Linux's Witness Ministry
Some people might suppose that I actually enjoy my frequent opportunities to say "I told you so". Some people might suppose that I have frequent opportunities because I'm excessively critical, pessimistic, or just plain whiney. Any of this may be true.
But I'm writing this to clarify one important thing - I'd rather be wrong. Page 16 of the August 1999 Scientific American has an excellent article very clearly expounding my analysis of central Florida's ecologically disasterous swamp draining practices. While I'm glad I'm insightful enough to see things like this, that's the extent of it.
I don't think I've yet encountered a situation where I've been so right and yet wished I was so wrong as I have today. I am in a situation where I have made a proclamation based on my vast experience in the thing that I am, without a doubt, the best at - the thing that I know the most about. And, sadly, this proclamation is counter-intuitive and difficult for many to believe and accept.
I have stated that I will not ride a bicycle in Florida. Dispite my obvious love of cycling, my extraordinary skill at it, and the necessity arising from my disdain of automobiles, I simply refuse to endanger my life to such a degree. For those of you who do not know what I know, who do not understand what I do, and who consequently have a hard time believing that my position on cycling in Florida is consistent with my otherwise strong credentials in this area, I have something you should read. [My analysis follows.]
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on September 23, 1999.
In a gruesome accident early Wednesday, car after car hit a bicyclist's body without stopping to render aid or summon help.
"They just kept going," said Orlando police Detective Norris Butler, who is investigating the death. "The first two or three had to have known it was a body because of the clothing."
Struck first by a hit-and-run driver on a Kirkman Road overpass, the cyclist was thrown 20 feet below onto Florida's Turnpike into high-speed traffic.
Remains of the man, who may have been on his way to work, were spread across 375 feet of highway. Only one motorist stopped, after flattening a car tire on the bicycle seat or other debris, police said.
A second motorist, the driver of a car carrier, told police later he thought he hit the mangled carcass of a deer. He reported what happened after reaching his destination in Ocoee and finding a right hand on the carrier.
The accident occurred about 6:30 a.m. and was reported to the Florida Highway Patrol at 6:36 a.m. By that time, a number of cars and trucks had struck the body repeatedly.
"More than six -- it's hard to say," Butler said.
Predawn darkness, the 70-mph speed limit on the Turnpike and poor driving habits such as following too closely may have contributed to the number of vehicles that hit the body. But, Butler said, motorists had to know they had struck something large.
The bicyclist and the hit-and-run motorist who struck him first were both headed north on Kirkman Road.
The cyclist was carrying a few belongings in a plastic bag hanging from the handlebars -- one of 10 pieces of the red bicycle and other evidence spread across the overpass.
Police think the motorist may have been driving a white 1995 GMC Suburban, police said. The impact likely broke a headlight and damaged the vehicle's front end and undercarriage.
Investigators think the victim may have been black, but they were not certain, said police spokesman Sgt. Orlando Rolon. The man was wearing work boots, blue jeans and a blue shirt.
Each year, as many as 20 people die in unsolved hit-and-run crashes in greater Orlando.
Anyone with information about Wednesday's accident or anyone who knows a missing person who bicycled to work in the Kirkman Road area is asked to call Orlando police at (407) 246-2455.
[Posted 09/22/1999 10:20 PM EST]
Wow...That makes me sick. If I could commit suicide with a large number of nuclear warheads right now, I'd be tempted.
I suppose the most important observation to make probably eluded the Sentinel's staff. Why didn't cars stop? I believe that they didn't stop for one of the main reasons that I won't ride here - there is nowhere for them to stop. The roads here very seldom have shoulders. Looking at the picture that accompanied this article, it was difficult to tell if this four-lane divided highway had a shoulder or not - MANY don't. It does have a berm of sorts, but it was not possible to tell if it is gravel or paved although it is clearly a different surface than the road. And it is also very clear in the photo that there was no shoulder of any sort on left lane in the grassy divider.
When I had the unpleasant experience (Fahrvergnügen-NICHT!) of driving out to Cape Kennedy three times to watch the Space Shuttle launch (or not), I took a road that ran perfectly straight and flat for about 100km. I was really worried about what would happen if I got a flat or the car broke down. There is simply no shoulder at all - nowhere to pull over except swamp. I asked myself what I would have done if a body suddenly had appeared from underneath of the car right in front of me. Would I have stopped? No. I would have driven to the next exit (perhaps 50km!!!!) and phoned police. My rationale would have been that if there was a body on the road, me stopping and hanging out on the highway could easily create another - mine!
Looking again at the photograph, the immediate cause of this tragedy is apparent. There is about a 1/2 meter shoulder (18"). That's a rough estimate. What I can tell you as someone who has a lot of experience, is that this is not enough for a bicycle and a car to safely exist side by side. I further suspect that the overpass had a particularly narrow lane. I have been in this exact situation hundreds of times and every one is a brush with death. (Crossing the Columbia River springs to mind.)
I'm afraid that there are some things the victim could have done to add a few more chambers to his Russian roulette commute. The police were probably too ignorant to detect the presence of a light or not, but it is reasonably likely that at 6:30, when it was just beginning to get light out, this guy had no light. A Vistalight might have saved this guy's life. Additionally, the report indicates that he was carrying something on the handlebars. If this is from witness testimony and not police reconstruction, then this is bad karma. It is very difficult to properly control a bicycle with a pendular attachment on the handlebars.
But what really killed this guy? The fact that the human body doesn't withstand getting run into by a car carrier is obvious (not to mention falling off of a bridge). The real problem that I've been more wary about than any civil engineering detail is more insidious - attitude. I have mentioned some errors that the cyclist may have commited, but if I was driving a car that hit a cyclist, I'd tell the police. For one, I'd not be drunk, and second, I would, presumably, not be doing anything more extraordinarily dangerous than driving itself. Why didn't this guy report it if the victim was invisible until the last moment when he swerved into the path of the car?
A huge factor is that people here don't expect to see bicycles. It's that simple. A bicycle actually sharing your road space is ALWAYS going to be a surprise here. People don't have the skill or experience (certainly not as cyclists themselves) to coexist with cyclists reasonably.
I love the irony of the car carrier. If I was going to write fiction about this kind of thing, there's no way my imagination could have done better. A cyclist's hand found on the grille of a car carrier that didn't stop at the scene of the accident. Wow. Can you believe it gets more incredible? When I heard this report on NPR, I hopped right on the computer and called up http://www.orlandosentinel.com. At first, I thought that they hadn't reported the incident. Here's exactly what I saw on my browser (lynx - which is text only). The irony's killng me - statistically - slowly.
Last updated: Wednesday, September 22, 11:00 p.m. ... Firebird The test drive zooms away in the 30th anniversary Pontiac Firebird Trans Am-- destined to be a classic, flaws and all. bicycle Man on a bicycle is hit by several cars and thrown onto the turnpike below. Only one motorist stopped after the accident. ...
[2003.04.03] Many years after writing this article, I received an email from a friend of the driver of the car carrier. She was concerned that I had implicated him somewhat unfairly in this accident. I would like to clarify that this was not my intention at all. I mention specifically that while it is sensational that the drivers did not stop (what the newspaper report naturally focused on), the real reason for that was not the insensitivity of the drivers, but rather the dangerous conditions. In the case of the car carrier, this driver was obviously a skilled professional. With so much driving time he had very likely seen and perhaps hit large obstructions in the roadway before. I was recently riding in a car at 70mph that ran over a 6 foot step ladder which was lying in the middle of the freeway. As terrifying as it is, these things happen. Had I seen a mangled bicycle in the freeway, my natural assumtion would have been that it had fallen off a truck. This was a freakish accident and as gruesome as it was, everyone in cars that were on the freeway were also victims of this tragedy. Besides the victim, his family, and perhaps the coward who hit him, the driver of the car carrier must have suffered the consequences of this as much as anyone. Through absolutely no fault of his own, he was singled out to face the gruesome realities of how dangerous our transportation system can be. And for that, I offer my deepest condolences.
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