I enjoy cycling to work when the weather is nice. I do everything I can to make myself visible to drivers and follow the rules of the road, but there are some people that just plain don’t pay attention…
I woke up last Wednesday and it was a beautiful cool morning so of course I was excited to ride my bike to work. I have noticed recently that more and more cyclists have been using blinky lights on the front of their bikes even during the daytime – I typically only use my bike light when the days start to get darker. I felt it definitely got my attention faster, but my phone holder on my handlebars makes it tricky for me to mount a bike light too – so I took a camping headlamp and twisty-tyed it to my handlebars under my phone holder. Voila! It worked!
Feeling pretty clever about it, I turned the light to the flashing mode, turned the flashing red back light on, put on my fluorescent green shirt and was on my way to work.
I got a block away from my house to an intersection where the cross traffic has to stop. I saw a giant van slowing down as it approached the stop sign. I signaled with my left arm extended indicating I was making a left turn and kept going as I had the right of way. As I started to make the turn I realized that the van was not going to stop – they rolled right through the stop sign and I could hear the roar of the engine and the driver hit the acceleration.
I started screaming and yelled every curse word I could think of. The driver hit the breaks and for a split second I thought I was in the clear, but for some reason the driver hit the gas pedal again and the car made another lurch closer towards me. It was almost like the driver couldn’t believe what she was seeing. This all happened in a matter of seconds.
Let me tell you screaming profanities is not a very good defense mechanism against a giant van rumbling towards you, but it was all I had. “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING YOU STUPID FUCKING IDIOT!?!?!” I screamed as I tried to stay balanced on my bike. The van was less than a foot away from hitting my right leg. I regained my composure, shaking my head at the close call when the driver pulled up along side of me, rolled the window down and started apologizing.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you!”
“It’s ok – thank you for apologizing.”
“I really didn’t even see you.”
“Wow – I signaled my turn and everything. It’s ok – it happens.” I replied as calmly as I could while holding my hand over my heart. I refused to have a heart attack after surviving almost getting hit by a car.
She drove off and I continued on my way – very shaken, but unharmed. I remembered the time about a year ago when I almost hit a pedestrian with my car – it was an intersection that is really hard to pull out of and as I floored it to go, this lady ran out of nowhere across the street not in a crosswalk. I just simply didn’t see her. Basically the same thing happened, but I was the driver this time. I was not on my phone, I was not distracted, just didn’t expect a person to dart across the road where she did. I think this experience made me a little sympathetic to the driver. I’m sure she was shaken up as well and hopefully it will make her be more aware of her surroundings. I have no idea if she was on her phone or what because all her windows were tinted. I was honestly very grateful that she stopped to apologize and acknowledge her mistake.
It wasn’t until I crossed over onto the park trail where it really hit me how close that was and that if she would have not heard me scream I probably would have been run over. I started to feel very small – it has been about 10 years since my last incident of almost getting hit and I just broke down crying. I couldn’t help it – I totally lost it. Kevin was on his way out of town, but I called him anyway because I was scared and didn’t know what to do. I ended up getting off my bike and walking because I was shaking so bad.
I looked at the time and realized at this pace I was NOT going to get to work on time. I called my supervisor who came and picked me up, but I was so upset I couldn’t even tell her where I was. She eventually found me and drove me the rest of the way to work.
What could I have done differently? Honestly I don’t think anything. I signaled my turn, I was wearing bright fluorescent unnatural colors, I had a blinky light on both ends of my bike and she STILL didn’t see me. The truth is that you can do everything right, but if the driver is not paying attention, or in a hurry, or tired or whatever they are not going to see you. This is what really scared me the most.
I was able to calm down during the day and despite offers from my boss to drive me home, I knew I had to get back on my bike and ride. I didn’t want that fear to set in for something that I loved doing (that already happened with horseback riding). I took it really slow going home and even rode the next day.
I just recently ordered one of the brightest cycling lights I could find. I was stuck between 2 brands of comparable quality and price and used the fact that one brand had a German Shepherd in the promo as the deciding factor – SOLD! 🙂 Hopefully this will make me even more visible and I know it will definitely help me see the roads better when the days get shorter.
Have you had any close encounters? How did you handle them if so?