The other morning I witnessed a cyclist getting hit by a car. It had all of the classic experiences. The screech of tires. The dull thud of a person hitting the body of the car that just seems to echo deep into your bones. The sharpness of your breath as you inhale in shock and make an involuntary explicative statement as your head swims with the reality of what just happened.
In the early morning dark, I saw the whole thing unfold 20 feet in front of me. I was approaching the street crossing and called out car left as well as bike up as we were all approaching the intersection of the Monon Trail and the street all at the same moment. It begged for caution. It demanded a community effort to pass peacefully past each other and pleasantly continue on with our day. That just didn’t happen. The car slowed slightly from a responsible speed as he came up to the crossing. We broke to a walk. The bike did not. He came at his constant commuting speed right out into the intersection and tried to break in the panicked micro seconds before he impacted the car.
He had a good light system and by the look of him, he commuted to work on a regular basis. The only thing that he didn’t have that morning was a bit more common sense and Lady Luck in his jersey pocket. Instead, it seemed that he was distracted by the punch list of his upcoming workday, complacent with how many times he crossed that road without a single car in sight, cocky that his lighting system made him so visible that people couldn’t help but see him, mistaken that he had the legal right of way and/or entitled that the world should wait for him. He was actually and figuratively riding in the dark. Maybe it was one and maybe it was all, but at the moment it really didn’t matter because as far as I knew, he was now pinned under a wheel being crushed to death.
As we sprinted around the car, we found him with a banged up shoulder, but relatively unhurt. As soon as we unwrapped his limbs from his bike, he was up and talking and evaluating his condition and came to the conclusion that he was OK, but still banged up and a bit bewildered.
Interestingly enough, I knew the driver from the local triathlon scene and thus knew that he was fully aware of what it is like to be on the other side of the car/bike relationship. He felt REALLY bad, but he couldn’t have done anything differently in my opinion.
As I ran away from the situation after things had been worked out, I took a long moment to pause and reflect on my duties as a cyclist riding around out on public streets. Have fun and enjoy the sport that brings me so much pleasure. Go fast when doing so has little impact or decreases the congestion of a situation and your environment. Every selfish action on the bike, confirms to those who are watching that ALL cyclists are self serving out of control jerks. Dispel the perception that bikes are kids toys instead of adult forms of transportation and fitness equipment. Finally, absolutely, positively and constantly believe that the only person out there in the world with 100% commitment, focus and responsibility to get me home safe is myself. Everyone else is at some percentage less than that. Maybe by just a little and maybe by a lot.
Ride fast. Ride defensively. Ride safe. Ride tomorrow.