Have you got a shovel? Part 2


On the freeways, cars collide and cause damage.  This damage is limited by the cars themselves, and people are relatively unscathed. Because of the psychological systems we’ve built around driving, the crash is addressed as part of a system.  For a variety of reasons, people are hurt very rarely despite many many crashes on our freeways.  The roads, built for the cars only are able to help limit serious injuries.  The media, focussed on getting the news fast cannot always get it right, for the exact same reason that driver’s cannot always get it right.  These incidents are called accidents, partially due to the legal system which gives the media firm parameters on what it can and cannot say.  Then the most important system, our ethical one…which varies a bit from person to person, gets its chance to weigh in with what the media should do.  Combine all those 4 systems and we have an amazing system here for making sure the right things happen, but it doesn’t cover everything…it just makes all the holes really small.  At the end of the day, all of these systems only work when we, as individuals, hone our own ethical systems through thought and focus, knowing all the while that we can never know if we’re getting the answers right because the problems are honestly just too complicated and there’s always a way to find a pretty solid-seeming defense on why to do something differently.

On surface roads in the suburbs and outer areas, there are multiple lanes of traffic as most residents (citizens and taxpayers) choose to use cars where cyclists are generally welcome to use the sidewalks that go largely unused.  This unspoken agreement, combined with the natural motions of the area, manages to create a barrier between different road users.  It’s important to note that even sidewalks are considered part of the road – or street – by the city.  Freeways belong entirely to the cars and cost tons of money.  But because they are also critical for shipping goods that we all need, and because lots of cyclists and pedestrians who live downtown use them and love them too, although more sparingly for whatever reason.

In the downtown core things are different.  Super dense numbers of road users of all types.  Cyclists – who are given no quarter on current Toronto road designs in which to amass – continue to have small numbers compared to pedestrians and cars.  At many intersections, buildings placed too near corners can cause pedestrian passings to be blind engagements.  Some don’t react quickly (goldfish moment) and bump into another.  Colliding. Crashing.  They are accidents, but it would be silly to call it so.  It simply is.  Its a fact of sharing tight spaces with other people. And because, for just an instant, we can smell the other person, feel the fabric of their jacket, and whether their arm is squishy, hard, or somewhere in the middle, these interactions are called other things.  Unless someone has an especially hard area or someone is going especially quickly, everyone leaves unscathed.

Meanwhile car drivers have stress-relief techniques taught to them so that they can properly remember their accidents with the other drivers.

Get all of the details right.

Make sure to get the insurance information, exchange phone numbers.

Avoid being angry and wait for the police.

Many of these collisions result in private, drawn out investigations but, so long as no one is badly hurt, the insurance agencies which both parties have by law – simply for cases like this.  While the incidents are called “accidents”, the multi billion dollar industry full of lobbyists and fine print used by automobile owners as a government/public-imposed, self regulated, capital-based legal decision that surrounds its surely cannot be.

The insurance dues paid by auto drivers exist completely because of accidents. Politics, I think, can actually be seen as working really well here.   The Auto users pay into a pool that settles as many “accident” disputes as possible without clogging the legal system.  And auto users, for good reason, pay out the nose for this system.  Cyclists and pedestrians don’t pay because their disputes also don’t tend to clog up any legal systems.  Having hit a pedestrian once who just didn’t see me as he stepped into the well defined Chicago bike lane I was riding in (defined with paint), at high speed (25k) on a bike only to both stand up slowly, make sure we were both ok, and move along, I’m fairly certain that not too many cyclists are handing over 500 quick bucks in order to avoid going to court (as might sometimes happen when a really nice car hits a less nice one, resulting in minor bumper damage…the insurance industry charges luxury premiums).

The point is that the separated bike lanes are inherently good as they make more of our road surface safely usable for all road users. Pedestrians will have extra distance between the building they are striding past and the cars, instead having an area of greatly less risk, so that if they forget themselves and take a step too far, they will stand up and shake hands with the person who’s day has been ruined by hitting them (cyclist), instead of possibly not standing up for sometime as medical help is called (driver).  Other scenarios are possible, but this is the most likely.  Drivers benefit as the curbs make them take more acute right turns, instead of the gently curved corners, where curbs disappear, that are still found around downtown.  This will help them avoid hitting cyclists and pedestrians.  While there is a name on the insurance cheque stub given to me at the end of last year, i do not know if it was a man or woman that hit me on July 14th, corner of Queen and Jarvis.  The piece of paper they handed me as I left the hospital some 4 hours later, where I had woken up…really happy to see my wife and not sure how i got there…said that’s where I was hit.  I remember biking East past King and Bay…red truck on my left, guy in sunglasses….looked like a stern but considerate guy.  I notice those things as I check people out in their side mirrors before trying to pass them…on either side…there is no “correct side” for bikes to pass cars on.  If we go on the left, we’re daredevils…going  between cars.  If we go on the right, we “shoot out of nowhere” just as their about to turn right on our shared green right of way. Shared.  Seriously…i got struck by a car.   But now I’m ok, so we had an accident.

The new bike lanes proposed would eliminate some of the blindspot that exists as a bike rides into a car’s field of vision….there’s no debate about it.  It’s the principal of “how mirrors work” that makes the space directly behind the car, like a snowman built on the back left or right corner of the bumper, harder to see than a snow man moved 2 feet further out to either side.  My head reportedly smashed the windshield of the car that hit me, leaving glass embedded in my face. I’m sure that the person that hit me called the hospital to see if I survived, when their busy day demanded that they trudge on, doing the best they could, even though I was still unconscious…leaving in the ambulance for St Michael’s, who treated me so very well.  When her insurance company and I, after months of missed exchanges and voicemails (a couple each way), got ahold of me in December and told me they hadn’t yet received the police report they requested I realized I hadn’t followed up on that report either.

Funny thing though, after laying unconscious for a little over an hour and moving from Queen and Jarvis to a bed at St Mike’s, I woke up.  And despite not knowing why I hurt so badly, or really where I was.  I knew it was a good thing.  I also knew that I wasn’t ready yet to look down at anything and that my whole body hurt from the outside in.  I only remember thinking that i had a body for the first little bit, and vaguely that a doctor asked me a question…i’m pretty sure that’s where they got my wife’s number from as they couldn’t have easily deciphered that from my cell phone listing.  When she got there, and I posed for pictures, the magnitude of the thing hit me.  I had just come as close to death as I’d ever come.  I made it, but wow.

I didn’t wear a helmet when I rode that day and I’m lucky that, in the end, I don’t have to regret it. As best I can tell, I am going to be ok.  I get dizzy sometimes still but its improving and doctors said that was normal for up to 6 months when you get a concussion.  I somehow have no scars on my face and the ones on my shoulder and knee seem like worthy badges for whatever the collision it was i endured.  I seem to remember one of the docs saying I was hit about 45kph, but i can’t really even recall that conversation clearly….most of that first day after getting hit is a bit of a blur.  I cant recall if I had xrays or an mri….i had one, and I’m pretty sure it was x-rays…but there was definitely a machine.  But other than that, my memory before the collision and after seems fine.  I’m riding my bike again, although was relegated to transit for about 2 months overall, able to ride shorter distances again after about 2 weeks.  My awesome, well loved Batavus BuB –  big slow, beautiful city bike was destroyed (MSRP $675).

I consulted with a lawyer who advised me that head things are serious, and while it might take a long time to exhibit issues, i should get papers filed to make sure I can, essentially, keep myself under legal observation until such time that it would make sense to take legal recourse for my damages.  But I don’t pay into the auto driver’s insurance co-op, and I can’t even remember what happened. I could have caused the whole thing.  I might be due damages even if I did cause the whole thing.

It doesn’t really matter who’s fault it is.  Since I don’t remember anything, having a helmet might have changed some things.  Instead of my head smashing breaking her windshield, maybe it bounces off and goes in front of some other thing.  Maybe then I break my leg.  Maybe the impact on my neck from whiplash is enough that I can’t use my legs anymore.  Maybe I still get the concussion, just not the face lacerations.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

From now on, I’m going to wear a helmet because I think it will help send a message to those who would first ask “did they have a helmet on?” when hearing of a cyclist getting hit by a car. It’s not about the helmet, it’s about making sure goldfish moments don’t kill people. I’ll wear a helmet from now until I feel the discussion changes, then I’ll do whatever I’m most comfortable with again; enjoying my own traversals about Toronto.

And I told  the insurance company what I did know about the accident, the conversation quickly turned to money.  I added things up in my head and tried to think of the exact actual cost to me: bike – $675 plus tax.  2 months of transit…say…$30 a week (i don’t do monthly passes…bike makes it so it would be a waste of money – $240.  That’s $925.

Then the woman on the phone said “and of course we’ll pay for your medical damages”.

I am originally from the US, but was invited to Canada to help on a project for work and am extremely grateful for the OHIP program, especially as this was the first time I was able to use it.  -So far, so good in terms of my quality of care etc…and my wife and I are applying for permanent residency here as the city has become our home.  I pay taxes here and feel more than covered by the system.  I can’t guess what “medical expenses” would have been covered.

I’m assuming that the person that hit me with their car hates the fact that it happened, that they might still have nightmares of me bouncing off their windshield.  I also know that there is no chance in hell that i rode purposely in front of any cars.  I ride my bike everywhere, and until now have always been safe.  I  didn’t wear a helmet for the same reason drivers sometime don’t wear a seat belt.  If this collision was my fault, then it was surely an “accident”.  I had a goldfish moment.  That’s the story i’m telling myself anyways because I know it can happen to anyone and I’m not sure I really want to hear the details.  Ignorance; bliss.

That all being true, I received a settlement cheque.  The cheque came a day after I signed off on closure for the incident and was in the exact amount I requested.  I came to the amount after a good deal of thought and philosophical struggle with the actual monetizing of my injury.  In my mind, it was far lower than what I “could have got” but was as close to fair as what I think anyone could get, being that no one knew my injuries and risks in this decision better than me, and that I requested it.  For their part, the insurance company did nothing to stand in my way, so I have peace of mind that it was fair to them and to their clients, the auto owners.   For my part, I’m going to donate the amount to charity – it’s really not much.

It is the blinders that we willingly strap on, blocking out the other, that is preventing the world’s cities…not just Toronto, but certainly including Toronto, from making complete streets and also in extreme cases, for all kinds of other failures to act.  There is no reason, fundamentally, why bikes are bad…in fact, there are so many reasons why they are good that I don’t even care to mention them here.  Yet people continue to block out the fact that cyclists are going to continue to make mistakes, they are going to continue to be hit by doors opening on cabs when someone didn’t look, they are going to continue to be man-slaughtered by automobile drivers, having goldfish moments, not trying to kill anyone.

Now we are immediately seeing shenanigans like quick objection to what is clearly a really good plan, including a quick blurb about a $40M Pricetag from a guy who is also committed to cycling, yet has something standing in the way of reaching out an olive branch on this system.  There should be cease and desist orders requested on comments like this from the cycling community as now one cyclist (Mr Vaughan) has a chance to scrap a plan purportedly because his ward constituents don’t want it.  I think they do want it and, honestly, its on those people in Ward 20, and in every other ward across this city to tell their councillors what they want.  That’s the way the system works and for all of the disagreements I may or may not have for about how Mr Ford runs this city in the time to come, i totally support that he was elected and that there will be no excuses for taxpayers that don’t take the time to talk to their local councillor.  It’s what the government system, built by many years and many people can only work correctly if everyone is engaged.

The media should must better job of being even handed, especially with SunTV now making their way north based on a business model that, after yesterday, should at least give people pause if not fits of anger (the business model…hopefully SunTV will actually be “fair and balanced” and offer news).  But if they don’t, it’s not really their fault.  Because that means that individuals still turn that channel on.  Those individuals who are willing to be increasingly lax with their expectations of decency and good work (which is what good media should be) are responsible, who continue to click their tongues when something is a bit too offensive, but not changing the channel and who change their political opinions without doing the best they can to find, and then decide on, the best information.

Mayor Ford has asked for Torontonians to tell him what they want…he’s promised to lend a listening ear.  He might even listen too well, jumping into the news because some guy apparently told him that he didn’t like the plastic grocery bag fee.  Notice anything funny about that link?  Check again?  Nope?  Well then I’m sorry, you’ve missed my point.  Check out this article.  I think there’s issues with both articles…but I read them both.  Would you have normally?

This environment, at least the one Mayor Ford is creating by asking for engagement, is what democracy is all about.  We need Rob Ford, Denzill Minan-Wong, Adam Vaughan, and all our councillors…as well as the media that reports on them…to pick up some big shovels..

We need them to plow through the layers of stories commenting on the place of cycling in cities and get back to ensuring that Torontonians can leave their houses alive with an expectation that their neighbors, colleagues, and friends they haven’t met yet care about them getting to their destination alive as well.  Not choosing to be pro-cyclist with regards to the bike lanes means that you are taking full responsibility for the collisions that happen in the future that this system can prevent now.

Please PLEASE email council, Rob Ford, your councillor, and especially pwic@toronto.ca (the Public Works and INfrastructure Committee), and cc info@bikeunion.to and demand that we stop talking about who gets where faster and we start helping our friends we haven’t met yet to get where they need to alive.

This, like snow, is a great issue to take outside of politics.  Use it instead to make the guy that lives next door your neighbor.  I lived in Tucson for a summer and got enough of a sense of the “system” in place there to get have a bit of  an idea of the challenges and interests that Sheriff Clarence Dupnik was clearly asking for help with in his press statement.  I suspect that there are a lot of people in Tucson soul searching as words suddenly seem to actually affect actions and thoughts again…at least for today.  Let’s get ourselves some shovel, say hello to the people we share this city with, talk, and build new separated bike lanes.



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