Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Too damn close (and why I should have called it in)

Not the truck that passed me, though it's about as close. I got this image from - from a post with a great video showing good and bad driving and cycling.
So it wasn't just me. According to Ken at, three cyclists were injured yesterday in the space of 40 minutes. . . which might explain why I was feeling a little at risk. Drivers, please: think about how scary you can be.

He posted this scary video of a transport truck blowing by him, and a sedan cutting him off at 35km/h on his blog today. I'm reminded of the phone call I didn't make yesterday.

I was on my way south on Bank Street. Bank has been identified, incidentally, as quite possibly being Ottawa's most deadly street for cyclists, by OpenFile's awesome data tool Open Road. I seem to recall that even before Open Road, I found Bank Street south of Riverside on a list of the city's most dangerous cycling areas.

Anyway, I was pedaling along on my way home from work when I was blown past by a full-size transport truck. (At least it wasn't also hauling a trailer, like Ken's was: trailers are the absolute worst. Often wider than the vehicle pulling them, they skim terrifyingly close to a cyclist, and you can never be sure the driver's remembering to account for the extra width.)

This truck appeared on my left out of nowhere, and I don't think I'm exaggerating to say that it was a foot and a half off my handlebars. It felt like a foot. I screamed as it went by, and considered braking reactively (damn good thing I didn't: the truck was too close and my best option was to keep going at the same speed and pray it was all over quickly.) The worst part was that after the cab had gone by, terrifying me, the trailer on the thing just kept going, like the Imperial Star Destroyer at the beginning of Star Wars. People waiting at the bus stop near me jumped and stared, because I was yelling so loud.

The instinct to brake when a huge vehicle buzzes you like that is hard to overcome. I don't know which is safer, really; braking involves a marginal loss of momentum and therefore control over straight travel, but on the sort of bad pavement you've got on Bank Street, the chance of hitting a pothole or drainage grate if you keep going at speed while the truck is screaming past you is frightening.

At any rate, I almost never have the chance to catch up to the people that do this kind of thing and get their license plate. But in this case, I caught up to the truck at the next light. It was being operated by Grant Transport, and the license plate on the trailer (though not the cab) was 870 35R. I know this, because I repeated the license number to myself the whole way home, and as soon as I had reached my building and was waiting by the elevators, I pulled out my phone to call them and report their driver.

I regret this: on the first ring, I hung up. Be honest, I thought to myself, do you really think they'll care? What are you going to report, dangerous driving? They'll just think you're a whining cyclist, or they won't believe that the truck was as close as it was, or they'll dismiss the whole thing, or the receptionist won't have a procedure for reporting this kind of thing. I don't have the cab number.

So I hung up. I regret that. But it's hard to make those calls: I tried it once with Capital Cab. The dispatcher listened to my shaking account, and then told me to call 311, and I didn't have a license plate number or any way of identifying the cab, so I figured 311 wouldn't be able to do anything anyway. I felt like my fear and anger were being dismissed. So this time around, I didn't even call Grant Transport. Although, now that I've written this, I just might. In fact, I should probably just call the police. Hey - at least this one time I actually got a plate number: I should use it.


  1. Wow, strikingly similar to my twitter photo and video. The trucks are really scary. The long ones actually produce a lot of wind buffeting too so it's just so wrong for them to pass so close. I have phoned in a few to the police, if you can give them a time/date, license, description of vehicle, what they did and description of driver they will usually do something. 311 is not the avenue for complaining about bad drivers.

  2. Thanks - I did call the police, the next day. Somehow I felt better about calling them when the adrenaline had worn off. More like I was making a real complaint and less like I was just reacting. Not logical, I know, but when your voice is all shaky you can feel a lot more like people will dismiss your fears.

    It's made me think, too, about how often/how many cyclists feel like I did, that their safety concerns won't be taken seriously. Interesting to think about.

  3. If you can get into the slipstream after they sail past though, free ride all the way home!

    Making light of it but I am very sympathetic, they are terrifying when close.

  4. I called Ottawa Police over 8 traffic complaints I had compiled over a few weeks' time and they couldn't do anything about them because I didn't have enough information. Even when I had the license plate, the car, the location, and time it took place, they said that it wasn't enough--I needed to know what the person looked like because multiple people could be driving the car.

    One of my worst encounters was when I was in a left-turn lane and a car decided to pull out to my left (i.e., into oncoming traffic...) and when I reported it, I didn't have any info because it had scared me so much. The operator was very nice about it, and she said she could file the report, but nothing would really happen.

    Oh, wait, another terrible encounter I had was when an 18-wheeler passed me... and then started to merge back into the lane while I was still there. I think that was my closest brush with death because I had to slam on my brakes and jam my foot on the curb to stop in time. And of course, every time this happens to me, I'm too busy trying not to get smushed to get the plate #, make, etc...

    On the topic of Bank Street being the worst to bike on, I prefer Airport Parkway because even though they're driving at 80km/h and I barely have a shoulder, that's still safer than Bank Street. Terrifying.

    1. As a sidenote, re-reading this, "closest brush with death" sounds REALLY overdramatic. Sorry about that! :p