It’s been two weeks since I was struck by a car on North Harvard Street in N. Allston, while I was biking in the new bike lane. I haven’t confirmed this with the police, but I’m probably the first accident on those lanes… (perhaps a memorial plaque is in order?) No real damage was done, except for some road rash on my ankle and knee, and a busted rear-view mirror on his car. But I figure I should tell the tale as an example: This is what can happen when bikers assume the bike lane gives them protection on the road.
Two Wednesdays ago, I was traveling southbound North Harvard, riding fairly brisk and smooth in those brand new bike lanes, at around 5:45 pm (back when that was still broad daylight). Traffic was light, but fast, and I was keeping square within the lane to the point where I was riding over the sewer grates along the curb. The accident occurred as I approached Western Ave. At the intersection the bike lane juts out to the left to open up a lane for cars to turn right, while the left travel lane is for straight and L-turning traffic. (this is a new traffic pattern, the old one had cars yielding to turn left while r-turn and straight passed by on the right)
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As I was approaching the intersection, I thought to myself “There is a car coming from behind. Do I keep to the right, as bikers are generally expected to do? Or do I stay in the bike lane, cut to the left, and hope he sees these lanes painted on the pavement?” At that time, going that speed, in those lanes, I felt like a vehicle moving in traffic, so I decided to keep biking in the lane.
Here’s an example of the exact spot where I was hit. The biker is doing what I did — keeping within the lane:
The car clipped me with the passenger side-view mirror. I heard the crunch of the plastic before I noticed I’d been struck. I was hit right in the basket on my rear rack, and I went down, hard. “Oof!” was the only thing I uttered as I hit the pavement. I was lucky I have a basket, otherwise that mirror would have struck my body, probably my backside or leg, and I probably would have tumbled over the bars. As it was, the bike was pushed forward by the momentum, and I went down on my side, scraping along the pavement for a few feet. I had board games in the basket, so along with body and bike strewn across the road, so were hundreds of “Apples to Apples” and “Pictionary” cards. But the nice folks at the bus stop, right in front of where I was struck, all came out and helped me gather my games.
The car immediately stopped, and the driver, Paul, a man of about 40, got out. Paul was terrified. He was white as a ghost. He couldn’t even gather his words when he saw the mess (the playing cards were for added effect). He thought he’d seriously injured me (he was going a good 30 mph when he hit me), but quickly I was up on my feet, asking him for his license and registration and insurance company, and talking a million-miles-a-minute about how I felt OK and could put weight on my leg and the wheels of the bike seem to be fine but I want to make sure we have each others information and I will be in touch with him for any medical bills or bicycle repairs. Really, I was in shock. And he was completely obliging with all my requests.
I decided not to call the cops on the scene. I wasn’t seriously injured, and I had no interest in having a ticket written out to Paul. Based on how I view biking in Boston, I felt this was a true accident; not anyone’s fault. I took down all the appropriate information, and that of a witness, and a few days later I filed an accident report. I gave one copy to the RMV, one to the D-14 Police Department in Brighton, and sent one to Paul. Here’s a quick link to MassBikes “What to do if you crash”
Paul and I kept in touch over the next few days, he wanted to see if my leg was doing better and to make sure there wasn’t any serious damage. The following week he took me out for drinks at the Bus Stop Pub. We talked about the problems of that intersection, and what can be done about it.
See, Paul is a cyclist sometimes too, and he’s even been doored before, “In the neck,” as he puts it. He’s lived in the neighborhood for years, and understands the hazards of biking on these roads. What happened, then, was the roads changed their pattern, and Paul just wasn’t expecting it. The bike lanes are new, so is the turning lane, and they aren’t very clearly marked. There is no “New Traffic Pattern” sign or even a “R-Turn, Watch for Bikes” sign. There is, however, a “Bike Lane End” sign. They striped the pavement, but as Paul put it “When you’re on top of it, you don’t see it.” Unlike what has been done on the Comm Ave lane, which have been painted green for visibility, it’s hard to understand exactly what the new lines on the pavement are doing at the intersection of N Harvard and Western Ave.
The lanes are also designed in such a way that forces cars to drive into the bike lane in order to turn. As Paul put it, “There’s not a wall there, at some point I gotta go through your lane.” As he was passing, Paul was not expecting a biker, me, to be making a change in direction, and I was not expecting a driver, Paul, to be passing by driving into my lane. That, and the fact that he was going about 30 mph, made it hard for either of us to respond to the situation and prevent the collision.
I suppose the point of this 1000 word post is that we need to work on awareness on the road. Drivers need to be more aware of how bikers navigate the road — know when to expect sudden changes in direction and drive cautiously around bikers, and bikers need to be aware that the road still holds dangers even when there’s fresh asphalt and new striping. I thank God the worst that happened was a scraped-up ankle and a busted rear-view. I hate to imagine what could have been the outcome if it was a few seconds later, when I would have been directly in the path of Paul’s car. All in all, though, 2 weeks later, I’m no worse for the wear. Paul even invited me to his Halloween party next weekend. At least I made a friend out of the experience.