Crazy Ride

I just returned from a 3 mile bicycle trip to buy the Sunday newspaper. After 11 years of bicycling in Boise, this was almost my last ride.

Part of the marvelous economic growth in Boise has been the agglomeration of a regional shopping center. It's a busy, happening place, and on Sunday afternoon there are a lot of people out with serious shopping on their minds. Unfortunately, the striped bicycle lane—and the space for bicyclists—merges out of existence before Milwaukee crosses Fairview.

Next to the concrete curb, which is a little lower than usual below grade, there is a sharply angled transition with unsmoothed asphalt. Neither of those two features are something you can ride a bike on, so you pretty much have to ride out a little further than usual into the traffic lane. The right lane isn't any wider than the left, and with a 35 mph speed limit, traffic typically moves at 40 mph. Between the lights, anyway.

I was going about 15mph, headed south on Milwaukee, approaching Emerald. The last two cars that had passed me were waiting at the red light. I was in the center of the right lane, watching northbound Milwaukee traffic turning left onto Emerald with the

green arrow, anticipating the light change and planning on rolling behind the second car as it started up on the green.

A shiny, new, red pickup truck, with tinted windows wanted to pass me next, to get up to the traffic light. The driver honked. I looked back with irritation and stayed in the center of the lane. He pulled over into the left lane to get next to me and then eased over and took the lane he wanted, just like in the movies.

As the side of his truck hit me, I went down, hitting the road with my hip and left elbow.

I got up, ran up to the back of the truck and took a good look at the license plate. (He was 10 or 20 yards further, stopped at the light.) 8B 33178 I think it was, but I was a little agitated. Maybe it was 7B. I went up to the front of the truck, and looked the driver in the eye as I walked around to the driver's side. He locked his door, kept the window up tight. The light turned green, and he headed on down the road.

I ran back to the next car in line. "Did you see what happened?"

"No, we just saw you running with your bike."

I called the police, and they sent an officer out to talk to me. Too bad I wasn't sure about the license. Too bad about those tinted windows, because they kept me from getting much of a look at the driver or his passenger. Too bad there were no witnesses. Officer Dickson didn't have to explain to me how little could be done by the time he'd filled out the accident report. It was obvious.

Assault with a deadly weapon? Leaving the scene of an accident? Without a positive ID or a witness, there's no case. The folks from Idaho Falls (or maybe Pend O'Reille) can just head on home and forget it ever happened, even if the police do manage to engage them in conversation.

I bought the paper, headed home. Coming up to Emerald another pickup truck passed me, a little too close, got up to the line at the light. As I passed on the right, I took a long look at the two young women inside. Nothing personal; they were in their own world. I had time to ride up to the intersection, stand and wait for the light to change. It turned green, the cars passed me as I rode as close to that nasty slope at the edge as I dared.

Author's related drawing

The two women in the pickup truck passed me again, same uncomfortably close separation between their fenders and my body. Eventually everyone who was in the line was past, and I had a moment of respite from traffic and could think about enjoying the gorgeous fall day. As I passed Shopko, a woman eased up next to me, slowed down and cut me off as she smoothly turned into the parking lot. I hit the brakes and screamed simultaneously. I don't think she noticed.

Around the corner, she had to wait for some pedestrians coming out of the store. I came around on her left side, noticed her window was rolled half-way down. Was her vision impaired, or was it only her cognitive function, I enquired, although not exactly in those words.

She was alarmed and apologetic. She didn't realize she'd cut me off. She didn't REALIZE that as she'd slowed down and made her turn, she passed me and then turned right in front of me. I guess she didn't even see me, riding along in the afternoon sun with a silver jacket and a white helmet.

I guess it's my cognitive function that's impaired. You have to crazy to ride a bike on Milwaukee between Fairview and Franklin.

October 30, 1994

P.S. Fool that I am, I didn't stop riding on Milwaukee. And thanks to the 1998 ACHD, there is actually a bit of space painted on the road for us now. Not that it's really pleasant to ride in the kingdom of the cars...

This was published as a guest essay in the Boise Weekly in 1994.

Tom von Alten