In a policy shift tantamount to the Bush administration pulling out of Iraq and embracing same sex marriage, I have decided that the sidewalk is not the place for this adult cyclist.
For years I have been an ardent defender of every cyclists right to utilize the sidewalk (where legal) as part of their overall commuting strategy, wherever he or she feels it might be appropriate. I simply believed that there was a right way and a wrong way to ride there. The difference between some teenage-hooligan-urban-jumpster slaloming between terrorized elderly pedestrians, and a seasoned cycle commuter cautiously using an empty stretch of sidewalk, should be obvious. Either you're casually cruising or you're riding recklessly - simple as that. Employ a little common sense and the sidewalk should be looked upon as an asset.
So what brought about this 180? Well if you've looked at the accompanying image you might have guessed why Iíve changed my tune. And though itís pretty humbling to go public with my crash and resulting epiphany, I believe that if doing so saves just one cyclist from repeating my fate, or worse, itís worth it. And please, feel free to throw me a big olí rhetorical ďWE TOLD YOU SO!Ē.
I set myself up because I believed that I could observe a given stretch of sidewalk, render a quick risk benefit analysis, and decide if it was safe to use. And so I got into the habit of riding one particular 3 block stretch of sidewalk, against the flow of traffic, near the end of my homeward bound commute. I thought that since it saved me from making 2 left hand turns across major 4 lane roadways within blocks of each other, it was worth the risk. Well I found out the hard way that the line between cautious cruising and reckless riding can become pretty narrow in a hurry, and often moves altogether at the most inopportune instant.
The fact is I donít remember the collision... or the ambulance... or the trauma room. One moment I was turning for home, the next I was coming to in an elevator as they were transferring me upstairs for a night of observation. Two to three hours were gone, and havenít come back. They say I started talking in the ambulance, but I have no recollection until much later on.
However I can tell you that Iím a creature of habit, and so i rode this particular stretch much the same way on any given evening. I had to cross two streets against traffic using the crosswalk. I was aware that any driver entering the main road from either of these streets would be looking primarily in the other direction. And so I was in the habit of looking for traffic approaching those two stop signs, and slowing in order to allow them to clear the intersection. I donít think I ever road these couple blocks at more than 5 or 10 mph.
Of course something went terribly wrong. Assuming I was moving at my usual modest speed, I can only suspect that the woman whom I collided with rolled the stop while looking in the other direction. The investigating officer did question why she was not able to look both ways, and thus see me coming, before proceeding. There were no other witnesses. However, somehow she brought some additional speed into the mix. My injuries simply are not consistent with riding into a stopped vehicle at 10 mph. I know because unfortunately I did that and worse on several occasions during my reckless, misspent youth. Of course all my supposition is a moot point. Since I was on a bicycle, and by definition operating a vehicle against the flow of traffic, Iíll be awarded at least 90% of the fault. And Iíll not argue with that. But what if Iíd been a jogger, or in a motorized wheelchair?
Ultimately, I have to count my blessings. Sure, I got a good shiner, a few stitches, a cracked molar, and lots of bruises. Iíll be pretty sore for a couple weeks. But it could have been much, much worse. Had I impacted at a different angle I might have woken up paralyzed, or with a major head injury, or maybe not at all. One thingís for sure though; if I ever tangle with a car again, I will be in in the lane and headed in the right direction.