Bike to Work Day Blues

The topic of this blog post was decided Wednesday morning on Colorado's "Bike to Work Day" when a fellow rider careened into me after trying to pass a pedestrian on a blind corner.

I support people cycling. I want people to get outside, particularly in this beautiful state, instead of sitting indoors, or sitting in a car sipping on soda. Finding ways to engage in activity that works for you is important not only for your health but also for your soul. Up until this Wednesday, I was a massive supporter of Colorado's annual Bike to Work day. It's fun, there are lots of folks out and about, local bike shops set up aid stations with food and drink so you can stop along the way and grab breakfast and meet new people. It's so much fun, until it isn't.

Wednesday was not fun for me. It was downright painful. At the time I was pretty calm, probably from the shock of being hit and bleeding from the head, but now I am finding I am actually pretty angry. I am angry less because the other rider should not have tried to pass a pedestrian as he came down the slope and around the corner into the underpass, but more because he never once said he was sorry. He hung around a little after calling his wife to come get him, and mumbled some concern for me and my head but never acknowledged that it was his fault or that he should have been paying more attention. 

I still find myself wanting to afford him some benefit of the doubt: he was shaken up, he had injured his hand, he wasn't thinking straight. All very possible and natural reactions to an accident. Yet, even with all that, was it that hard for him to sputter out an apology? I even gave him a band aid from my back pack. He left, before the paramedics got to me, and went with his wife to an ER. I am saddened by the complete lack of responsibility exhibited by him. Numerous people I have told about what happened, as I inevitably have to do once they see my black, blue, red and purple eye, repeat the refrain: "Bike to work day is the last day you should bike to work." Even the triage nurse asked upon my arrival at the ER "Bike to work day?" with a small chuckle. The running joke is that most of the bikers who participate in bike to work day have not ridden since the previous one and so the day is best avoided. It is perplexing to me that something that was intended to motivate folks to find alternate ways to get to work that do not put a strain on the environment and help you get healthier in the process, has such a negative reputation among cyclists and medical professionals. 

I won't be biking to work for a little while until I heal and I definitely won't be biking on Bike to Work Day 2017. I know this is one incident, and this one accident causer's response may not be representative of everyone who causes an accident. I know that this shouldn't deter me from engaging in the event but it has. It has changed how I view it and has been very difficult to manage.

I stick to bike paths because I believe(d) them to be safer. I always call out "on your left" when I am passing someone and try to be a considerate and thoughtful bike commuter when I do it. But much like driving, I clearly cannot assume that everyone else has that same perspective. I therefore now see Bike to Work Day as dangerous. Encouraging that many inexperienced or aggressive cyclists out on the bike paths and roads at the same time without any real oversight is problematic. My accident was obviously not the first that occurred on this day, nor will it be the last, and there is zero accountability for the person who caused my injuries. Clearly the day has a less than rosy reputation among many and now I see why.

The other compounding piece of this worth noting, is that many of the bike paths are poorly maintained, narrow, and leave little room, if any, for cyclists to maneuver out of the way of those inexperienced or aggressive riders. The Bear Creek Trail, where my accident happened, is one such bike path. It runs all the way to Morrison, but many sections of it are extremely narrow, with broken concrete, bumps and pot holes, sharp 90 degree turns and low visibility for passing. I think you can tell which city or district you are in by how much money they have invested in maintaining the bike path. Some parts of it are wonderful, other parts, not so much. 

Fixing these issues is possible and that will have a real impact on people's safety cycling to work. However, the root of my anger over this whole accident is the person's attitude. How do you fix an unapologetic accident causer and hold people accountable for their actions when there is no oversight? A cheery message about the virtues of Bike to Work Day and a free t-shirt do not erase the problems of encouraging 10 times the number of people on bike paths (and roads--don't even get me started on that) ill equipped to safely transport one cyclist.

I didn't get a t-shirt or an apology. Just a black eye, 4 stitches, a bruised leg, and a huge medical bill.