Here’s a harrowing tale submitted by longtime Bikecommuters.com reader and friend Abishek Mukherjee. Luckily, the story has a (mostly) happy ending…Shek escaped with only minor injuries and the Jacksonville Transit Authority (JTA) did the right thing by agreeing to buy him a replacement for his Xtracycle. Things could have been much worse, as you will see by the video feed from the JTA bus. Anyhow, read on:
On the 7th of September 2011 at 5:30 PM, a city bus hit me while I was riding my bicycle.
I was riding my Xtracycle to a North Florida Transportation Planning Organizaton meeting. Eastbound, I was riding on Riverside Ave. A Jacksonville Transit Authority bus was behind me. The city bus tried to pass me within inches and side-swiped me. If the bus was going to pass me, it had to give me at least 3 feet from the side of the bus during the pass. This is the law. This law is meant to protect me. But the bus driver failed to follow the law. The bus driver failed to be safe. I was thrown off my bike. The bike fell. The rear wheels of the bus ran over the bike.
As I picked myself up with pain in my lower-back and hip area and a bloody elbow, I noticed that the bus had stopped. As I hobbled towards the bus, the door opened. The driver said, “Rescue is coming. I called everyone.” As it turns out, he had called only his supervisor who called Rescue. When the police arrived on the scene with Fire Rescue, I gave them my story. The bus driver was not truthful. He tried to blame me. He gave them a different story, something like him going along merrily and me swerving into the bus hitting him. The city busses are equipped with cameras. Upon hearing from me what happened and viewing the video, the police officer assigned blame to the bus driver. The police officer disregarded the bus driver’s excuse for causing the crash. At the same time, the police officer did not ticket the bus driver for violating the 3 foot passing law. I worry that most police officers don’t even know about the law.
Rescue escorted me to the hospital close by. The pains in my hip area were excruciating. My left knee was swelling up and my left foot was aching. After a bucket-load of x-rays, the doctor announced that he could not find anything broken. He wrote me a prescription for pain killers and sent me home. Recovery has been slow. Between swellings, sore-points, ice packs and pain killers, I can only find relief in the fact that this could have been a lot worse. I am currently seeing a specialist about the residual pains that show no signs of going away three weeks after the accident.
(Editor’s note…look away if you get squeamish by pics of crushed bicycles):
Image courtesy Matt Uhrig of bikejax.org
The Xtracycle had a worse fate. It was built as a freeradical attached to a steel-framed Specialized Rockhopper. The bus ran over the freeradical and crumpled the frame which in turn twisted the rear triangle of the bike. The entire bike is totaled. My attorney, Chris Burns, an avid cyclist himself, insisted that the JTA replace my bicycle. They have given me a check for a new Xtracycle. It is a tremendous benefit to have an attorney on your side who is more than familiar with bicycling law.
It is frustrating that I was hit when I was riding safely and legally and correctly. I have been advocating for bicycles as transportation for over four years and I am intimately familiar with the law. I stop at every stop light and stop sign, even when riding in a group. I have always maintained that the law is insufficient to protect cyclists and the enforcement of the law is often lazy. It is a mere thin blanket of laws which allows bicycles on the road but fails to protect cyclists adequately. Most bicyclists own cars and/or property and are tax paying members of community. I am sure there is a lack of education to motorists about bicycle laws and better educated motorists may be more alert and accommodating on the road. On the other hand, education does not stop motorists from crashing into each other either.
Editor’s note: here’s the video feed from the cameras installed on JTA buses. As you can see, Shek was visible and in good lane position; the bus driver didn’t even try to comply with Florida’s 3-Foot Law, at least in my opinion:
September JTA Accident from Abhishek Mukherjee on Vimeo.
Matt Uhrig of Bike Jax has an excellent “companion article” that offers more detail and commentary. Take a look at it by clicking here. I will offer my own brief commentary, however; not on this incident but on the 3-Foot Law on Florida’s books. As good as this law is on paper, it is incredibly difficult to enforce. And, I am convinced that not enough people (including motorists, many cyclists, and law enforcement officials) are aware of the requirement to give a safe 3-foot passing “buffer” to cyclists on the roads. As you can read from Shek’s account, even though there was clear evidence of a violation of this 3-Foot Law, the bus driver wasn’t charged with that violation. Ironically, JTA buses have been running a “3-Foot Law Awareness Campaign” since 2008, when the law went into effect.