It was a good day to stay on familiar routes where it would be easy to turn around and sprint for home if a thunder storm brought in the rain: north on Illinois Street past the Wild Things public art, Riverview Drive to Broad Ripple Village, and north on a fine stretch of the Monon Trail. Pushed along by the wind, I rode easily and quickly. Not many cyclists were out, but walkers and runners had seized the moment, and I felt a vibrancy of happy people enjoying a surprisingly happy day.
On previous rides along the Monon, I had seen the Ghost Bike at the 75th Street crossing, but had never stopped. Today was different. Maybe the bold, white paint on a glowering day caught my attention. Many Ghost Bikes are recreational frames with straight handle bars, but this one has aggressive lines and serious drop bars. A plastic encased story hangs from the top tube. The first paragraph outlines the plot.
“I was hit at this intersection while riding my bike by a car that ran a red light on June 14, 2012. I’m alive today because I was wearing a helmet. There is another Ghost Bike at the south end of the Monon of a friend who wasn’t wearing a helmet and died when he hit a tree.”
The surviving cyclist collided with the windshield of the car and is confident that he would have died had he not been wearing his helmet. He found himself on the pavement with one leg “split open from knee to ankle.” Other people on the trail came to his rescue, applied a tourniquet, and phoned 911. He was hospitalized fourteen days and has had numerous operations and skin grafts.
He now has a “drop foot” and will always walk with a brace. He kept on cycling and reports that he has done two Hilly Hundreds. As all of us who have ridden the Hilly know, the hundred-mile, figure-eight weekend ride through the southern Indiana hills, calls for experienced riders in good shape.
“I still get nervous,” he writes, “when I approach this intersection and stop, push the button on the crosswalk and wait for the WALK sign even when there aren’t cars around.”
It’s an intersection that invites trouble. At this point, Westfield Boulevard, once a country road taking people out of town and long since a residential arterial, is close to the railroad right of way that became the Monon Trail. Because northbound Westfield angles toward the east just beyond this crossing, sight lines are obscured. The intersection is controlled with traffic lights, but even so drivers push. I know because when my children were growing up, we would take 75th to Westfield on our way to the swimming pool at the Jordon YMCA.
While I was reading the story, a married couple in their 50s, who were walking on the trail, stopped to talk. “The cyclist always loses,” he remarked, and I agreed that this is usually the case.
“We ride bikes a lot,” she continued, “but only while taking our spinning classes in a training center. “
“I’m so apprehensive,” he added, “that I always wear a helmet even on exercise bikes.”
I could have countered that most people continue to drive their automobiles despite the daily recitation on TV news of motor vehicle smash-ups, life-threatening injuries, and deaths. It wouldn’t make any difference to this couple. They are too scared to ride outside.
The irony of this story is that at this intersection cyclists are probably safer on Westfield Boulevard than on the bike trail. At the real intersection, drivers are at risk of colliding with other motor vehicles and they are less likely to let their attention wander or take a quick glance and run the light (whether yellow or red).
This part of the Monon is especially nice and I, along with other cyclists, will continue to use it, but the Ghost Bike at 75th will help me pay close attention to what I’m doing.
I continued my ride to 96th Street and then turned back into the wind toward home. With the change of direction, my energies quickly dwindled. When starting, I had felt strong enough to try for my end-of-the-year 50-mile ride. But as it turned out, 24.75 miles were as many as I wanted to do on this quiet day after Christmas.