A driver makes an illegal U-turn on Penn. Photo by jwetz on Twitter.

I started biking in DC to become a moving, breathing part of the city. But Monday morning, while in the center bike lane on Pennsylvania Avenue between 7th and 9th streets, a driver made an illegal U-turn straight into my bike.

I feel compelled to say I was obeying all laws and going the speed limit when I was hit.  I catapulted into the side of her car, was jostled off my bike and caught myself with one foot on the ground, which she then ran over with her back tire. 

She pulled over to the shoulder and leaned out her window, “Oh my God!  I did not SEE you!” At this point, I yelled across all three lanes of traffic, “I WAS IN A BIKE LANE!” I walked my bike up to the crosswalk and onto the sidewalk to meet her on the shoulder of the road.  She burst out of the car, apologizing profusely.  A police officer who had witnessed the scene from nearby came over.

First, he asked if I was okay.  I told him that I thought so, but wasn’t quite sure. He said he could call an EMT if I thought I needed one.  I said I wasn’t sure, so he didn’t.

He asked us what happened at which point the woman frantically and apologetically explained she was looking for an address and did not see me when she tried to cross to the other side of the street between intersections.  I reminded her again that I was, in fact, in a bike lane.  The officer gently informed her that making a U-turn in the middle of the street was illegal.

Why I started bicycling

I picked up a bike to heal heartbreak.  I was living in Minneapolis in May of last year when I dusted off my old hybrid bike from middle school, pumped up the tires, bought a helmet, and started to move around the newly thawed city.

My heart mended on a bike and in turn, I fell madly in love with the city around me. Minneapolis is a great city to bike in.  There are bike lanes and lakefront trails and drivers who, characteristic of “Minnesota Nice,” use archaic lights called turn signals when moving about the streets.

I moved to DC this September and left my bike behind.  The first week I took the Metro. Before long, my commute began to wear on my soul and empty my pockets.  I realized buying a bike would both allow me to be a moving, breathing part of the city and save me money. I scoured Craigslist until I found the perfect, girly, single speed with turquoise wheels, a bright pink chain and little yellow stars on the spokes. 

I now commute ten miles to work each morning and the same distance home.  I ride Georgia Ave from Silver Spring where passing drivers tell me to get off the road.  I turn off at Aspen Street then follow the sleepy hills of 14th Street south to the bustling obstacle course of Columbia Heights. 

Here, I pop over to 11th and ride south in a sea of bikers to Pennsylvania Avenue, the home stretch.  I love Penn.  The buildings part and the morning sun shines as I head straight towards the Capitol.

The officer shrugged

I could feel and identify the adrenaline pulsing through me.  My chest felt light and my hands were shaking.  I had a hard time concentrating on what was happening around me.  I had never been in an accident with a car and was unsure of the procedure.

I kept looking at the police officer, waiting for him to take action or at least give me options.  He nervously stood there, afraid to make eye contact and unsure of what to do next. I didn’t know if I should take down her car insurance and license plate information. I didn’t know if I should file an accident report or what that meant. I didn’t know why he wasn’t ticketing her for hazardous driving.

Based on his actions, it didn’t seem he knew the answer to these questions either.

Finally, I asked for her information. I took down her name, address, and phone number, then looked at the officer and asked if there was any other information I needed. He shrugged. 

Eventually the woman drove off and he waited until I calmed down.  I got back on my bike and slowly and cautiously rode down Penn the rest of the way to work.

Biking shouldn’t be a risk

When I arrived, I was still shaken.  I am a member of WABA’s Women & Bicycles community and follow the group on Facebook. I posted about the incident under another post about the poor installation of the Zebras intended to stop illegal U-turns through the bike lane. 

The comment thread exploded with outraged lady cyclists who showed me where law enforcement failed to follow through on enforcing laws put in place to protect me. By failing to cite the driver and not follow procedure to report cycling accidents, the officer stripped me of any recourse in case my bike or body ended up more injured than I originally thought.

While I am okay, my bike frame is bent and my front wheel wobbles.  As a result of the officer’s inaction, the burden of these necessary bicycle repairs now falls on my shoulders.

Biking through the city alongside this cycling community is the best part of living in DC.  This accident is bigger than this one incident.  It is about all of us, and the risk we take each day.  It is about the fear of knowing it could have been so much worse.

I will continue to ride my pretty little single speed through this city, with her bent frame and all. 

I demand to do so without the fear that I am risking my life.

Alexandra Waters is an artist, organizer, question asker and adventure seeker.  She recently moved from Minneapolis, MN to the Washington D.C. area, where she has become a member of WABAs Women & Bicycles group that aims to advocate for and create community among women cyclists.  She sees blank walls as blank canvas, her bicycle as her home and city maps as leading to treasures unknown.