On the seriousness of car-bike accidents

This morning, I got hit by a car while biking northbound down Hennepin toward Loring Park.  Residents in my neighborhood will surely recognize this craptastic intersection:

Hennepin and Oak Grove

It was lightly raining, so I was going slower than usual and had my lights on.  I was actually feeling good because unlike most mornings, there weren’t any cars inching forward into the crosswalk (the green stripe in the above photo, which of course is now faded), which means it’s easy to get onto the ramp and into Loring Park.  There was no traffic in either of the two lanes on my left as I approached the intersection, so everything seemed fine.

Then, out of my peripheral vision, I see a car on my left speeding ahead, and I can see that it’s signaling for a right turn – right into where I’m about to be.  I didn’t have even close to enough time to brake (even if it weren’t raining, but especially because it was), and considering how fast they were going, this person was clearly intending to take that corner as fast as they could before I made it into the intersection.

They weren’t fast enough, and so as I’m yelling at the top of my lungs, my bike clips their rear quarter panel and I’m sent sprawling into the street.  She drives off, pretending not to have heard either me or the loud thump when my bike hit her car.

So I’m not hurt too bad (of course I’m wearing a helmet and decided to put on gloves before I left too), but I decide to call the cops to at least report the accident, seeing as it’s a hit-and-run.  I give dispatch my location and a description of the car and which way it was headed.

While I’m waiting for the cops to show up, apparently some City of Minneapolis van which was behind her manages to track her down and “inform” her of what happened.  So this young woman walks over to the intersection a few seconds before the cops show up and tells me that she was the one who hit me and that she’s really sorry.

So an officer shows up, and I explain what happened and he basically tells me that I need to be more careful because it’s raining.  Thanks!  Meanwhile, the girl who drove off after the accident but who returned to the scene after being “busted” by a city employee – the officer doesn’t even ask her name, and her car is parked way up the road, so he sure isn’t getting her license plate info either.  The cop asks her what happened first, and she says “I didn’t see him!”  After I explain my version of events, this changes a bit to “I was trying to speed up to get around him!”

But the officer doesn’t really care either way.  Which is fine for her because she needs to get going because she’s “late for an appointment.”  So the twenty-something blonde (EDIT: I used those words to inform the reader of potential bias, not to myself be sexist/blonde-ist/etc.) just leaves, while the driver of the van tries to explain to the officer that indeed *I* was somehow at fault.  He thinks that cyclists are supposed to follow the crosswalk signs, and because it was flashing orange (according to him, anyway – I distinctly remember it being white for “walk”), I shouldn’t have been in the intersection, and this whole thing is my fault.  The officer nods his head in approval and I decide to leave rather than argue.  Hopefully that city employee is not a transportation engineer.

So anyway, the moral of the story is apparently this: if you are involved in a hit-and-run with a cyclist and someone catches you, just return to the scene of the crime.  This time around, no police report was written with anyone’s name in it, she got no ticket and can continue to drive recklessly.   And if she hits another cyclist and speeds off, no one will be the wiser.

UPDATE (10/2): I went down to City Hall to find a copy of the police report that was filed for this.  There was none filed – apparently cars running over cyclists is not a serious enough incident to warrant a report.  So I filed a complaint against the officer.  Here’s the text of my complaint:

On the morning of October 1, 2014, I was travelling via bicycle in the bike lane northbound on Hennepin Avenue approaching Oak Grove Street. As I approached the intersection, a car behind me sped up to overtake me and to take a right-hand turn onto Oak Grove. The car entered the intersection at the same time that I did. I struck the rear quarter panel of the car and was thrown off my bike, sustaining minor injuries.

The car did not stop. I called 911 to report a hit-and-run. Another driver (driving a city of Minneapolis van) who was travelling northbound on Hennepin witnessed the event and pursued the driver involved in the accident. The driver who was involved in the accident walked back to the scene (after presumably being “informed” of the accident by the van driver), where she said that she was the one who hit me, and if she could do anything to help.

Moments later, Officer Collier arrived on the scene. He asked what happened and the woman who hit me said that she did not see me as she was turning. I also gave my version of events, which were largely the same, after which the woman claimed that she did see me but was speeding up to get around me. After this brief interaction, the woman was allowed to leave without offering her name, license, or license plate information, let alone be given a ticket for reckless driving or leaving the scene of an accident.

I was disappointed in this response by Officer Collier, who also informed me that I was actually the one who needed to be more careful. I know exactly how careful I need to be, as I bike through this intersection almost every day. It is because of reckless drivers like the one who hit me that I exercise extreme caution. That no ticket was given for endangering my life indicates that MPD approves of the status quo: drivers are free to do what they want, and that cyclists need to figure out how to stay out of the way. My views on this were reinforced by the officer’s unwillingess to question why the driver was fled the scene – I find it difficult to understand how someone could just continue driving after hearing an object strike their car.

It has also come to my attention that no police report has been filed in this matter. I think a police report should be filed when cars strike cyclists or pedestrians. I also do not think it’s wise policy to allow hit-and-run drivers to go free without consequences, even if they later return to the scene of the crime. If it weren’t for the motorist who tracked her down, she would have gotten away without consequences. (Though in this case, even after returning to the accident scene, she was able to avoid any consequences.)

I live less than one block away from where a cyclist was struck and killed earlier this year. The ghost bike memorial there is a daily reminder of the fragile nature of riding a bike alongside cars and trucks. I would like the Minneapolis Police Department to show better judgment and impose serious penalties for reckless drivers when responding to car-bike and car-pedestrian accidents.

8 thoughts on “On the seriousness of car-bike accidents”

  1. That totally sucks and makes the fact that this is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation kinda depressing, to say the least. I suppose there is a difference between “bike-friendly” and “cyclist-friendly”: we definitely seem to manage to be less of the latter. Glad you got out of it relatively unscathed, I’m plenty familiar with every one of those intersections and I can tell you I’m always looking back well before I continue through an intersection. But even then as you found out, that’s not necessarily going to guarantee a safe crossing.

    We need to seriously consider a blanket 20 MPH speed limit in this city: it’s a tiny city (only 50-something sq mi), so moving at 20 MPH gets you around plenty fast. Hell, I’m able to reach St Paul from Loring Park in less than a half hour: on a friggin bike.

    1. We could do just this (with strict enforcement + expensive tickets) and make our streets the safest to ride a bike on anywhere in the US… Not to mention making streets safer to walk across. Just making the limit 20 mph on bike blvds and 25 everywhere else would be a huge step in the right direction. All for the cost of new signage. We do this a few times a year already: Every time we get a big snow storm everyone is forced to drive about 15 mph or slower and everyone still gets to work, the world does not end. Let’s treat every day like a snow day in Mpls.

  2. I feel your pain. A car hit me at the corner of Lagoon and Hennepin on Sept. 26. I have the license plate and witnesses. 911 was called by bystanders. The cops don’t seem to care.

  3. “[A]pparently cars running over cyclists is not a serious enough incident to warrant a report.”

    “[S]o as I’m yelling at the top of my lungs, my bike clips their rear quarter panel and I’m sent sprawling into the street.”

    Pick one version of the event and stick with it please.

    1. Oooh, nice “gotcha”! I was in a bit of a hurry when I wrote this. I managed to slow down enough so that the car didn’t run me over, and I hit the rear quarter panel of the car.

  4. This advice will not help those who do not have a car. But if you do, get your insurance company involved. You need to ALWAYS get insurance information from the person who hit you, if possible. File a claim with your insurance company to get your bike replaced (don’t let them just fix it, the frame may be compromised), a replacement helmet, and to pay any medical bills. They’ll get it reimbursed from the driver’s company.

    And from your story now I know that I should insist that the police file a report too.

  5. I’m glad you were not injured. It will take some time before the masses of drivers of cars and trucks get it… we bicyclists have just as much right to the road as they do and we are far less danger to our fellow cyclists and pedestrians than they are, which is not to mention being a threat to the environment. The police will always sympathize with the dominant culture and that is currently motorized vehicular traffic, but I am optimistic that will change. I agree with Keith that lower speed limits would be a step in the right direction, but even current speed limits are poorly enforced, so I think the only real solution is a change in awareness among the masses of vehicle drivers that they are engaged in a destructive activity.

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