Hit by a Car – 2 weeks later

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.


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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.

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7 Responses to Hit by a Car – 2 weeks later

  1. m2mayer says:

    I’m glad you’re okay! Thanks for writing this up in such detail, and addressing all perspectives. This is the kind of thing that should be getting published in the Globe; it shows that the roots of most of the problems on the road are awareness and uncertainty. When both of you became uncertain about the best thing to do, that was the point that the infrastructure failed you. While the road infrastructure may not be completely to blame, it nevertheless requires an increase in awareness. I recommend this be submitted to a broader audience of road users.

  2. teeheehee says:

    First off, glad to hear you’re okay.

    I live pretty close to this intersection and was as excited as beans when they repaved N. Harvard and added the bike lanes, but knew there would be problems eventually with the Western Ave intersect. On the one hand I think the timing for when they did the repaving was excellent (though about five years later than was originally needed) because it was before the start of college season. This means that fresh eyes to the area aren’t confused by a sudden change in the traffic pattern. It was perhaps the best timing they could have had for this affect. On the other hand anyone who is already familiar with the area (most especially those who have lived here for a while) are at the greatest risk of handing all the newness in a poor fashion.

    Somewhere I heard that most accidents happen within two miles from the home, and the risk is greatly increased during construction or other times when there is a change to the familiarity people are accustomed to. When people develop habits they are slow to change them, and that is exactly what they have to do now with the changes made on N. Harvard. That’s not an excuse, and it never should be given as one, but it is a direct cause to a probable sudden increase in accidents. It should serve as a yellow or red flag if you happen to be aware that a change took place. Another example here was when all of the on-street parking was stripped away, and afterwards plenty of people ignored the fact that they were now parking in a bike lane with signs nearby saying “No Parking”. We’re all Creatures of Habit when it comes down to it, and may not even recognize change because we aren’t looking for it.

    It does feel sketchy most of the time when I take that bit of lane and it drops left to separate the right-only lane. I would fully expect poor behavior for at least another year or more while familiarites begin to accept the change that has taken place. I don’t think I would have done any differently, but will be extra vigilant now when I’m approaching Western Ave because of your story.

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  4. Charlie says:

    Hope you’re doing okay after being hit. You probably realize this, but it’s always wise to be extra vigilant where there is a lot of right turning traffic or a right turn only lane, whether there is a bike lane or not. Especially since there is a bit of a lane shift here (similar to Broadway approaching Hampshire St in Kendall Square Cambridge) even when I’m staying in the bike lane, I always check to my left for cars and signal a soft left to make sure that motorists approaching from behind know I’m shifting with the bike lane. I’m a firm believer that the bike lanes on N Harvard St have made it much more comfortable for bicycling, but of course as you say you always need to be aware of your surroundings, whether there is a bike lane or not.

  5. Chris D. says:

    So glad you’re okay. Just to add to the discussion, I was hit Sunday in the bike lane on Comm Avenue. Right hooked a few blocks from Kenmore on the inbound sound, pretty sure the driver was going to the Red Sox game and looking for parking. The driver and passenger were both very nice and appropriate, but had no clue that I was literally less than a foot from the passenger when they turned right without signaling. If I hadn’t anticipated the move and slowed down as much as I did, I would have been much more injured (likely my bike too). Just a reminder… bike lanes are just paint, and drivers don’t see them when they have something else on their mind!!! Be careful out there.

  6. Josh says:

    Hey, My name is Josh and I traveled through out Mexico and Guatemala on bicycle with the bicycle powered band the ginger ninjas. I just moved to Allston in September. Throughout my trip I wasn’t hit at all luckily, but I have been hit multiple times in Worcester ( my home town). I have been realizing that these boston drivers out here can be nuts and ignorant while driving. I especially hate seeing drivers talking and texting on their cell phones while they cut me off or do something silly while I am right next to them on my bike. I am trying to get a hold you the a/b bike collective but I can’t find an email to talk to. I would like to get involved with your group and I have lots of ideas. I myself am starting a community bike shop in my basement in Allston where people can come and use our bike tools for free during open hours. It would be awesome if you could email me at jshchadwick@yahoo.com Thanks A lot

  7. Pingback: Allston-Brighton bikes » Comm Ave bike lanes, rough draft to final design

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