My body is barely bruised. I've only got a knick on my forehead and an elbow scrape. You wouldn’t know it from looking at me, but my muscles feel like they've been ripped apart. I keep struggling to fall soundly asleep. My body creaks and snaps with every subtle shift, and I am reliving the incident.
I feel like I was hit by a car. And perhaps, that's because I was.
Last Monday morning, as I was commuting by bike to work, I was hit by a driver at the intersection of Brooks Street and Campus Drive. Like every other day, I had taken the Campus Drive bike path westward until I would need to make a daring left turn across three lanes of traffic. This is the most exposed section of my commute. Cars are on the left three lanes and a bus lane is to the right (however, passenger vehicles are often illegally in the bus lane, too). When it's busy, I'll hear the roar of vehicles to my left, and feel the encroaching doom on my back right as a bus jockeys with me.
On this day, the traffic hadn't posed a threat. Soaked in the downpour, as the light turned green on Brooks Street, I started toward it — staying on the right side of the road. A small, silver sedan started pulling out, turning left on Campus Drive, and right toward me. For a split second, I thought, "They'll stop." Every single time a car has pulled into my lane or area, they've stopped short. There have been plenty of close calls as a near-daily bike commuter for about six or seven years, but never any crashes. Largely, biking has been a wonderful way for me to stay active and reduce my carbon footprint.
I’ve biked in numerous cities for work and regular commutes, and Madison has been the most bike-friendly of all. There are protected bike lanes, special bike signals, bike sharing via BCycle and a culture of riding. The sum of these initiatives is an impressive infrastructure that encourages people to ride regularly, including older adults, children and people who haven’t ridden in years.
Despite these advancements, there's a saying in the bike-riding business: it's not if, but when you will be hit. Monday happened to be my day. As the car on Brooks Street proceeded without caution, I was struck in my left thigh, then thrown across the hood. My shoulder was next to make contact, as it took the brunt of my fall to the ground. Finally, my helmeted head scraped the road. Thankfully, the crash did not result in a head injury or concussion.
A passerby ran over and asked if I was okay. I stood up rapidly, looked down at my body, and didn’t notice anything bent at 90-degree angles or missing. The driver was shaken up, as well, and seemed genuinely concerned about my well-being. I don’t know if she was texting, dialing or turning dials in her car. But she had at least stopped to check on me.
Only a block from work, I decided to walk the rest of the way and then assess the damage in my office. I limped and winced, but it took about 24 hours before the full extent of the pain and injuries were realized.
Today, I share my story with you because I want to continue to make Madison one of the most bike-friendly places on Earth. To achieve this, we must make meaningful changes to the infrastructure and culture of biking and driving, both here and across America.
We need fierce enforcement of distracted driving laws, which should include calling and texting while driving. Every day that I walk or bike, I see drivers looking down — they’re inputting Google Maps destinations, texting friends and family, and blissfully unaware of what’s happening beyond their peripheries. Law enforcement should focus on making the streets safer by literally making the streets safer — policing those who wield what New York Times columnist Allison Arieff called “death machines.”
We need more advanced, protected bike infrastructure. Protections can include cones, concrete barriers and other physical separators. Especially in dangerous roads like Campus Drive, a physical separation should exist for those moving west in between passenger vehicles and buses.
We need more than lights on streets like Blair. Recently, the city installed crossing lights there for bikers and pedestrians. But lights aren’t stopping cars. Almost every day I bike past that intersection, I see cars running that red light. Traffic cameras and enforcement could greatly impact the amount of illegal crossings, as would infrastructure that encourages slower driving such as bumps and signage.
We need biker boxes for making turns at challenging intersections. Some already exist on Johnson going east. They allow bikers to wait for traffic to open up, allowing them to cross safely and with greater visibility for cars on the perpendicular road. If biker boxes were painted on Campus Drive, it’s possible this crash might have never happened.
A day after the crash, I walked to campus and found my bike where I locked it. I couldn’t stay away for long. I tried to bike and could feel my knee snapping and the pedal bending. Both me and my bike were worse for the wear, but committed to moving and making Madison a safer, better city for all.
Samuel Lustgarten is a licensed psychologist in Madison.
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