Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another Year, Another Run-in with a Car

Riding into Szentendre yesterday morning, I got broadsided by a motorist who didn't bother to look before coming out of a grocery store parking lot. It had been just over a year since I was hit by a truck on the same morning commute, that accident also a result of the driver not looking before accelerating out of a parking lot.
I was riding north on Route 11, the main road into town, and, as is my preference, on the carriageway rather than the broken-up sidewalk, which is what passes as the designated bike route here. I was on the right edge of the curb lane going an estimated 28 kph, and was passing by the north entrance to the Lidl market parking lot. A compact car exiting the lot was waiting to turn right into my lane. If the car had waited as expected, I would have passed 2-3 metres by its front bumper. But at the last instant, I could sense in peripheral vision that it was accelerating right into me. It hit the rear of the bike, knocking it out from under me while I tumbled to the pavement. The bike was sent scraping across the pavement about 10 metres away into the middle of the next lane.

I got myself up and turned toward the motorist, who had already pulled to the curb and was out of the car. I was so stunned by what had happened -- there was nothing to explain it. It was broad daylight, and there are no visual obstructions at that entrance, nothing but clear sightlines hundreds of metres in both directions. I held up my hands, as if to say, "WHAT ... THE ... FUCK!!!?"

I wanted to rip someone's head off. However, the driver -- a women in her late 50s -- appeared more shaken than I was. She asked if I was hurt, should she call a doctor? I told her I wasn't hurt -- just scraped up. I said we were both lucky and asked why she didn't look before she came out of the lot. She said she didn't see me ("Nem latom!"). And then she broke down into convulsions of tears. I ended up having to console her -- although I didn't go so far as to tell her it's alright. It's not alright to drive a 2,000 kg vehicle without watching where you're going.

This morning, as some deeper aches and pains are coming to bloom beneath the scrapes, I'm struggling to draw useful lessons from the incident. When I was last hit, I was on a separate bike path next to the road and I drew some lessons from the incident, one being that when motorists are turning onto a road, they pay more attention to traffic on the carriageway proper than they do to the sidewalks and bike paths.

But in this latest collision, I WAS on the road. The driver simply didn't look before she turned.

Not to excuse this driver, but a general problem in Szentendre is that very few bicyclists are on the roads. And when drivers aren't used to looking for cyclists, they tend to miss them.

Just the day before my accident, I was cc'd on a citizen's complaint about the poor cycling facility along Route 11 within Szentendre. What's needed, the writer said, is an allowance for cyclists to ride on the carriageway.

The official response -- from the Magyar Közút Zrt. -- was that Route 11 is being used to its capacity, that cyclists would cause an unacceptable "interruption of traffic flow" and that, anyway, "parallel cycling infrastructure exists".

Well, the "infrastructure" that exists is a sidewalk, nothing that was created specifically for cyclists. Not only is this "bike path" unsuitable in its conception, it's in horrible disrepair: badly broken up on some segments, riven with cracks elsewhere and merely a mud track in others.

The only known way to improve safety conditions for cyclists is to increase the levels of cycling. This happens not by shunting them off onto dirt paths, but by prioritising them on city streets and giving them all due consideration for their safety. On the five-lane-wide Route 11, this is easily achievable. The only obstacle is political will.


GABOR said...

Greg, sorry to hear this. As "cruel" as it sounds, I would have called the police and have them write a report, crying lady or not. I know that insurance companies pay a lot less in Hungary than they do in the US, but aside from the financial aspects, these accidents need to be documented. Sorry if I sound like I'm lecturing you, I know it's not that easy to communicate with Hungarian police... The main question is: was it mandatory for you to use the bike path on that particular road?

Greg Spencer said...

It would have been good to have it documented, that's true.

But I honestly didn't even think of it until later in the day. At the time, I just thought, thank God I suffered only some scrapes. My bike was ok, as well.

Currently, cyclists aren't supposed to ride in the carriageway -- they're supposed to ride on the alleged "bike path". I know people who've been ticketed for riding on the road. I've been verbally warned about it -- but continue to use the carriageway 2x per day for the last seven years. I've explained my view of this bike path.

We've organised a group in Szentendre to address this problem, along with other cycling issues.

I'm not sure what the cops would have done had I called them. But they might very well have cited me and let the lady go scot free.

John Hayes said...

Hey Greg,

Sorry to hear about your accident - but happy to hear you are OK. I have adopted a policy of starring at drivers right in the eye as I appraoch the whislt they wait at junctions - they just cannot be trusted. These are the people that get out of their cars and then step in front of you. Idiots. Take it easy fella.

anna said...

That sounds really bad, hope you recover soon. Apart from all the bad things (no good bike route, people not looking etc.) I can also see one positive one: the lady stopped immediately and cared about you. I'm sure she would have called the ambulance if something more serious would have happened. Unfortunately, as I had to learn, this is not common for everybody. Some people just hit-and-run.

Btw, it happened also to me a couple of times that car drivers nearly hit me on a bright and sunny day on an absolutely clear road with no line-of-sight obstructions whatsoever. Sometimes they even look my way, but it just feels as if they would look right through me as there "view finder" is set to a mode to recognize large vehicles only. Scary.

Anonymous said...

Just had to comment...we also bicycle a lot and definitely sympathize, but have also experienced driving cars that have a very bad blind spot. I have looked both ways, saw nothing, started to pull out, and then a car, bike, or person "appeared" out of the blind spot and scared me very badly. Thankfully I have never hit someone, but realize how easily it could happen. I'm glad you weren't hurt.

Greg Spencer said...

It's true cars have blind spots, but mainly to the rear and side -- spots somewhere between what you can see with the side and interior rearview mirrors.

In this case, I would've been clearly visible through the side window. I think she just had a lapse of focus.

As I said in the post, because cyclists are smaller than cars, they're easier to overlook. It's advisable to ride defensively. Another interesting idea is riding with your lights on.

There've been some successful trials in Scandinavian cities with dynamo-powered LED lights that run anytime the bike is being ridden, including during the day. The drag is apparently minimal and they're said to reduce accidents significantly.