LO­CAL OPIN­IONS

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY GUY EDWARDS

A bike crash is a re­minder that ev­ery­one needs to be more cau­tious as they share the streets.

Ihad a hot date and was run­ning late. And it had be­gun to rain. Damn it! No time for an Uber; I’d have to cy­cle. I pulled on my leather jacket. At least it was semi-wa­ter­proof, so I could ar­rive with­out re­sem­bling a bedrag­gled swamp mon­ster.

I needed to hop across town from Wood­ley Park to Shaw. If the lights were on my side, I’d be there in 15 min­utes with­out hav­ing to go flat-out. Coast­ing down the hill on 16th Street NW along­side Merid­ian Hill Park, also known as Mal­colm X Park, I was making good time. The lights were green on 16th Street at Florida Av­enue. As I was turn­ing left, there was no need to speed up and take the cor­ner like a pod racer in “Star Wars.” Then I saw it. Too late. I was going to crash. How bad is this going to hurt?

A Nis­san Al­tima, hav­ing tried to turn down the wrong way on Cres­cent Place, was at­tempt­ing a U-turn. I had nowhere to go. I braked hard, but I could not stop in time. I hit the car’s rear end and went fly­ing over the trunk. Hit­ting the ground on my right side, I skid­ded on the slick sur­face. Af­ter I re­al­ized I was still alive, I slammed my hand on the wet as­phalt in fury.

Pick­ing my­self up, I re­al­ized I was in the middle of the road and cars head­ing the other way had stopped, mer­ci­fully. Blink­ing into their head­lights, I picked up my man­gled bike and walked to­ward the side­walk.

“Oh my God, Oh my God!” I heard be­hind me. The driver was be­side him­self. He thought he’d killed me. I pat­ted my­self down and touched my head. I checked my hel­met. Re­mark­ably I was okay. Ev­ery­thing seemed fine — ex­cept my bike. The right side of my drop han­dle­bars was bent 45 de­grees in­ward at the point of im­pact. If the car had been an SUV with a high back end, I prob­a­bly would have had to have been hos­pi­tal­ized — or far worse.

Bizarrely, the driver’s hys­te­ria calmed me down. My ini­tial fury had turned to com­pas­sion — well, close enough. I told him I was okay and that he was a mup­pet for pulling such a reckless move on a busy road on a hill at night in the rain. He agreed and kept ask­ing me if I was all right. I said I was but was run­ning late. He said he’d give me a lift. Hav­ing locked up my bike, taken photos of his reg­is­tra­tion and li­cense plate and copied down his per­sonal de­tails, it seemed okay to con­tinue talk­ing on the way.

I called my date, and I knew I had a good ex­cuse. She seemed gen­uinely con­cerned. Aside from a small scratch on my leg, I was fine. My jacket and jeans weren’t even ripped. There is nothing like a near-death ex­pe­ri­ence to put one in a good mood to cel­e­brate on a Satur­day night. I was lucky. The driver was quick to pay for my bike re­pairs. He promised to check for cy­clists by look­ing over his shoul­der to scope out the blind spots be­fore pulling out, turn­ing or open­ing his door. He agreed that emer­gency flash­ers shouldn’t be used for park­ing be­cause they send am­bigu­ous sig­nals and should be used only in an emer­gency.

Since moving to the District in late 2016, I have been rid­ing my bike twice a day all over town. That’s more than 1,000 bike trips. The District is gen­er­ally a great bik­ing city — it was re­cently awarded Gold Bi­cy­cle Friendly Com­mu­nity, a sta­tus well-de­served for its ef­forts to add bikes lanes and en­sure that ev­ery se­cond-grader gets bi­cy­cling classes.

Yet nearly ev­ery day, I see some­thing un­nerv­ing that eas­ily could turn into an ac­ci­dent or tragedy. Cars speed­ing, pulling out of park­ing spots with­out look­ing, fail­ing to sig­nal to park and driv­ing with­out their head­lights on af­ter dark. Drivers seem dis­tracted by their phones and com­pla­cently as­sume oth­ers will ad­just their be­hav­ior to ac­com­mo­date what­ever they want to do.

Like most drivers in the District, the guy I crashed into was a good per­son who made a mis­take. Yet, drivers seem to for­get that they are en­cased in a metal box with air bags. The rest of us — pedes­tri­ans, cy­clists and mo­tor­cy­clists — are not. While most cy­clists need to do a bet­ter job of abid­ing by the rules, too, drivers have the great­est re­spon­si­bil­ity.

The District saw 30 traf­fic fa­tal­i­ties last year, up from 28 in 2016. Eleven were pedes­tri­ans. In 2016, one cy­clist was killed and 52 were se­ri­ously in­jured. If the city is to achieve its goal of zero trans­porta­tion-related fa­tal­i­ties and se­ri­ous in­juries by 2024, en­forc­ing traf­fic laws and tack­ling this com­pla­cency are es­sen­tial.

Drivers, first and fore­most, need to obey the rules, es­pe­cially as the num­ber of cy­clists grows. If there is a next time, I doubt I will be as lucky. Cy­clists count on drivers to make it home again alive.

GER­ALD MARTINEAU FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

A bi­cy­clist on Con­sti­tu­tion Av­enue NW.

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