29 August 2011

2011, A.D. (After Dooring)

I've been called a lot of names, both affectionate and otherwise in my day, and as of a little over a week ago, I can add yet another slur: statistic. Ladies & gents, I must now claim my place among Chicago's growing legion of victims of car doors.

There I was, happily trundling along Milwaukee Avenue on my evening commute when suddenly, a car door swings open just feet ahead of me. I managed to swerve out of the way and avoid hitting the woman and her door, but the sudden jerky movement of my heavy bike that is not designed for such sudden jerky movements brought both bike and rider crashing to the pavement.

In that split second, a hyper-awareness of my surroundings kicked in, predominated by the thought, "Oh shit, there's a van right behind me on my left." To the credit of the van's driver, he managed to stop mere inches from running me over. I hate to think what might have happened had he been momentarily distracted via text message, a bad song coming on the radio or what have you.

"I didn't see you!", I was told. Yeah, no shit. Luckily for all involved, damage to human and bicycle was minimal. I walked away with a sprained finger and a pretty gnarly bruise on my right thigh. I was pretty shaken up by the event, and in all the commotion dealing with the fire crew and paramedics that arrived on the scene, I somehow managed not to notice the motorist stealthfully leave the scene. One of the firefighters took down the license plate number before she left, and this was included in the police report. So not only was I doored, but I'm now among Chicago's lucky hit-and-run victims, as well. Bravo.

I've been relying on two-wheeled transport for several years now, and this was by far the worst thing that has happened to me. It's also been remarkable how one incident can erase years' worth of confidence on a bicycle. I got my bike out of the shop on Saturday afternoon and my first time in traffic that evening (mild traffic at that, and on my own block) nearly gave me a panic attack.

Of course, this sort of crash is entirely preventable. It's also entirely foreseeable. I wrote in this very blog just a few months back about Milwaukee Avenue's narrow chasm of doom also known as the "shared lane". Since that time, I had been riding up and down that strip anyhow, in the belief that the most direct route must be the best. I put that theory to the test this morning, my first day back on the steel horse for my commute. I took my winding, all-backstreet route from Logan Square to downtown, it added...wait for it...five whole minutes to my trip. During which time I was able to roll along at my own comfortable pace, without jerky dudes passing me on the right. So I guess this is it, Milwaukee Avenue. We've had a good run, but I'm not going anywhere near you until some changes are made in your street design.

As an aside, apologies for the recent dearth of posts. I started a new job a couple months back which has been taking up my time. The dust is beginning to settle now so I hope to get back to a semi-regular thing around here.

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