I (Ann) have been riding my bike on the road a long time. And I’ve been representing cyclists that get hit on the road for a long time. So I guess it only makes sense that so many of my routes now remind me of crash scenes. I can hardly do a ride without passing through some intersection where I realize, “oh, this is where Client A was hit.” In fact, my two lunch time rides this week crossed the location of two different cases we currently have pending in our office.
Charlotte’s “Booty Loop” is the biggest minefield of crash scene memories. I haven’t really experienced anything like the Booty Loop in other places I’ve lived. I’ve known business parks or industrial complexes that empty out at night, making the roads there ideal for evening training rides. The Booty Loop is a 3.2 mile loop in a busy residential area near a growing and popular business/restaurant/bar area. It’s the original location for the mega charity event 24hoursofbooty.
I find myself there several times a week. The beautiful streets are lined with ancient oak trees, Charlotte’s most prominent citizens’ mansions, churches and Queen’s College. On weekdays it’s a route into and out of town for many people. When the weather is nice, and sometimes when it isn’t, the streets and sidewalks are packed with all kinds of cyclists, runners and pedestrians. Put everything together and it’s a perfect recipe for all sorts of interesting interactions.
I’ve actually lost count of how many Booty Loop crashes we’ve handled. But I can say that they all have one thing in common – they all involve intersections. Despite the competition for space on the road, especially on Selwyn/Queens, where people park for Queens College and the churches and the road narrows to one lane, we haven’t had a case that involved a buzzing or even an unintentional failure to provide enough space while passing. I’m sure that’s happened there, but based on our own, very anecdotal statistics, it’s not what you have to worry about most when you’re out there on your bike.
What you DO have to worry about though, is the driver turning left without really looking, the one trying to shoot the gap (or what they think is the gap) in traffic without stopping in the median, the one on the cell phone trying to get to school or church on time and not stopping to look carefully enough before crossing the oncoming lane of traffic. The shoot the gap move is what happened to the client in one of our pending cases.
The crash scene we rode through at lunch on Wednesday, was at an intersection of the road with a bike/pedestrian path that runs parallel to the light rail. The driver came to a red light, stopped, then didn’t look right at the bike path before pulling out. Our client was right there and the two collided. Unbelievably the insurance company denied liability – our client was riding the wrong way on the sidewalk, they said. Great, if we’re on a busy road, we should be on the sidewalk instead. If we’re on a bike path, then we should be on the road. If you know this location (near Scaleybark station) you know that it’s by far the most obvious place to be on your bike – not on busy South Boulevard and certainly not on the crazy, mangled up sidewalk lined with parking lots on the other side. The path is a wide, dedicated path, with very few openings to the road. Our client did everything right – watching the driver until he was sure he was stopped. Guess we’ll be fighting that one.
Today another crash hit home for me, this time in Raleigh. When I lived in Raleigh, I used to leave my house just north of town and wind my way in and out of roads just inside the Beltline. Lassiter Mill Road was one of those roads. Last night a cyclist, Christopher Mangum, was killed by a left turning driver on Lassiter Mill. Then it turned out that it wasn’t just any cyclist. First I learned that he was a friend of a friend I used to ride with. And of course then I learned that he was a great guy, with three kids.
It’s so hard to hear about these tragedies, especially when you realize you have some connection to them, or they become personalized because you learn about the person’s family and you can better visualize what they’re going through. It reminds me yet again why I do what I do and that I need to work even harder at it.
Riding a bicycle is one of the most wonderful, liberating and exhilarating things you can do. And it’s good for the world. You and your family should be able to do it safely. And I want to be able to ride one day without seeing crash scenes everywhere.