Bike Safety Starts on the Street
I see lights flashing, but oddly they are through my closed eyelids and I can’t understand why. Then a voice, asking, “Are you alright? I saw you crash.” Good. I wasn’t dead.
It was Tuesday morning, September 11, 2012, and I had met my bike ride group at 6 a.m. on Shallowford Road near I-85 for our regular 18-mile morning ride. We are a group of 40- and 50-something “type-A” guys who are rather passionate about road-biking for exercise and recreation. Some of us, including me, even prefer to commute on bicycle. Our ride takes us through Mercer University, through Tucker, back inside I-285 on Lawrenceville Highway, through the up-and-coming Oak Grove neighborhood commercial center, and then along neighborhood streets to get to the I-85 access road at Clairmont for the final push back to the start on Shallowford. We tend to ride hard on Tuesdays, easier (we call it the “kind and gentle” ride) on Wednesdays and then moderately hard on Thursdays.
This being a Tuesday, we had ridden hard and fast, and I had just dropped to the back of the lead pack as we headed down Alderbrook toward Briarcliff. It was still dark, 6:50 AM. I noticed that a big truck was approaching the group going in the opposite direction. And then it happened.
One moment, I was zipping down the street along with everybody else and then, suddenly, I was careening crazily toward
the right curb. I gripped my brakes and tried to steer back toward the center of the road. I felt myself fish-tailing in the grit adjacent to the curb, and then, BAMM!I was airborne, thinking, “This is going to hurt!” I landed on my head and right shoulder, hard, and came to rest a few seconds later sitting up in someone’s driveway. I called out to the blinking red lights on the back of my colleagues’ bikes disappearing into the distance, but could barely get a breath out. I tried whistling, futilely. I heard the truck hit its brakes as it passed me. The pain overcame me, and I laid back and closed my eyes. I hoped someone would find me before I died.
I saw lights flashing through my closed eyelids and couldn’t understand why a truck would have flashing lights. Then a voice, asking, “Are you alright? I saw you crash.”
The DeKalb County EMT vehicle from Station 8 was on its way to respond to a call from a home where a woman had fallen. “I saw you fish-tailing and then flipping through the air!” Rod and Nick were in the right place at the right time, stabilizing my neck and placing me on a back-board. By this point, the pain was excruciating as the neck-brace pressed down on what clearly was a broken collarbone. My helmet was cracked, clearly having done its job. After being transported to DeKalb General, I learned that I also had a broken scapula (shoulder blade). I had what biker’s call “Road rash” – lots of skin was missing from my shoulder, elbow, side and hip.
I also discovered after loading the data from the ride captured on my Garmin into my computer that I was riding 34 MPH at the time of the crash.
Since the accident six weeks ago, several folks have asked me if I will still continue to ride my bike. After all, isn’t it too dangerous, especially in Atlanta?I got back on the bike as soon as I could – about two weeks ago. It’s all a matter of risk and reward. Sure, I risk getting injured or worse, but the reward is that I stay in great shape, I don’t have to own a car to commute to work, I can eat almost anything and not gain weight, I save money, and I feel younger than I am.
More and more people are riding bikes these days, and transportation agencies and governments are responding with investments in bicycle transportation planning and infrastructure. Where I work in Buckhead, we are in a relentless pursuit of transportation options, including the creation of bike lanes and bike trails. It’s a very good thing.
Two final thoughts: First, if you ride a bike, wear a helmet. It saved me. Second, let’s place appropriate emphasis on road maintenance and good repair with our transportation dollars.