Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bikes, Cars, and Traffic

In October 2008, the driver of a gold Mercedes hit me while I was riding my bike.
This was at the intersection of Mermaid and Crittenden. The intersection is a 4-way stop; there'd been a decent number of cars, so I'd stopped before proceeding. Did I put my foot down at the stop? I don't remember. I do remember that I had not been riding agressively. And I was almost all of the way through the stop sign, too – the driver just decided to start driving while I was still going, and hit my rear wheel.
He stopped, looked, and then drove away. I didn't know if I was hurt, or how bad by bike was, so I didn't give chase. Besides, there were witnesses. I got the names and contact information of two people who stopped to help me. They and I had both noted the license plate.
Later that day, I gave my police report. The officer – officer Boone – confirmed that the license I gave her was registered to a gold Mercedes. I figured this was proceeding well; she'd contact the witnesses and they'd contact the driver who had hit me and then fled.
What's happened since then?
Nada. Zilch. The one person I talked to at the police station seemed kind of annoyed that I'd called. I wasn't hurt, so I couldn't sue for damages. (Although, as the personal injury lawyer I contacted told me, I'm not a doctor, so really, how could I be sure I wasn't injured?)
The guy went through a stop sign, hit me, and fled. And the police didn't do a thing about it.

Here in Philly, there's been a lot of talk lately about the role of bikes in the city. A couple of councilmen got on their high horse about cracking down on dangerous cycling. I actually agree with most of Kenney's points - I hate bikes on the sidewalk as much as anyone. But when I hear about increased enforcement of rules regarding bicycles, I'm hesitant.
I'm like a lot of cyclists – I'd like to see more enforcement of all traffic laws. It doesn't start with cyclists, though. It starts with the cars. It starts with the cars for several reasons.
First off, there's the extent of law breaking by automobile drivers.
Here are some things to try: crossing nineteenth street, on the south side of Walnut; biking on Eakin's Oval and going past the merge lanes for 676; or, if you're not used to it, just biking from one end of center city to the other. Even on the bike lanes. You don't have to break any laws to feel vulnerable. And if you want to see cars breaking the law, all you have to do is open your eyes.
But cars also have to be first because of the damage that they can do. A 25-pound bike just can't do the damage that even the smallest cars can do.
One more thing to consider. As crazy as this sounds, cars are as responsible for the bad reputation of cyclists as cyclists are. Bad drivers drive good cyclists off the road.

Philly streets have a bit of chaos to them. Most people here accept that. I'd like to see that change. It's crazy, though, to expect cyclists to be the only people out there obeying the rules of the road.

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