Yesterday, I hit a car – Bike Commuting in Portland

For the last year and a half I have battled the streets of the Portland every morning and evening (and all the errands in between) on my own two wheels.  I had never biked in a city before and oh boy was I unduly stressed out about it.

I was hit by a car while crossing Webster Ave in the summer of 2012.  It was broad day light and no one was drunk (thank ya very much) but factors combined and I went over some Hanover High kid’s hood.  Turns out said Hanover High kid was about to become a freshman at McGill, he didn’t tell his parents he hit a person, provided an old address to the police (you better believe I tried to go to his house), and moved to Canada without fixing my bike.  Infinite sad face. I got over it wen I lucked into getting a new bike in payment for doing a favor for a friend of a friend and I did not stop riding but the terror was building.

When we moved to Portland, Joey babied me through riding on the streets of a real city and we had a fairly heated discussion about whether or not I was legally allowed to go to the front along side the line at red lights.  That ended with me, sitting on the sidewalk, refusing to move another inch, looking up traffic laws on my phone and slowly realizing Joey was right.  Then I stopped hyper-ventilating and got back on my bike.

Now I hold an unyielding insistence on knowing the bike laws and I thrive on the love and security I feel when I put on the neon, reflective, vest my mother sent me last year. That piece of elastic gives me a the peace of mind if the righteous bike commuter. All my reflective gear in place, my helmet tightly affixed to my head, a knowledge of streets with bike lanes between me and my destination at the forefront of my mind give me an overall a sense of complete invincibility during the journey I have planned.  But a lot of the time I am a little too caught up in trying to get to work on time, not hit the piles of *maybe* human shit on the Hawthorne Bridge, trying not to get stuck behind the goddamn bus on Gladstone or generally being so concerned and worried about the reactions of others and the environment to my and my bike’s presence that I lose perspective of my physical being and cease to maintain the control necessary for optimum transport.  AKA I flat out ran into a car leaving the Hawthorne Bridge yesterday morning. As we have discussed, I’ve been involved in vehicle/bicycle altercations in the past and I am no stranger to being run off the road by busses merging, people making rights without looking, swerving around open car doors and blah blah blah….but I still hit a car and it still hurt.

So here’s the story:

I was coming off the ramp at the end of the Hawthorne Bridge, about to cross SW 1st Ave. I needed to turn left and for those of you unfamiliar with Portland, being a biker and needing to turn left off the Hawthorne bridge automatically makes you the worst.  The absolute worst.  At this point in my ride to work I have to cross 3 lanes of traffic from the bike lane to the left turn lane or else I have to go all the way to 4th and oh hell naw do I not have time for that.  So I signaled as I was coming off and merged into the first lane no problem.  Then, as I was still signaling my turn with my left hand, I looked over my left shoulder to check if it was clear, which it kind of was.  So then I confidently start making my move, empowered by my year of experience riding in this fair city and my neon vest of ultimate infallible righteousness,  and I found myself lying on the trunk of the sedan in front of me with my first crank. Essentially, after I looked over my shoulder to look into the other lane, the car in front of me had stopped and I had belly flopped.  I was initially unhurt, I looked at the car to check for damage, and then waddled my way to the driver side window to tell the driver to move along.  The following exchange ensued:

Me: I’m really sorry man, my fault, I’m fine, I don’t think I did any damage, Sorry again have a good day!


Me:  Actually, I’m cool.  Sorry that was my fault, could you block for me while I get to the sidewalk?  I knocked my chain off…

*waddles bike to sidewalk*



Driver: Cool, thnx, bye

Here are my injuries:

Notice the perfect pedal print on my lower calf.
Notice the perfect pedal print on my lower calf.

Those bruises have turned blue and the pedal print has gotten more pronounced but nothing was more battered than my pride.  So I turned on the old “Angry Portland Bike Commuter who Wants to Tell you you’re Wrong” routine and the driver left me be.  I felt bad that I probably rattled that guy by making him think he had hit me but I told him to leave and walked away from the crash so I don’t think he should have needed more signs to get gone.  I waited for the light at the bottom of the hill to change so I wouldn’t have to sit there in line with the other commuters and pretend I didn’t just lay myself out for all to see.  I waited for a new crop of folk to roll in who had no idea I was “that girl.”  At that point I was so embarrassed I couldn’t even look anyone wearing a shammy in the face.  So I rode, head down, only looking for oncoming cars and lights and feeling a couple rungs down the ladder until I got to work and was able to tell Joey what happened.  I could see the humor as I was forming the words to say “I hit a car.”  At first I was so ashamed I had done that.  I thought I was better than throwing myself on recently moving vehicles and causing a problem.  My biking motto for Portland has always been “value the traffic pattern over your own ego.”  Being one of those people who causes a scene and backs up the bridge made my stomach turn.  I wanted everyone and their brother to know that I knew what I was doing.  If they didn’t get out of my way I would hop the curb and ride around them, I was a badass and PUNK ROCK ANARCHY.  This incident made me seem more like those old men in slacks who ride very slow, comfortable bikes from their condo to their corner office and who ride their bike as a novelty and not a real form of transport.  And thus I realized that I had put my own ego ahead of the traffic pattern and my safety, causing the whole debacle.  But, at the same time my ego had shown me how far I had come from that fear and uncertainty I had felt my first day riding in Portland.  I may be an asshole on the road, but at least I’m still out there, facing the traffic everyday, saving my own time and the time of commuters around me.  Looking back even just after the 10 minutes it took to finish the ride made me realize how short and weird that interaction actually was.  But hey, I’m sure the guy I hit tells this story too.


One thought on “Yesterday, I hit a car – Bike Commuting in Portland

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s