photo credit: Gerald Torrance
After completing an early morning 30 mile ride last Sunday, Southridge resident Alex Newton did not expect to get hit by a car, lectured by a responding police officer, and ticketed for failure-to-yield, all in his own neighborhood.
I had just stopped beside the neighborhood swimming pool on Woodbrook at Hollyhill and was about to cross Hollyhill on my way home. I do not remember seeing anyone while I was at the stop sign or when I started off into the intersection, but as I was getting clipped into my pedals and back up to speed mid-way through the intersection I looked to my right and out of the blind corner I saw a red Corolla coming at me. I started to accelerate as much as possible and thought that I was through the intersection, but to my surprise, was hit on the right hand side of my rear wheel and derailleur by the front passenger fender of the Corolla. My bike skidded a few feet to the left, but I was able to get my foot out and catch myself without falling.
After catching his breath, Alex reports that the car driver (Johnny Miller) demanded to know what Alex was doing in the road and yelled “I am going to call the cops”. Alex agreed that police involvement sounded ideal, so they waited for the first officer to arrive. While waiting for police, the driver continued to yell at Alex.
Johnny began yelling from across the street that “you didn’t stop!” and “what were you doing in the street!” I replied that I had stopped and that I there was no one in the street when I crossed. He yelled that I was a liar and that said that he saw me not stop. I was confused; I asked him why then if he saw me didn’t he stop? He yelled that I was a good liar but still a liar.
At this point, the situation descended further into chaos, as the first police officer arrived and berated Alex, accusing him of running the stop sign. Officer Danny Steadham, #124, accused Alex of “cussing this gentleman”, until the police dispatch corrected Steadham and reported no cussing during the 911 call. Then, the situation gets more surreal as the Steadham threatened to write Alex a ticket for running the stop sign, describing that cyclists need to be taught a lesson.
Danny then let me know that he was going to give me a citation for not failure to stop at the stop sign. I told the officer that I had stopped, but he cut me off to tell me about the 8 cyclists he had seen earlier that day run a stop sign and how he has been lenient in the past with cyclists,but that we have to learn to obey traffic rules. I told him that regardless I had stopped. The officer then yelled over to Johnny to ask how long he had lived here. Johnny replied 13 years. Danny then asked if he knew the turn well, and Johnny told him that he did. Danny then told me that if Johnny had lived here for 13 years and knew this intersection that he wouldn’t have speed through, that in fact you couldn’t make the corner that fast. He went on to explain that he had tried to see how fast he could make the same corner during calls and therefore the he could not have been speeding. He let me know that he was going to write me a citation for not stopping and continued to lecture me on the subject of bicycles obeying all the same traffic rules as any other vehicle. I again told him that I had stopped.
As the situation continued to worsen, Officer Steadham’s sergeant arrived and attempted to calm the scene. In an attempt to clarify what the record would indicate, the sergeant recanted his understanding of the accident.
He copied down the make and model of the frame and said that this is how they were going to file the police report: I had stopped at the stop sign and then proceeded into the intersection not seeing the car, the corner is a blind one, and Johnny had a large front left pillar and mirror and that he had not seen me. Mind you I am not a small man, and I was wearing a bright orange jersey on a bright yellow bike. The officers then proceeded to let me know that even though I had stopped, as I was still operating a vehicle and coming from a direction that did not have the right of way, that I would be getting a citation for failure to yield right of way at a stop controlled intersection. He said that it would have been the same if I would have been in a car. Even though I had stopped at the stop sign it was still my responsibility to be clear of the intersection before any other traffic arrived from the direction that had right of way. I said that this didn’t sound right and asked if someone that was already in the intersection had the right to finish crossing. The sergeant joined in and said “well yes, in some cases, but not in this one”.
From glancing at Texas Transportation Code 545.153, it appears that the officers could be correct regarding Alex’s failure to yield. The state law clearly favors vehicles already in the roadway. This, to governor Rick Perry, is adequate protection under current laws. And that is why Rick Perry vetoed SB 488, the Safe Passing ordinance, which aimed to protect pedestrians; highway construction and maintenance workers; tow truck operators; stranded motorists or passengers; people on horseback; bicyclists; motorcyclists; and moped riders. Because the veto was completely unexpected, some municipalities have taken it upon themselves to pass local ordinances declaring the same kinds of protection. Councilman Dalton Gregory penned an editorial in favor of Safe Passing in Denton, but we’ve seen no support from other council members so far.
Wondering whether a sign would change the law’s determination, Alex questions the officers.
I asked if there was a “Caution children” or “yield to pedestrians” sign if it would still be permissible for drivers to run over the children in the intersection. The officer said that these signs would only be a warning and would not change the fact that the driver with right of way had no responsibility; it was up to the child, or parent if the child was younger, to beware of traffic.
In this case, Transportation Code 552.003 requires vehicles to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Further, state law requires drivers to “exercise due care” even without a crosswalk, according to 552.008.
Legal semantics aside, Alex supposes that this accident represents a danger to the neighborhood children, and he’s disappointed by the lack of empathy from the driver or police officers.
The strangest thing to me about the entire event is that nothing went as I would have expected. Of course I didn’t expect to get hit by a car, but then when I did, I expected the driver to feel some sense of responsibility or remorse not aggression and anger towards the victim. I expected that when the police arrived they would tend to the possibly injured cyclist and try to understand the situation instead of arriving with a defensive attitude for the driver and preconceived ideas on my behavior from earlier events. The last thing that I expected is that I would have received a citation for being an obstacle in the road while the driver that hit me was free to go. These things bother me at a deep level particularly because it was in our neighborhood only blocks from our house at a swimming pool that we thought would be great for our girls to walk to in the summers when they were older.
After looking at the Google Street View, I can’t help but think the ultra-wide roadway, the lack of a 4 way stop, lack of any pedestrian/children warning signs, and vehicle speed of the Corolla all add up to a perilous situation for pedestrians and cyclists. Given the road curve, I question whether there’s sufficient line-of-sight to make this intersection safe for anyone. I’ve swam at that pool, and that huge roadway could definitely use a crosswalk for children and parents to safely make it across. Perhaps a 4-way stop and crosswalk are called for? Alex’s accident should be seen as an opportunity to make a dangerous situation safer, especially since he survived unscathed. There are plenty of lessons to be learned here for drivers, cyclists, police officers, pedestrians, and traffic engineers. Let’s make this situation work towards a better future and not a bitter one.