It was a sunny but brisk Friday afternoon in March when my bike was hit. The weather was not quite creeping toward spring yet, but the snow that had been crowding Boston's streets and sidewalks in hulking, icy mounds for the previous few months had finally begun to dissipate, offering a long-awaited chance for biking through the city. My bike, a lightweight Jamis hybrid, was secured to a sign post in Harvard Square via a U-Lock, when a woman driving a beat-up teal Ford minivan parked her passenger-side tire on top of my front wheel, thus nearly folding it in half like a piece of origami paper.
Unfortunately, this is not an unfamiliar scenario for urban bikers. Actually, the first automobile accident ever, which happened in New York City in 1896, occurred when a motor vehicle collided with a cyclist, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2007, 698 cyclists in the US were killed, and an additional 44,000 were injured in traffic crashes, according to the NHTSA's 2007 Traffic Safety Facts, the most recent data this organization has to offer. The number of fatalities is down 14 percent since 1997 (and down significantly from its highest point, in 1975), though it spiked at bit in 2005 and 2006.
Forty-four thousand — the number of reported injuries — is very likely lower than the number of people who actually got hurt on bikes that year. Bicycle crashes and injuries tend to be under-reported, says the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute on their Web site, because the majority of bike accidents don't result in emergency-room visits. And any figures on how many people had minor altercations — such as a damaged bike, but (luckily) no injuries — are virtually nonexistent.
Survey any group of Boston-area bikers, though, and you'll likely find that every one has some tale of biking woe, be it a close call with an MBTA bus, a stolen wheel, a near-dooring experience, or — as was my case — damage that occurred when you were nowhere near the bicycle.
When Harvard's School of Public Health queried a group of 113 bicycle couriers back in 2002, 90 percent had been injured on the job at some point. Granted, bike messengers spend an average of eight-and-a-half hours a day manically weaving through city traffic on two wheels, so their experiences are more concentrated than those of the average bike commuter. Still, as any article about biking in Boston invariably points out, there's a reason Bicycling magazine has thrice proclaimed us the worst city for biking. (Though, since Mayor Menino hired Nicole Freedman to be the city's "bike czar" in 2008, there's hope — they've termed us a "future best city for biking.") Bikers, pedestrians, public transport, and automobiles battle daily for the limited available space on Boston's narrow, crammed streets.
"Every week cyclists who've been involved in automobile collisions come though the door, dragging their trashed bikes with them," says Alex Avstreykh, a bicycle mechanic at Community Bicycle Supply in the South End, via e-mail. "Some are couriers, but the majority are commuters and even casual, recreational riders."