News How Fast Were Those Cyclists Going?
posted by September 8 at 8:30 AMon
I’m a cyclist. I ride pretty much everywhere, often down to the U-District. At least twice a week I ride through the intersection where two cyclists were hit—run over—by a dump truck yesterday. Both men were dragged under the truck for 25 feet; one died at the scene, another was badly injured. Neither was wearing helmets—does anyone wear helmets anymore?—but I’m not sure helmets would have helped them under the wheels of a dump truck.
The truck was turning right from Eastlake Avenue East on to Fuhrman Avenue East when it hit the cyclists, who were in a bike lane headed toward the University Bridge. David Hiller, advocacy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club, is quoted in this morning’s PI as saying that this accident has, er, struck the bike community in “a very personal place.”
As a cyclist, my first reaction was, “Fucking drivers—fucking truck drivers, fucking bus drivers, fucking car drivers.” I immediately assumed that the truck driver had to be at fault. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had people—drivers that aren’t using their signals—turn right, right in front of me, right on top of me, at that intersection. That could have been me under that dump truck.
But watching the TV news last night, I listened as one witness said the truck was moving very slowly and the bikes were moving very fast—too fast for the truck driver to see them coming.
And then I thought about that hill. Coming off Capitol Hill along the freeway, blasting down Harvard Avenue East, which dumps you on to Eastlake Avenue East right before Fuhrman… man, it’s easy to pick up some serious speed. It’s also tempting—particularly on a summer day, when the bridge is constantly going up and down—to race toward University Bridge, to beat that light at Eastlake and Fuhrman, so that you can blast up the incline that starts after you cross over the bridge. If you take advantage of that hill—if you pick up speed, pump your legs, and get low—you can be at that intersection so fast that car, bus, and truck drivers can’t see you coming, much less react to you in time.
So knowing what I know now… I’m going to have to set aside my natural allegiance to my fellow cyclists and reserve judgment about the truck driver. It’s possible that the cyclists were at fault yesterday. Were they coming down Harvard Avenue East? Were they hurtling toward the bridge? If they were, well, it’s possible that they were going so fast that they, essentially, threw themselves into the path of a truck that was already turning right, a truck being driven by someone that never had a chance to brake, a driver that couldn’t have seen them coming, couldn’t react in time.
It’s going to be hard for area cyclists to wrap their heads around this, but this accident may not be the driver’s fault. It may be the cyclists’ fault.
It is, of course, still a tragedy. And that intersection, however yesterday’s accident unfolded, is still dangerous—it’s not just cyclists that blast through it, or hurry up to beat that bridge. But yesterday’s death may not fit the script of our usual “careless driver, martyred cyclist” morality play.