It happened. I got hit by a car while cycling.
I’ve been wrestling with how to tackle this. Nearly every letter I’ve pressed on initial drafts of this post have gotten deleted because I’m left unsatisfied. Even now I’m looking back at that first sentence, “wrestling,” “tackle”? What’s with the Jock Jams vocabulary? But I need to get moving.
Here’s what happened. I’ve covered before why I’m in the Twin Cities for a month, writing a couple of outdoor-themed books. On Friday afternoon, I was finishing my second cycling route to include in one of the books. Because I had been mostly riding on trail, I decided to turn on my Garmin VIRB the few times I would pop on the road. I just had a bad feeling about the drivers out in the exurban areas of the Twin Cities. Rural, exurban drivers in general tend to be more oblivious to their surroundings regardless of the region. That’s merely the nature of the roads and society designed around them. Speed limits are high, everything is sprawled and roads are wide. It’s meant for cars to move fast, not for cyclists or pedestrians.
This is certainly the case in the exurbs of Cleveland, too. But I already had one close call during my second ride (Waste Management truck crossing the trail, unaware of incoming cyclists) and I got the feeling that perhaps because of the Twin Cities’ incredible bike trail network that drivers almost always expect cyclists to be off the road. I could very well be wrong as this is all entirely anecdotal. Suffice it to say, I mentally had enough ammo to justify running my camera whenever on the road.
I stopped for a quick Cliff Bar where a crushed gravel trail meets with Tonkawood Road, a typically wide two-lane thoroughfare you’ll find almost anywhere else in the States. Usually I claim the lane to make sure I’m noticed, but the shoulders were wider than bike lanes. It wasn’t littered with dirt or broken glass, so I used it as a makeshift bike lane.
I was on Tonkawood for just three-tenths of a mile when I came to Minnetonka Blvd. where I needed to make a left and a quick right. I was alone on the road, nobody behind me. Minnetonka, however, was busy. So I waited patiently at a complete stop to make my left. Based on the cars speeding by, I assumed the speed limit must have been 40 or 50, meaning they were probably traveling 5 or 10 miles per hour more because, y’know, they have places to be and laws are only for cyclists safely rolling a stop sign*. There was also a bit of a hump between Tonkawood and Minnetonka, meaning it would take even more energy to get moving on the high-speed road, also meaning I would need to be extra sure I had time to make my turn.**
As I waited, I noticed a large white vehicle*** waiting to make a left onto Tonkawood. I even remember having the thought, “Welp, this turn will take a while since I have to wait for the car to turn and then more traffic.”
Unfortunately, the driver of that vehicle did not have a similar breakdown of the scene. When the east-bound lane cleared, the driver made their turn right into me.
If we could look through my thoughts in instant replay, it would read something like the following:
“That car is turning. I’ll move up a little after to get a better view of traffic to make my turn.”
“That car needs to make a wider turn.”
“…I’m about to get hit.”
Then, as you can see in the video, an audible, “Whoa” followed by, “Jesus!”
A part of me always suspected that I might get hit at some point considering the amount of cycling I do in a heavily car-oriented society. I thought I would get fired up rather quickly, because that’s exactly what happens when drivers have almost hit me or my wife countless times when rolling a stop sign or pretending that crosswalks are Mario Kart speed boosters and not pedestrian safe zones. I’ve shouted and pointed to stop signs and pedestrian signs in hopes of a quick dash of public shaming.
I’ve also read far too many stories of cyclists getting killed and media outlets playing a part in victim blaming. There’s also the well-known fact (if you’ve been around here before or personally know me) that I’m car-free for the same reason I don’t own a gun. Both kill way too many people. Then there are the added bonuses of environment, financial and societal damage. But we’ve already been down that road with me.
Luckily I was merely tossed to the side and was able to bounce right back up at which point I started berating the driver. I had always imagined that if I got hit, the driver would either try to blame me, flee the scene, or look like a 1980s WWF villain.
What I got was a sweet-looking old lady who stopped immediately, asked if I was okay, and said “good” when I told her I caught the crash on camera. It wasn’t a sarcastic “good.” She actually meant it. After moving her car over on the road, she wrote down her insurance and asked if I could call 911.
In retrospect, I might have been more stunned by her kindness considering the situation than by actually getting hit. Part of me wanted her to be this villain I had made drivers to be. Reflecting on this later, I realized it actually fit right into what I actually believe, that most drivers are good people who are caught in a dangerously designed system and feel they don’t have any other good option. It just-so-happens that they almost always have the upper hand when those systems turn deadly. For that reason, I generally place more blame for a collision on the system than the driver. Not to mention almost everyone else I know is a driver, so of course they’re not all monsters. I suppose I thought the monsters where those who hit a cyclist or pedestrian, but my experience just goes to show that truly anyone can find themselves in a dangerous situation behind the wheel because of how poorly our streets are designed and how few our alternatives transportation options are.
I pulled my bike and gear up to a shady spot on what was probably someone’s lawn as we waited for an officer to arrive. Because of horror stories I’ve heard and read about, I was concerned that the officer would try to find fault simply in my being there and being a cyclist. Besides the obvious fact that cyclists have the right to the road, it’s not like I was a lone wolf out there. The area was labeled a bike route and I saw a number of riders go by on Minnetonka as I waited.
Thankfully the officer proved to be kind and incredibly thorough, snapping photos of the scene and taking notes.
Upon his arrival, he asked for our stories. I said I was stopped, waiting to turn left, and she ran right into me, head-on. She claimed she never saw me because she was paying attention to oncoming traffic and incorrectly stated that she hit me with the rear or side of her car. After giving our stories, the officer asked to watch my video. He did and shouted, “Holy crap!” after seeing the car run into me, almost like a verbal spit-take. That was all he needed to establish fault. Eventually he asked if he could show the video to her, because she apparently still did not understand what happened.
Ultimately she was only charged with an illegal left turn and got a ticket. I specifically asked if there would be any other kind of punishment for, y’know, hitting a person. If I understood the officer correctly, I only come into the equation if I was injured, if she fled or if she were drunk. Since I was fine, I was basically a telephone pole that she skimmed. Of course it’s not the officer’s fault if that’s truly the law. But if that is the law, then it’s a truly shitty law.
I went on to finish my ride, a fire burning inside my head that would set the stage for the rest of the day’s fuming.
As far as car collisions go, I knew I came across pretty much the best case scenario. I left with only minor back soreness, the driver stayed at the scene and the officer was great. Still, I couldn’t get over a few things.
How could she not see me? If you can’t see a human being on a road, you shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound machine.
Speaking of that machine, why in God’s name would a little old lady need a car that big?
How could the law let a driver get away with such a minor infraction after hitting a person?
How can she legally get back in her car after hitting a person? Could you imagine if someone accidentally grazed a passerby with a bullet? That gun would be gone.
As nice as she seemed, it has nothing to do with the fact that she has no business being behind a wheel. If I had to ballpark her age, I’d say mid-70s. Maybe even older. She looked like Maxine from the Crabby Road comics, sunglasses and all. That means she might not have taken a driver’s exam in over 50 years, an exam that likely had no mention of cyclists or other road-users other than cars.
These thoughts spiraled into a barrel of rage that lasted through the night. I already fall into bouts of anger when I’m surrounded by too many cars. I was hoping a nice Friday evening walk would be the cure to my strange afternoon, but I only delved deeper into the rage abyss when I couldn’t help but notice that there were more cars out than people walking the streets.
How did we as a society let it get to this point, where even in a walkable urban environment on a perfectly temperate evening, people are treating cars like their damn legs? It was a sad night. The whole car culture feels like we made a deal with the devil. We exchanged the occasional personal convenience at the expense of safety and society.
There’s not much of a button to this story I can offer, unfortunately. But I’m already creeping up on 2,000 words, so do you really even want to see me babble on any longer? My guess is most clicked away after reading that I was okay and others left when I started criticizing car-culture, thinking “Yeah, but you just need a car…” You know, like clothes, food and shelter!
If anything, this whole episode makes my idea for a tattoo of a bike crushing a car on my right calf all the more appealing.
*This is called an Idaho Stop. It’s proven to be safer for all parties involved and should be legalized everywhere.
**I’m just now realizing the ridiculous degree to which cyclists must be engaged while on the road because of cars. Meanwhile, drivers manage to find time to check that text message or change the radio station.
***That’s really the best description I could give. I just don’t know a thing about cars beyond their killing ability. Even before I knew I hated cars, I knew I could give two shits about makes, models and all that jazz.