Wheels of Health, Wheels of Death

April 8th, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

HuntingtonTurnPremature and ignominious death can visit us suddenly, cruelly and diversely. Surely there are even worse forms than being hit by a city bus. Dying under the wheels of a garbage truck comes to mind.

Yet, a 22-year-old Bostonian dying when being run over by a bus is awful enough.

Update: The Herald reports that the cyclist was Eric Michael Hunt of Mission Hill, which is the area where he died.

Police and the T have not named the cyclist or revealed his other details. We know more about the 29-year-old bus driver (only two years service, but a clean record). The BostonChannel site has the available info.

Commentary, including the requisite all cyclists/drivers are incompetent cowboys, appears at Universal Hub. That URL is likely to carry any updates as well.

I’m intellectually and emotionally invested. I bike almost daily. I’ve been hit twice by inattentive drivers (one car and one truck in a little over 20 years) who were disobeying laws as well as safety and common sense. Plus, I know that dangerous Huntington/South Huntington intersection well.

Click the thumbnail above for a closer view on the Google map. Those arcs are the trolley tracks implicated in the fatal wreck yesterday.

While I have an old mountain bike, I almost always use my thin-wheel (23mm tires) road bike in and around Boston. I find that particular intersection dangerous for cars and extremely so for cycles. The tracks make cars and trucks slide over the lane and would catch all but the fattest bike tires with the slightest inattention. Turning left heading north to west there requires a dance of exquisite timing to cut at sharp angles over the tracks while watching traffic and lights from three directions for the very short opening of green lights — assuming motor vehicles do not run the reds as they often do. It’s a heart-pounding event every time.

While drivers don’t seem to know or may forget, cyclists invariably lose in a collision with a car, truck, trolley or bus. Oddly in the inevitable I-hate-cyclists comments on websites and in public, that injury, dismemberment or death reality can translate into, “Those damned cyclists better stay out of my way!”

Boston Beserker

I see versions of that frequently in Boston. Just yesterday, leaving the West Roxbury Y, heading south on Centre to turn left in one long block onto Lagrange, I was tailgated by a foolish woman blowing her horn all the way. Consider:

  • She had been stopped at the light above where I entered the road, so she had to speed to get up to me anyway.
  • I was in the left lane as required by law, making my left signal as required by law, and entering the left-turn only cut at the Lagrange light.
  • Those pesky laws require anyone approaching any other vehicle to use care and slow as necessary for safety.
  • The Lagrange light was red and she had to stop anyway.
  • There was nowhere for a cyclist to disappear to regardless of the indignation of a driver who resented sharing the road.

She used her car and horn to threaten and scold, not for any safety considerations. She made an awful face and gesture, despite her being totally wrong. She did not hit me, just, it would seem, hated me.

With the obvious exceptions (think bike paths and turnpikes), cycles and motor vehicles have the same responsibilities, rights and road access. The bike haters forget the rights part. They too often remind me of bigoted Southerners I knew in my childhood. Those folk loved to tell stories of lazy or dishonest Black people they claimed to have witnessed or heard about as proof it was OK to defame or distrust the lot of them.

Who Loses?

We cyclists are too aware of who’ll lose in a collision. Moreover, lax law enforcement and laxer obedience of traffic regulations and laws by drivers mist every ride with the scent of danger.

For yesterday’s death, initial reports are that a bike tire jammed in the trolley track and as the cyclist tried to dislodge it, the bus drove around the corner and crushed him. Even in Boston’s notorious no-blood-no-ticket environment, the likely outcome would be no charges against the driver, assuming he could not have stopped in the estimated 150 feet he had.

Of course, we can surmise that an attentive driver operating at reasonable speed would have seen the adult standing in the road and been quick enough to stop. That is merely a surmise though and it seems police and judges are like most citizens, identifying more with drivers than cyclists and erring on the motorist’s side given a choice. That’s not likely to change until we are more like an Amsterdam or other cycling cities where cops and judges bike as well as drive or instead of driving.

I remain a shameless promoter of cycling. It’s healthy. It’s fun. It’s far more scenic. It’s vastly quieter and cleaner than driving. It decreases congestion too.

I am also a claim-a-lane guy. I do stop at red lights and octagonal signs, but if I need the lane to travel safely, I take it and the driver may have to wait two to five seconds for a place to pass. Too bad, but it’s safety, it’s courtesy, it’s common sense, it’s the law.

For that infamous intersection, I’d prefer the tracks disappear and that trolleys stop at Brigham Circle, putting passengers on buses a few block earlier. Watching cars skid at that intersection and knowing the risk to cyclists tells me this needs fixing.

Meanwhile, I’ll watch for details on that dead cyclist and for any outcome other than the predictable Boston Police one of “unavoidable accident.”I expect reports will eventually clarify the initial ones of the cyclist hitting the back driver side of the bus. If the cyclist had been in front of the bus, which came around the corner and overtook him, then the bus hit the cyclist, not the other way around. The first go sure sounds like T parsing to shift responsibility.

I’m heading off today on a pretty long ride through Boston, Brookline and beyond. I expect to make it home, but it’s always an adventure.

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