by Dave Roberts
There used to be a time when I loved sprinting down East Boulevard aiming to time the lights so that my exodus from Uptown would be quick and have off to much more peaceful riding home. It was a guilty pleasure to shoot past so many cars stuck in stop-and-go traffic. I had a nice wide lane, seldom used, stretching for several miles. I was supposed to be here and it was safe.
The first incident quickly made me realize that people totally forget that bike lanes are there. Just because cars are stopped doesn’t mean the bike lane is jammed too. As I came rolling up to an intersection someone who had grown tired of waiting for traffic to move took an opportunity to pull a hard right into Dilworth. I barely had time to react but I managed to stop and avoided a collision. I’m certain the driver never knew I was there. I carried on.
The second incident affirmed the first and established a theme. A driver pulling left on to East from a side street swung their vehicle very wide and way into the bike lane just as I was approaching the same spot. There was about a foot left for me to use but I managed. The close proximity gave me a chance to smack the truck’s doors hard enough to truly frighten the driver into slamming on the brakes. I carried on — shaking my head.
The third incident established once and for all that riding on East Blvd in the bike lane was pretty risky. It was the Friday before Memorial Day 2014 and traffic was very light due to the holiday. I zoomed through the green light at Scott Avenue picking up a good amount of speed. I noticed a car in front of me slowing down but no turn signal was blinking. I thought, “probably lost or on their phone,” so I backed off a teensy bit. This continued for several blocks and caused other cars to catch up and build-up behind. After passing Cumberland Avenue the car drifted a little on to the white line of the bike lane — which caught my attention — but still no turn signal. I began to prepare for a much slower descent down the hill because of this driver.
Then it happened… the driver made a hard turn into the Showmars parking, still no signal, and after my attempts to brake without flipping over the bike — all while yelling for the driver to stop — I slammed into the car and went down. Luckily no part of me — or the bike — ended up under the vehicle. My head did hit the pavement but the helmet did it’s job well and I buy good gear.
All I could hear was the thudding of my heart in my ears as the driver asked me if I was OK over and over again. He was very shocked and scared but courteous to me as I looked for damage first on myself and then on the bike. I wanted to yell at him but quelled that urge. Anger would not make this accident go away. I escaped without road rash but knew that I had hit the car very hard, bracing against it with my left arm before slamming against the pavement onto my left thigh. Parts of me were a little numb but I could move and there was no blood gushing everywhere. What a relief.
With all the adrenaline pumping I felt OK. I got the driver’s number and assured him and the other bystanders that it was likely I could ride home. But I couldn’t. Once I mounted the bike and tried to put any weight on the left arm the pain made me see stars. I would later learn at the urgent care that I had a radial head fracture. My elbow was broken. I was off the bike for more than 2 months and it took another 2 to rebuild my strength and stamina. I had lost a Summer of riding. What a real bummer.
So… bike lanes don’t really do much for me now. I’m extremely wary when I use them and I don’t feel safe. There are no guarantees that a driver will pay attention to the lane or its occupants. Also, the lanes are constructed in such a way that vehicles aren’t prevented from entering them. To me, this just means that the road is a little wider, there are some markings laid out that folks should notice but the cyclist is never safe. I may as well ride in the road where I can be seen both as a cyclist — and a true obstruction — and not be forgotten about until it’s far too late.