walking around in tap shoes and pyjamas since 2010 - my cycling log (opens in new window)

Friday, February 04, 2011

Accidents Happen...

...though most can probably be prevented.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was on a run out to the west end.  Having just departed a stop on Muhammad Ali, I traveled a couple blocks up 9th Street/Roy Wilkinson Ave, arriving at Jefferson Street.  I had a green light and was turning left.  I looked for oncoming traffic, saw none, and proceeded across the intersection.  A heartbeat later, I was steering to avoid an oncoming car that had materialized, as best I could tell, from thin air.  We collided anyway -- a glancing blow, really -- and I bounced off the flank of the car (thank God for helmets!), tucked, and hit the ground rolling.

A second later I was back on my feet, wheeling my bike to the side of the road.  The driver pulled over, we exchanged info and called the cops, and a police report was filed.  I thought I might have a broken collarbone, so DD took me to Norton/Audubon, where X-rays revealed that no bones were broken.  Essentially, I was extremely lucky -- the only thing wrong with me is some tendon and ligament strains and deep bruising.  I should be back on the bike in a couple of weeks (the bike is also fine, as far as I know).

Essentially, as best I can tell, both of us were doing more or less what we were supposed to be doing.  I suspect the sense that each of us had that the other materialized from nowhere (the driver thought I had been coming straight across on Jefferson, rather than turning left, because I was invisible to her until I was already headed straight on) has a great deal to do with the design of the intersection in particular, which is -- in a word -- ugly.

Where it crosses Jefferson, 9th Street (there called 'Roy Wilkinson Avenue') is about six lanes wide, with a broad, green median.  Across Jefferson is a highway off-ramp under which some of the oncoming drivers have turned shortly before arriving at the light in question; a bend in the road obscures sight-lines for southbound drivers on 9th Street rather effectively.  A group of concrete medians channels traffic in various awkward patterns and makes life a giant pain in the neck if you're on a bike.  This particular intersection is a pretty frequent site for driver conflicts.

In other words, I suspect that the design of the intersection in question had a great deal to do with why this accident happened in the first place.  That's the piece I wanted to write about.

We talk a great deal about the responsibilities of drivers and cyclists in avoiding conflicts; we talk about traffic calming measures, bike lanes, and so forth, in making the roads safer for everyone involved.  What we don't tend to talk much about is intersection design, probably in part because it's harder to change a poorly-designed intersection than the habits of drivers and cyclists.  However, some designs invite disaster, and I would think that addressing these intersections should, ultimately, be part of the process of creating 'complete' streets.

I want to reiterate that, as far as I can tell, the driver of the car was playing by the rules, and so was I.  People tend to want to jump to the defense of 'the little guy,' but in this case, I think it was simply a question of circumstances.  The fact that two conscientious road-users came into conflict just got me thinking about intersection design, and whether we're really considering that element in trying to make the roads safer for everyone.


  1. Nice to see a non-blamey approach to a cyclist / car incident. WTG. Also, way to not get squished. I'm not sure I would be coordinated enough to "tuck and roll" as you did.

  2. Thanks :) I have to really commend the driver in this situation -- she was genuinely concerned for me and deported herself admirably through the whole situation. I honestly think she was initially more worried about me than I was.

    Also, thanks for the 'way to not get squished.' I think the tuck-n-roll response probably boils down to years and years of gymnastics training as a kid, since it seems to by my automatic response to approaching the ground at speed, heh (note: it's somewhat less effective on skis). I can't really take credit for it; it's pretty much a reflex :)

    The whole experience was oddly surreal while it was happening. Now I find myself circling back to it from time to time, visualizing the incident and trying to figure out what I could have done differently. It's weird how that works.

  3. Having the presence of mind to tuck and roll is very impressive. I sometimes manage to wipe out gracefully, sometimes not. That makes it sound like I crash all the time. I don't, but I've had some incidents ... especially mountain biking or on mixed-terrain rides.

    Anyway, you make a very good point about the intersection. Is there a different route you can take, to avoid this intersection?

  4. Also, I'm glad you weren't seriously injured. I hope you heal quickly!

  5. Thanks for the fast-healing wishes! I'm actually starting to feel better already -- my shoulder is still painful, but it's much better than it was yesterday. My knee, except for a big bruise, is back to normal :)

    It's funny, as I was writing this, I was thinking, "Hm, this makes two major crashes (and a minor falling-whilst-walking-the-bike-on-ice incident) in less than one year. Kind of makes it sound like I crash all the time." I think we tend to be extra-aware of those moments when we wind up on the ground.

    I can avoid the intersection in question, and I usually do. I was trying to save time so I could slot in a few extra minutes somewhere before I had to run out to my 3:00 pickup -- this route was the most direct option, but clearly not the best one! I'm sure there's some saying out there about shortcuts, etc. ;) I think from now on I'll stick with the longer way!