My first assignment in the Army was as a platoon leader in Mannheim, Germany. The US was still involved in a cold war with the Soviet Union. My unit had HETs—heavy equipment transporters. Due to their size, weight and cargo, often M60 tanks, driving on the autobahns required special clearances from the Germans and the narrow streets of villages didn’t leave much room to maneuver. A truck could accidentally hit a car, and due to the size differential, the driver was often unaware of an impact. On one convoy, we had left Berlin, driving across the closely monitored stretch of East German highway. Before entering Helmstedt, West Germany, we passed through the Soviet checkpoint. Just when I thought we managed to avoid a ruckus, one of the trucks knocked the border tollbooth off its foundation. I found out about that accident immediately. Even if you don’t know Russian, soldiers running at you with weapons get your attention. As convoy commander, I was responsible for reporting and initiating a resolution to that international incident, plus the accident meant arranging another night on the road before returning to Spinelli Barracks. .
Size wise, what the HET was to a passenger vehicle, a car is to a bicycle. Biking is our default mode of transportation given Metro’s recent history of incidents and reliability. This past week, I was in charge of an event downtown and needed to be there on time, so I rode my bike. While the bike trails in this area are more comprehensive than in many places, drivers are often oblivious or disrespectful. On this particular ride, I encountered a van parked in and blocking the separated bike lane on 15th St. On the same stretch of bike lane, an SUV u-turned head-on into me. The driver was able to stop and I was able to swerve, but these are “normal” experiences on a transportation system that’s rigged against self-propelled travel. Customary seems to be unaware or distracted drivers with the mindset that parking in a bike lane while getting cash from an ATM or hitting a bicyclist is a path of least resistance.
But sometimes actions are deliberate. On a recent Saturday, we were biking home from DC. In Potomac Park near the Jefferson Memorial, the road forks with two lanes for turning. I was in the left lane to turn left when I heard a vehicle accelerating behind me, revving its engine and swerving. It edged on my left before striking my front wheel with an audible thunk. The driver hooked around me and turned right. It was early afternoon on a clear day and the truck’s windows were open—I could hear laughter. While the accident was apparent to the pedestrian on the sidewalk, the driver didn’t stop. I had the tag number and a description. When I contacted DC police, I learned that you can’t submit a police report for a vehicle accident online or by phone, and by the way, Potomac Park is under the jurisdiction of the Park Police. When I called the Park Police, I was told that I needed to make a report in person.
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that 2,348 more people died in crashes last year than in 2014, a 7.2 % increase, meaning 35,092 people died on US roads in 2015. Pedestrian and bicyclist deaths were higher than at any time in the last two decades.Since 1990, more than 1 million people have died in crashes on U.S. roads, and the World Health Organization says there are about 1.25 million global traffic deaths each year. The National Safety Council estimates that 19,100 people died in crashes during the first six months of this year, an 18 % increase since 2014. An additional 2.2 million people suffered serious injuries. Are these acceptable losses?
After this week’s event, I rode to the police station at Haines Point, to report a hit and run. When the officer gave me the police report number, he also handed me a brochure, “Providing Services for Victims of Crimes.” I hadn’t thought of myself as a victim, but I am aware that in “vehicle versus bike” match-ups, cyclists don’t fare well. Enhanced safety features on cars are for occupants, not those a vehicle might hit. I have no illusions that I’ll live forever, but I’d prefer not ending up as a hood ornament. By the way, it was a beautiful day for a bike ride.I hope you’ll share the road.
Joan S Grey, 7 Oct 2016
IndexCardCure™: still riding