Saturday, May 29, 2010

Close Encounters of the Capital Kind

I completely, unflinchingly hate the stretch of construction on Bank Street, the bridge where it crosses the railroad. Click here for another cyclist's letter to the Citizen this week about it. I've had to brave it, all told, four times today, twice this afternoon on an errand to the South Keys shopping centre, and twice this evening, going to a friend's house and returning, late, around 11:30 or so actually. And it was as I was returning that my stubbornness lost the fight with my self-preservation. Spectacularly.

The thing is, I know the cars have to bloody well slow up for me on this bridge. This is the only route that will get you across the railroad tracks from South Keys to the rest of Ottawa South, and it's under construction right now. From two lanes each way, it's down to only the outside lanes, with a concrete barrier between cars and construction. The curb is a good five or six inches high - one of the spooky-high curbs - and the bridge was narrow even without the lane closure. There are pylons that gradually narrow the road to one lane, and my stubbornness usually kicks in when I realize that cars are speeding up to gun it past me so as not to get stuck behind me when it gets too narrow to pass. I yelled at a young man who pulled that trick this afternoon, realizing that if it came down to a game of chicken, or a fight for the lane, the bike loses. But as soon as I can reasonably do it, I do swing a little further out into the lane. Take that, cars, I think to myself, you have to go my speed for all of 200 metres. I'm sure it'll do lasting damage to your psyches.

Because my stubbornness insists that I have every right to be on the road. In fact, I am not legally entitled to be on the sidewalk.

But this evening around 11:30 I was coming home, north, along that bridge. I had my tail light and my reflective patches going. I had just reached the end of the 'narrowing' bit and I was into the single lane. I'd already had a couple of cars gun it past me, accelerating, unnervingly, to duck into the lane ahead of me. But I was getting to the narrow bit, and those cars just made me more determined to hold down my chunk of the road. So I was just getting ready to move out and take up my space in the lane. And the scariest thing was that I only heard the Capital Taxi minivan coming up behind me in enough time to register that it wasn't slowing down. The engine was quiet, I suppose. But I heard the whoosh as it came up behind me. Fast. It went by me doing at least 60 km/h. It felt like more.

This was the shaky, dark phone-camera shot I took of the lane, to illustrate just how narrow it is: the dark pavement is the lane, the light is the sidewalk.

I was terrified. I hit the brakes as it screamed by me, and stopped, totally rattled. The worst thing was that I had only barely even heard it coming. A couple more cars whooshed by before I collected myself enough to get out of the lane and up onto the sidewalk, where I got my phone out and called Capital Taxi. The dispatcher I spoke to couldn't do anything about it except tell me to call 311 and promise to send a message to the drivers to be more careful around bikes, but I think I just needed to feel like I'd done something, spoken to someone, explained to someone just how rattled I was. Talked to a human being. Reached out to say, it's the middle of the night and a cab just nearly hit me and I'm all alone on a dark bridge feeling helpless...

And so my stubbornness lost. I took the sidewalk off the bridge. I almost took it all the way home, but I told myself firmly that the chances of another close call in the remaining few blocks were slim enough that I could get back on the street. But I was on high alert, for sure.

And this street - Bank Street - is a posted City bike route? And the only way across the railroad tracks? 


  1. Okay, seriously Kate, screw the dispatch--they only deal with customer issues. Call the police.

    613-236-1222, extension 7300. Tell them you want to make a traffic complaint (or use some more creative terminology like "I want to report an incident of dangerous driving"), and give them the plate of the car, time and location of the incident, and as much description as you can of the situation. Make sure to get a report number to know that they filed it; they will then (weeks later, usually) follow up with the driver directly, if they can track the driver down.

    Maybe also leave a comment at my blog post on taxis that are a menace to society.

    Are there any "do not pass bikes" signs in the area? If not, the City should be faulted too for not putting them up in a construction zone.

    - RG>

  2. Sadly, sometimes it's best to just get off the road and walk your bike. I do it when things get too tight/complicated. Slow but safe.

    You may have every right to be there but cars have far more inertia.

    If you're a daily cyclist, even a 0.1% chance of an accident means an accident every 3 years or so...

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