The Fresh Horror of Bike Accidents

*Warning: This is a horrible post. I saw something awful today (though not the accident itself), and it reminded me of another bike accident I saw years ago, and talking about what I saw is a way of coping. Feel free to skip this post. I completely understand. And if you’re a cyclist or pedestrian, please use all caution, and if you’re driving a motor vehicle, please check twice or three times, and yield the road.*

Today, as I was biking to meet friends/colleagues at a cafe for a work-date, I turned onto Mass. Ave. into very heavy traffic. I don’t normally travel Mass. Ave. at 9 a.m., but it seemed extra-heavy to me.

And then there was a cop, diverting traffic off of Mass. Ave. near Porter Square. I had a feeling…I asked someone walking what had happened.

“Someone got hit,” he said, gesturing up the street.

“Cyclist?” I asked. He shrugged.

I had to cross, because the street was not only cordoned off but screened off. Imagine big colored tarps hanging so you can’t see what’s behind them. I asked a cop directing traffic what had happened.

“A cyclist was hit around 8:08 a.m,,” he said.

“Is the cyclist…deceased?” I asked. Deceased. Why did I put it that way? Who says that? I don’t know. Maybe because I feared the worst. He gave a curt nod and, observing my bike/helmet/yellow cycling jacket, told me to be safe.

I joined the small crowd near a semi, which had its hood open. The screened area was behind it, and there was another, smaller truck behind that.

And then I saw it. The bicycle where no bike should be, under the cab of the truck. But then I could see the body, through a corner of the screening, covered in white, on the road, well behind the truck. An hour after he (it turned out to be a he, age 60) had been hit.

Cops were all over the scene, not just directing traffic but rolling on those little mechanic’s dollies under the truck, checking things, studying the underside of the truck. The whole scene was cordoned off.

Two younger women walked by. “Ohmigod, why is everyone staring? Is that truck, like, about to explode?” one asked her friend. “I think it broke down. Why don’t they just tow it away?” said the other. They stood watching.

It was time for me to go. I was shaken and had seen enough. I paused as I passed the two young women, who were still staring at the scene. “The truck didn’t break down,” I said. “Look under the cab.” I said this as gently as possible. “A cyclist was hit and killed.”

Their faces registered the awful bike, the awfulness of it. Their hands flew to cover their mouths. I don’t know why I had to tell them except maybe I wanted them to understand the gravity of this, that we weren’t a bunch of dumb-asses staring at a broken-down truck. People get killed, and it could have been any of us on our bikes.

*****

I used to bike to work all the time. From North Cambridge out to Lexington. From Central Square to the South End in all weather. From Medford to the far side of Waltham. It was such a nice way to get to work. I knew accidents happened. I joked that the 77 bus was out to get me (seriously, that bus was terrifying). I refused to ride on Mass. Ave. in Boston because it was too much of a mess of traffic and buses and trucks and too scary and dangerous. I had other routes.

One day, in 2002, my friend Lisa drove me home from work for some reason. As we approached Central Square, we saw emergency vehicles and the road being hosed down. Being hosed down. We were diverted. “I bet there was an accident,” I said. “I bet it was a cyclist.”

I don’t know how I knew.

It was a cyclist indeed, named Dana Laird, doored by an SUV and thrown under the back wheels of an MBTA bus, and it was horrible, and a nearby light post was covered with flowers and notes for a long time.

Her death has stuck with me. I stay well out of the door zone, when possible, and try to give buses a lot of space.

*****

I left the scene, finally, walking my bike until I felt I could ride it again. I locked it up when I got to the cafe, amazed. “I’m alive. The rest of us are alive. It’s all chance,” I thought.

And on the way home, going through a tricky part of Harvard Square (also up Mass. Ave., of course) a car tried to edge me out of the lane (there was no bike lane or shoulder). I know my rights and took the full lane, which you’re allowed to do, and glory be but then there was a sign: “[Bicyclist] May Take Full Lane” and I pointed at it as I biked past. And the car passed on my left, the driver shouting at me, something about “Cambridge” and “bikes,” and he drove on, and I biked on, thinking Don’t you know? Don’t you know we can take a lane? Don’t you know bikes can travel on these roads, and another person just died this morning?

…and then I went through Porter Square again, more than five hours since the accident had happened (and please leave now if you’re squeamish, but I need a place to put this). The body had been removed; the screens were down. The truck was still there. The driver (the poor driver! Yes, I have sympathy for him; he may have been careless, but I’m sure he didn’t mean to harm or kill anyone) was gone.

The bike had been removed from under the cab and was at the side of the street. And this, this is the awful part: Three people dressed in full medical-type protective gear and headcoverings (the surgical kind) were under the truck, with spray bottles and small brushes, carefully spraying and scrubbing the treads of the rear tires, and I want to throw up when I think of it.

I’ve just recently gotten back into biking everywhere, in part because I reclaimed an ancient Fuji steel-frame total beater 10-speed I’d lent to a friend, which is a comfortable ride and I can park it anywhere, even if I’ve forgotten a bike lock (yes, really — let’s hear it for ugly old bikes). But today reminded me to be more careful than ever, to assume nothing, to trust no cars or trucks and to get off and wait on the sidewalk and walk my bike on the crosswalk in some places rather than make the left turn I’m legally allowed to make. I’ve been so lucky for years.

But the Greater Boston area has a long way to go in becoming a safer place for cyclists. And as-yet-unnamed cyclist, your death was needless. And truck driver, you’re not evil. I hope you can get some sleep at some point.

I trust a ghost bike and memorial will appear tomorrow.

Be safe and careful, everyone.

This just in: A bunch of elementary school students saw the crash.

 

 

Leave a Reply