the bike lane. Horvath skipped the acceleration lane and went straight for the right travel lane. I was in the four foot space between the two in the bike lane whose solid white line (solid meaning do not cross) in retrospect provided a very false sense of security. A barrier of some sort, truncated domes or traffic control sticks, may be in order here until the dotted merge part of the lane begins.
As Horvath and I collected cop cars, a fire truck, and the eyeballs of passing motorists and even of the bus riders with whom I normally share a ride, some acquaintances of more than five years, three other cyclists went by. I said, “Be careful out there,” to one of them, a pointless gesture. None of the cyclists looked over at the accident scene reminding me of stories of football players who hate to be around injured football players because they don’t want a reminder of their own vulnerabilities. For his part, Horvath explained that he never sees bicyclists on this road. As each one passed I said, “There goes one. There goes another.” The problem for Horvath and probably many other motorists is that Horvath is right: he doesn’t see them.
Another man was almost immediately on the scene. He had watched the accident while waiting at a traffic light and by the time he too was asking if I was okay he had already called the police and a siren was audible in the distance. Horvath seems an honest man and he wasn’t going anywhere, but the other fellow stayed until the police took his statement to make sure everything went well. The man is a state worker. I couldn’t make this stuff up: he works for the lottery. What luck!
Horvath, a construction foreman, gave me a ride to my office and he continued his diatribe against state and federal governments, taxes, and regulations. We veered into safer territory with college football, which we both love. He is a long-time Georgia fan and even worked on enclosing Sanford Stadium and had lunch with coaching legend Vince Dooley, but he was really unhappy with Mark Richt, the current head coach. He was unhappy with his beach house too, and with all these students not paying attention. “They just pull out right in front of you,” Horvath said oblivious as to why I was his passenger. “Always texting on their fucking phones,” he continued before saying, “Hold on. I gotta make a call.” This was at the point where Thomasville narrows to two lanes near midtown, and one lane goes south and the other west and Horvath was unfamiliar with the area. He dialed and merged and followed my directions all at once.
My wife works in mental health and would say Horvath lacks insight, an understanding of his own condition but he is really no different from everyone else: bikes don’t ride here, you were not visible, they are distracted drivers, they use their phones when they should watch the road. I came away with just a few cuts and bruises. After asking if I am okay everyone asks about my bike. The hundred-dollar craigslist bike is just fine but the brand new Macbook Air in my backpack, not so much. Insurance should take care of that and a few days removed I feel very lucky; the next day my wife called to tell me she was very happy not to be writing my obituary. The accident happened on Tuesday, May 1st, the day after my 38th birthday and the first day of national bike month. Be careful out there. And I mean you, motorists.