Thursday, August 21, 2008

Carfight! Mano e Auto

So, I finally got involved in my first bike/car collision - an event I was hoping never to have, and one which, fortuately, ended up a lot less damaging to me than it should have been.

The frustrating thing is that generally, I follow the rules. I usually stop for stop signs. I signal my turns. I generally don't ride like a nut, and I usually wear a helmet. Now, that last item isn't against the law, but I personally believe that helmets are a good idea, even if I am adamantly against the government making it mandatory.

I was on my way to the bank to deposit a check. I bank with WAMU, and there is a branch at SE 39th and Hawthorne that I usually go to. Rather than taking my usual route, and popping out onto 39th at Main and riding south to the bank, I decided to ride along the west side of the Fred Meyer on 38th and turn left onto Hawthorne. It being about 10 minutes to 6pm, there was a lot of traffic. I was sitting patiently at the stop sign at 38th, waiting for my chance to turn left. I'd signalled my turn to the car(s) behind me, and traffic was clear to my left but not my right. I saw the end of the cars coming to the right, and then there was traffic on my left. No problem, I can wait.

The traffic on the right-hand side then stopped, someone was going to let me cross the road. On my left, two vehicles were in the near (outside) lane (lane two in traffic-speak), both were turning right. I didn't see anyone in the far (inside) lane. I looked right, and traffic was still stopped, and the guy in back of me honked at me. I started out into the intersection to turn left, and looked right to make sure traffic was still stopped, returned eyes to forward and heard at least one yell at the same instant and then my front wheel was impacting a car and the bike turned and I went down. Never saw it. Apparently she never saw me either.

The car was a gray Mercedes, and the driver was an older woman who looked to be in her mid to late 50s. After a couple bystanders helped me get over to the curb (I was slightly shaken), I heard one of the bystanders telling her that she couldn't go, that she'd just struck someone. She seemed pretty calm and we really didn't exchange a lot of words after the incident. A few of the bystanders stood around for a couple of minutes to make sure I was alright, and several gave me their name and contact information.

The front wheel of the bike was partially taco'd, and unrideable. The impact had torn the cover of my Ortlieb handlebar bag partially away, and dumped the contents all over the street. The GPS flew out of its cradle and had hit the street, as well as my Kryptonite lock. As near as I can figure, she must have been going at least 20-25 when we collided. I was going maybe 5mph. My right thumb hurt, and I had sore spots on my left arm and left hip where I contacted the pavement, but no broken bones and no road rash. My head never got near the pavement, which was good because I was not wearing a helmet. Why wear a helmet when you're riding less than 10mph on local streets? Well, apparently this would be the why.

One of the bystanders had called 911 and I spoke with the dispatcher and let her know that I didn't need an ambulance, but yes, I still wanted an officer to come out. She (the officer) showed up about 20 minutes later, which I thought was pretty good for an incident with no ambulance call.

The motorist's Mercedes had lost its cowling to the passenger side mirror due to the crash. The motorist wasn't aware of that, and she'd thought I was in the crosswalk at the time of the collision. I did the right thing, and not only informed her that I was not in the crosswalk, and also informed the officer of the same. Legally, I was required to yield to the automobile, since she was on the through street, I was on the side street with a stop sign, and acting as a vehicle and not a pedestrian. I have no idea where the motorist came from - if she was traveling straight down Hawthorne, or is she came out of the side street or the bank parking lot on the other side, or wherever. When I looked left, the road was clear in that lane - I started to cross and looked right to be sure that traffic was still stopped, and then BAM!

My feelings after the incident are a bit conflicted. Certainly I was trying to make a left turn at a BAD intersection. The incident definitely reinforces my opinion that speed limits on roads are too high, and that helmets are a good idea. While I didn't hit my head, if I had, I'd have a serious head injury right now. Had my bike been 2 feet further into the intersection at the time of impact, I'd have bounced off the hood or spun off the front corner of the car - both situations would have been MUCH more serious than what actually happened. I made every effort to be aware of the traffic situation, and I started from a dead stop. I'm not sure what more I could do in the situation other than choosing a different intersection to enter Hawthorne. I can't look left AND right simultaneously,

So, I'm left with an unrideable bike, and I'll be heading to Sellwood Cycle in the morning to replace the wheel. My hand doesn't appear to be serious, and hopefully I won't be getting a call from the motorist or her insurance company. She's probably got a few hundred dollars of damage to her car, and I've got at least $150 damage to the bike, maybe more. Hopefully this is a case of live and let live.

In any case, even though I'm not sure what more I could do, I'm going to try to be more alert when pulling out into traffic - and I'll probably always be wearing my helmet again.


Postscript: So, it was $360 damage to the bike, and I was only able to get it fixed due to the generosity of an anonymous group of my friends. The driver put in a claim on her insurance, and State Farm is looking to have me pay for it. Uh... no.

The motorist did not exercise due care when approaching that intersection, and bears some legal responsibility and liability in the incident. Not to mention that since she pays insurance premiums, State Farm has already been paid. Not sure where this is going to go, but I'll be seeking legal assistance if necessary. I'll keep ya'll posted...


Post-postscript: My insurance (State Farm - renter's) paid for the damage done to her vehicle ($2,100 - WTF?!?) and I didn't have to pay anything out of pocket. My premium went up $10 per month. Amazing.


Vance said...

Hi Matt,
Say, I'm Vance Longwell, you've likely noticed I comment at BikePortland a lot. I was rolling through some of your blog and really like how it looks. Great work!

Of course I was most interested in this post, and wanted to reach out and commend you for this:

"I did the right thing, and not only informed her that I was not in the crosswalk..."

The benefits of doing the right thing rarely manifest. IMO, that's part and parcel of doing the right thing in the first place. Without knowing for sure, and your post-script is ominous, I'd bet this has been a huge pain in the rear for you.

I'm moved man. The tone of your blog is positive, and it was nice to delve a little. I felt compelled to comment, and to thank you for representing the mode we both love, with honor, and dignity.

This post wasn't that old, have you effected repairs on the injured Kona yet (In the pic)? If that's T-7, and not T-6, I'd worn you that the harder T-7 is prone to cracking under conditions that would taco a wheel like that. Micro-style too. You might listen for over-the-top, very recognizable, "Squawking", as the miles add up.

Well, gotta go. Thanks again for the way you handled this accident. I hope beyond hope it all works out for you alright.

Matt Picio said...

Thanks, Vance - we've exchanged opinions a number of times on BikePortland, and I respect your opinions even (especially) when I don't agree with them. You bring up a lot of good points which should be addressed regardless of the position taken in the discussion.

It didn't turn out too bad - State Farm wanted me to pay $4,100 to them for the damage done to the Mercedes, and my renter's insurance policy, which covers the bike, paid it out after I filed a claim. Since that policy is also State Farm, they effectively paid themselves.

Are you referring to the fork? The Kona Sutra has a P2 fork - mine was bent by the collision, and had to be replaced. All in all, I replaced the fork, two wheels, and two tires (unrelated, but they were worn). Sellwood Cycle checked out the frame and pronounced it good with no stress or cracks. I'm not so worried about microfractures in the frame, because it's steel - it has pretty obvious and predictable failure modes.

I've ridden it about 4,000 miles since the collision, and everything on it has been great!

Thanks for the comments!