Clipped By the MTA
Last Wednesday afternoon, I left Federal Hill about 4:15 PM, and rode my folding Xootr bike out Sharp Street across Conway St and under the Convention Center, where the road changes to Hopkins Place. Hopkins is one way against, so I just ride the sidewalk for a block. I waited for the light to take my normal left onto West Lombard Street, planning to turn right on Eutaw Street, then through Druid Hill Park, then up and down the hills of Greenspring Avenue to Smith Avenue.
Early this Spring, I switched to a Eutaw/Druid/Greenspring route instead of riding up Park Road to Falls Road, Clipper Mill, various small streets and then Falls Road again to Mt Washington. The problem was the stretch of Falls just past Northern Parkway. Falls is not a marked bike route, but you have a nice wide road as you ride past the Belvedere apartment block on your right. Then, however, Falls Road tightens to a very narrow two lanes with a lot of small shops close to the street (including Joe’s Bike Shop). Even riding fast downhill in the right lane, I am frequently being passed by drivers that immediately cut back into the right lane to avoid the line up for the left only turn onto Kelly. I had to take the left onto Kelly, so I often ended up between two lines of cars. I’ve seen a lot of cyclists casually riding between cars, but I ‘d rather avoid it.
On the map, I saw that much of Eutaw, and most of Greenspring have separate bike lanes next to the car lanes. Even the right lane of Lombard Street is both a bus lane and a bike lane. So all summer I’ve felt more secure riding the extra half mile along that route. I’ve switched from taking light rail in and riding home to riding both ways when I don’t have meetings.
But last week, after the light changed I rode across the intersection and saw a that a bus was stopped halfway up the block. I was wondering whether to go around it or wait, when another MTA bus passed going fast, loud and close on my left. I was already close to the curb but tried to get even closer. The black wall of the bus pulled closer to the curb – closer to me – and I tried to stay away from it without hitting the curb and falling over. I hoped it would pass before there was no room at all.
I spent several hours last weekend reliving those few seconds. I determined that what I should have done was hit the brakes, vault off the bike onto the curb and pull the bike after me. That’s what I should have done. What actually happened was that the back corner of the bus clipped my left handlebar and turned my wheel to the right. I went down hard and felt my head bounce hard on the pavement. I was probably sprawled right on top of the bike lane symbol at 200 West Lombard.
All the people waiting for buses were looking at me as I picked myself up and checked for damages. A black Ford of the type the MTA police use was behind me, but it wasn’t one of theirs. There was still a bus stopped ahead of me, but I had no idea if it was the one that I had first seen or the one that hit me. I pulled the bike onto the sidewalk where a woman in peach and brown scrubs asked if I was alright. I said I thought so.
My left knee hurt, my right hand was bleeding and hurt a lot, but my head felt OK. The bike looked OK, too. I rode up the sidewak as people stared and found both that the right brake was sticking, and that it hurt too much to use my small finger. I had no real trouble getting home. I just rode downhill a lot slower than usual.
My wife took one look at me and said, “You fell off the bike, didn’t you?” I told her what happened and after putting the puffy right hand in ice water and putting an ice pack on the puffy right knee she said, “You’re not riding that thing to work anymore.” Inwardly I thought, “Of course I am. I just need to find a safer route.”
Now, Cyclelicious, a prolific California blog about all things bicycle, has posted Suicide Swerve – a very timely article for me:
Anybody who reads news accounts of road cycling traffic collisions frequently find mention of these inexplicable “suicide swerves,” in which the hapless driver is just driving along when that maniac on a bike inexplicably swerves right into the car.
Those who share the road with traffic realize what probably happened: the motorist passed with inches to spare, or they move over a little to pass but then merge right into the cyclist’s space on the road before the pass is complete. In either case, the results can be tragic for the cyclist, even if the cyclist did everything right. …
Because these reports are so common, many people … sardonically refer to these reports as a “suicide swerve.” … the infamous “Single Witness Suicide Swerve” or SWSS … refers to a crash with a single surviving witness — the driver of the motor vehicle — who swears to a credulous investigator that the cyclist just swerved right in front of the driver. The presumption of guilt on the cyclist is reflected even in our traffic collision statistics, which show a majority of bike-vs-car collisions are caused by the cyclist.
What has been bothering me as I drive the car to the doctor’s office, the pharmacy, the radiologist and the orthopaedic surgeon’s office is that this accident was incredibly mundane. There was no road rage, no high speed, no dangerous intersection, not even any particularly heavy traffic. The bus driver simply did what most drivers do, which is to completely forget that the cyclist traveling next to him exists a few moments after the cyclist passes out of his peripheral vision. And that was enough to fracture a bone in my hand.
So I’m wondering if there is a safe enough route to bike to work.