Rookie Commuter: I hit a car…. allegedly

I was cruising along on a bike path when I came to the crosswalk at Broadway and University Avenue. A car, about to turn right, was stopped to let pedestrians cross the first of two crosswalks. Seeing this, and that the second crosswalk was lit with a walk signal, I slowed slightly, and made my way into the crosswalk…to slam into the car that decided it was the perfect time to start driving again. And while I clenched my brakes, it wasn’t enough to prevent me from denting the passenger door, snapping the front fork off my bike, and crumpling to the ground.

Just a little duct tape will probably do the trick.

Just a little duct tape will probably do the trick.

My least favorite part about crashing, or any other kind of falling, is the milliseconds before the impact takes place. Usually this time is taken up by panicking about the possible physical ramifications to my body. But in this crash, I was more concerned about my bike because, if you don’t remember, this whole column is about giving up my car to ride my bike. And now my bike is broken. Oh dear.

After getting checked out by an ambulance crew and refusing to go to the hospital for further analysis (do you know how much an ambulance ride costs?), I got a ticket. But getting the ticket wasn’t the biggest blow; because this crash was supposedly my fault, there would be no insurance to pay for my broken two-wheeled vehicle.  And I don’t know how much more I can milk out of an $8/hour paycheck towards a new bike. Is there a cheaper food than potatoes?

The ticket was for “improper use of a crosswalk”–a ticket that the on-scene officer says he almost never writes. It seems there is an eight mph speed limit in all crosswalks, which he deduced I had not been following. A little frustrating since I think I was well within a controlled speed when I entered the crosswalk — which, mind you, is not always true on foot; I’ve no doubt broken that speed limit sprinting to catch a walk signal many times. And not only that, your honor, but the speed limit on bike paths is 15 mph, which I was most certainly going under, and by the time I entered the crosswalk– after slamming on my brakes to avoid the car that pulled in front of me– I was going considerably less than that. Probably about eight mph. Maybe even seven. Or six. I really can’t afford this ticket.

The perspective I held coming down the bike path and entering the crosswalk. The car came from the left side of the photo across the crosswalk closest to you. I then slammed into that car. It didn't feel great.

The perspective I held coming down the bike path and entering the crosswalk. The car came from the left side of the photo across the crosswalk closest to you. I then slammed into that car. It didn’t feel great. Excuse me using a screen grab of Google Street view, I’ve been avoiding this intersection since the crash.

How he was able to figure out my speed without being present during the crash with a radar gun is also a little questionable. He relied heavily on witness accounts, which are shown to be tremendously inaccurate in the first classes of any psychology course. Next, he turned to my bike and said that since it was broken, I must have been going too fast.This is frustrating since my beloved is an old bike, with several crashes under her belt. Then the officer pointed out that I dented the car. Your honor, hail can dent a car, and hail isn’t quite as big as me, and I think my mass makes up for the lack of velocity. And also, my bike has crummy brakes that I couldn’t afford to replace, so I probably would have been able to avoid the crash if I had more money, but since I don’t, now I have even less money. THE INJUSTICE!

Under the common accidents section of the bike safety page for the City of Boulder, it shows that my accident is almost textbook for what happens to cyclists around this city. I’ll quote three bullet points:

  • “Most collisions between motorists and cyclists occur at crosswalks and intersections.
  • More than 60 percent of these accidents occur because motorists don’t adequately look for cyclists.
  • More than 23 percent of bicycle and vehicle collisions involve right-turning vehicles running into bicyclists who are approaching on a path or sidewalk from the right (the unexpected direction).”

This is exactly what happened with me, so cyclists, in that situation, make sure the car sees you. Double check.

I remember having a conversation with my girlfriend about the amount of money I make. She mentioned how her sister’s salary of twenty-something thousand dollars a year was barely enough to live off of. When I replied that I made less than fourteen thousand a year, she said, “Yeah, but you’re not living, you’re surviving.” The problem with surviving paycheck to paycheck, or more appropriately tips to tips, is the lack of a safety net. With just enough money to pay my phone bill (which, by the way, doesn’t involve data or a smartphone), rent, and groceries, there isn’t any left over for a catastrophe. I said to my buddy about a month ago, “I’m doing fine right now, but if my phone or computer dies, or something happens to my bike, I’m in big trouble.” And here we are.

A little closer for dramatic effect.

A little closer for dramatic effect. Perhaps not that dramatic, but imagine this is your sole means of transportation. Are you crying yet?

Luckily, the cop who wrote me the ticket gave me a ride to work, so I showed up to scoop ice cream with my mangled baby and a good story. One reason I gave the paramedics for not going to the hospital was that I had to get to work. “I really need to get there now,” I said. “I have a bike to replace.” So the next time you come to 28th St. Glacier, please leave a big tip. Bikes aren’t cheap.

You’ve probably figured out that this column is me practicing for court, and once again, I appreciate you indulging me. I can’t afford to pay a 75-dollar ticket on top of having to get a new bike, let alone have an insurance agency come knocking. So I’m honing in on my argument and how to properly comb my hair. But this will all pass hopefully, and I’ll figure out a way to get back on my bike. Because with these fees and possibly buying a new bike, I need this writing gig more than ever. I don’t think there is a BusLife magazine that would take a weekly column.

Becca Heaton

Becca Heaton is the program coordinator and editor for BikeLife Cities' city magazines and website. An avid cyclist, Becca is "embarrassed" to share that she has 5 different bikes... and she rides them all!

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