This past Saturday I kind of witnessed a cyclist get hit by a car. I was walking down a quiet street in my neighborhood in order to drop off my food scraps at the Green Market when I suddenly heard the short toot of a car horn and then a brief scream. I turned my head just in time to see a figure on a bike flip head over heels onto the ground. I was about three blocks away when it happened and, once I saw about ten people gather around to help the fallen cyclist, I knew my additional presence would only be as a gawker, so I continued walking to the park, hoping that everyone was going to be okay. Before I was completely out of earshot, I heard distant sirens approach the scene as well as frantic sobs coming from the driver of the car.
Almost a week later, I can still see the body of the cyclist completely flipping over the bike and onto the ground. I can still see the prone body of the cyclist lying on the street, not a single muscle moving. And I can still hear the driver’s hysterical sobs.
I did not witness the actual accident itself, so I have no idea how it happened. Generally, the street itself has very little traffic and a dedicated bike lane. It would normally be one of the last places in Brooklyn I would expect to see a bike accident. Maybe the cyclist was crossing the intersection against a red light. Maybe the driver was texting and tapped the bike’s rear tire. Maybe a squirrel ran into the middle of the road and both the cyclist and the driver swerved to avoid it then ran into each other. This post is not about assigning blame. I simply wish to point out something obvious. When a car and a bicycle come together, the car will always win.
You can argue “right of way” and whose fault the accident was all day long. None of it matters if you’re dead. Maybe it matters if your family is suing the person who put you into a vegetative state and they’re trying to pay your medical bills, but I think we can all agree that everyone would be better off if you weren’t in a coma to begin with.
As I’m riding a bike around the city, I see a lot of cyclists doing stupid things. I see them weaving between moving cars. I see them riding the wrong way on a busy street. I see them paying more attention to their phone than to the road. I see them speed through a red light without even pausing. And so many of these people are doing these stupid things without helmets! I certainly don’t claim to be a perfectly safe cyclist. I have run red lights (after I’ve stopped at an intersection and made sure no traffic is coming), and I’ve certainly ridden a bike without a helmet. But seeing that body on the ground has sure made me a more cautious cyclist these last several days, and I think my days of riding without a helmet are in the past. You are just so vulnerable when you’re on that bicycle, and it does not take a whole lot of force to cause a lot of permanent damage to our soft, squishy bodies.
Hopefully, as more and more people ride bikes in our cities, the infrastructure will change to make it safer with more dedicated bike lanes and maybe even some bike-only roads and paths. But until that happens, please, pay attention, wear a helmet, and never assume the driver behind you sees you. The driver that clips your back tire may be completely in the wrong, but you’ll be the one in the ambulance. Ride smart.