Dear Decaturish – City of Decatur needs to show up for cyclists
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I was at the post office at Ponce de Leon Avenue and Water Street at 12:40 pm on March 19. I called the office to let them know I was on my way for a company-wide conference call, and to go ahead if I ended up being a few minutes late. I checked the time and started down Ponce on my bicycle, headed for the Stone Mountain tail entrance at Ponce and Sam’s Crossing.
It had been raining so the pavement was wet, but as I left the post office the rain stopped. It remained cloudy, but visibility was good. I was wearing my yellow rain jacket, with Scotchlite reflective patches. I had a 700-lumen light flashing on the front of my bike and a 2-watt red flasher on back. My front light is bright enough that a DeKalb County police officer once got on his loudspeaker to ask me to dim it. I was clearly visible.
The Avondale MARTA Station is about a mile and a half from the post office, so with stop lights it took about 10 minutes to get to the MARTA station. I was moving with traffic past the egress driveway for the station when I noticed a black Cadillac waiting to move out of the station.
The Cadillac, however, did not wait. It lurched into the traffic lane, hitting the rack on the back of my bike. The bike and I hit the ground, hard, in the middle of the right east-bound lane of traffic. The car was able to stop before running over me or the bike. I was able to leap up immediately and start yelling.
Fortunately, the driver was a responsible fellow. He popped out of his car, asking if I was all right. He called the MARTA police, who didn’t arrive for quite some time. After we’d waited a while for them he called the Decatur police. They arrived right away and took down the details of the accident. They gave the driver a ticket, and gave me a notice about a court date in May. This driver is head and shoulders above the last guy who hit me, by the way.
I had to physically appear at the police station during business hours to get a copy of the accident report. The stipulation probably cuts down on the number of requests they have to process.
The police called to check on me. I assume this is a privilege resulting from living in Decatur. I’ve never heard about any other cyclists getting a phone call like this. The officer suggested that it might be a good idea to forbid left-hand turns out of that driveway, due to the geometry issues there. I think it’s worth pursuing.
On May 19, the driver pleaded nolo contendere and got a $150 fine. I didn’t get to say anything, but it probably wasn’t the right place for what I had to say anyway. I really didn’t have it in for the guy. He was a sweetheart — called the cops, did everything he could to make sure I was OK, etc. My concern was for the public safety aspects of the accident, especially the workings of the court.
We really need the city to show up for cyclists. We keep getting hit, often injured, and drivers keep getting charged with things like “following too close”. No one has stood up and said what commitment Decatur has to protecting vulnerable road users – cyclists, pedestrians, etc. We don’t know under what instructions first responders are operating, the criteria for various charges, what charges are available to the city prosecutor, etc. And nobody has explained specific cases that continue to cause concern. I’m thinking specifically about Laura Quade.
I’d like the city to at least think about Vision Zero — set a positive goal rather than just going after motorists. It would be a way for the city to make their commitment clear. I posted a note to the Decatur Bikes listserv about Vision Zero a day or two after I got hit. Silence.
Don’t know where to go from here, but at the moment it’s clear that we can be injured or killed without consequence. Somehow I don’t believe I surrender my civil rights when I swing my leg over a top tube, but there it is.