Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 4th, 2012
On Thursday evening the unthinkable happened.
While waiting behind two cars at a red light on SE 60th at Division, a Portland man — with his four year-old son in a trailer behind him — was rear-ended by someone driving a car. The police haven’t released many details, but I’ve talked with him at length. At this point, he has asked to remain anonymous because he’s conflicted about having himself and his family thrust into a public debate about biking with children.
Here’s what happened…
The man was headed south from his child’s preschool near Mount Tabor, at 60th and Salmon, to their home just south of Division. He chose SE 60th because it’s the only traffic signal to get across Division. He was wearing a reflective yellow jacket and his trailer had a strobing rear tail-light. The last thing he recalls before impact was standing at the light, and an instinctive concern that the car sounds behind him were approaching too fast. Then he’s flying through the air after being thrust up onto the hood of the car behind him, breaking its windshield, eventually impacting the car in front of him. When he came to, he realized his son was still in the trailer, which had been crumpled by one of the car’s wheels.
“I thought he was gone,” he recalled, “I pulled open the mangled, flattened trailer and found him calling for me, scared, covered with blood.”
“I thought he was gone, I pulled open the mangled, flattened trailer and found him calling for me, scared, covered with blood.”
As we spoke, the man shared that it was difficult to talk about details. He suffers from post-traumatic stress.
Further complicating the experience for this man is the fact that, prior to moving to Portland he had established a bike advocacy group in his old hometown. “I’d wanted to believe that cycling could make families, communities, even our planet healthier, and that it could be done safely. But clearly there’s no safe way to bike home from our preschool– not in November, and maybe not in summer, either.” This is a situation of a bike advocate, on the leading edge of being the change he sought for others, coming face-to-face with his own beliefs and vulnerabilities.
Thankfully, both the man and his son were treated then released from the hospital with no major injuries. The man has a fractured vertebrae and is in a back brace, and the child suffered only cuts and bruises. Physically, a full recovery is expected. But mentally, the collision has likely forever changed the man’s perspective on the safety of bicycling.
The collision happened after dark (around 6:00 pm) and it was wet and drizzly out. Thinking back, the man now feels that “This intersection may not be worth exposing your child to, maybe not ever.”
But what are the alternatives? The man crosses SE Division via 60th frequently. He feels it’s the safest among few good options. “But there is a cramped sidewalk we could use — by a cafe.” It’s an off-set intersection and, like many parts of Portland, there’s a severe lack of good, north-south bikeways to use as alternatives.
For a man who has worked to promote bicycling as a safe option, this collision raises some very difficult questions. He doesn’t want to scare people away from biking with their kids; but he’s now more realistic than ever about how vulnerable his child was. “The risk of a rear-end accident and the consequence of what happens if it occurs, is something I hadn’t fully come to terms with before — not like this,” he said.
He also knows that we must do more to fix these notorious “choke points.”
“I think there’s a lot to be learned from what happened to us. But it’s not a comfortable tale to share.”
It remains unclear why the person in the car behind this man failed to stop in time. I have asked the police for more details but have yet to hear back.”
We link to spend a great deal of time on the ChainLink Forum debating the value of bike lanes. But at the end of the day there is one and only one acid test for the value of a lane. And that would be whether or not you can fell safe pulling a trailer barely six inches off the ground with your offspring inside. If you do not feel that the street you are riding can support that kind of activity, it is not worth the price of the paint or bollards installed.
If you cannot run along that bike lane or walk in it without worry of collision from an automobile then the money being spent is wasted. If you can lead your dog on leash in that lane it is of little value. Any blather is a waste if you cannot feel safe in a lane with the most precious cargo you could have. Drivers of cars are not monsters. They are fallible just as are cyclists. The biggest difference between the two is that there is far less time to react to your mistakes when driving a car. And if you cannot brake in time the consequences of the “work” that the mass of your vehicle is capable of doing on fragile human limbs is immense.
The trick is to remove (as much as is humanly possible) the chance of such occurrences. That simply put means isolating bicycle and automobile traffic onto separate paths. Streets work for cars. Paths work better for bicycles.