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This podcast episode will change how you think about traffic collisions

Posted by on December 5th, 2017 at 12:18 pm

From the other side-2

It’s not often we’ll do a post on BikePortland only to highlight someone else’s content. But several readers shared something with me recently that I feel is well worth everyone’s time.

Whether you fashion yourself a community leader, an activist, a politician, or simply a caring human being — we become better versions of those things when we broaden our perspectives and consider new ones. That was one of things I took away after listening to episode 12 of the Heavyweight podcast.

The episode is titled, “Jesse” and it was hosted and produced by Jonathan Goldstein. It follows the story of a Portland resident who was hit by a driver while biking across a street. The collision nearly killed him; but it also led to his rebirth. The story as told by Goldstein would be strong enough on its own; but what makes this episode so good is he interviews the people involved — on both sides of the windshield.

I don’t want to give too much of it away. Suffice it say, it’s an excellent piece of journalism with an unexpected twist in the story that challenged some of my most deeply-held, “us versus them” biases.

Have a listen when you get the chance. I’d love to know what you think about it. Here’s the link again.

Thanks to readers Andrea, Matt M., and Matt H., for bringing this to my attention.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

34 Comments
  • Greg Spencer December 5, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    I’m sure that in 99% of car-bike crashes, the motorist is terribly sorry and never wanted to hurt anyone. I’ve been hit a couple times over the years by cars coming out of parking lots — both low-speed collisions that left only scrapes and bruises, luckily. In both cases, the drivers were as shaken up emotionally as I was. The last time, the driver was in tears and it was me consoling her, not the other way around.

    My gripes with unsafe cycling conditions aren’t about carelessness or recklessness on the part of individual motorists. They’re about the road rules, traffic management and other conditions that make disastrous bike-car crashes a part of everyday life.

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    • bendite December 6, 2017 at 6:39 pm

      I think most of the time when a driver is at fault, it’s totally about carelessness. You reference the rules as a reason, but then even in your example of getting hit by a driver coming out of the parking lot, would the driver had hit you if they followed the rules by stopping and looking before exiting the lot?

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      • 9watts December 6, 2017 at 6:45 pm

        …most of the time the driver IS at fault.

        Every study of the statistics of fault in these crashes I’ve read finds this.

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        • bendite December 6, 2017 at 8:06 pm

          No disagreement from me there.

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  • Joe December 5, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    wow so powerful being hit many times and also still being on this earth from it all really touched my heart today.

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  • jeff December 5, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    the ridiculous ‘us vs. them’ paradigm is taught in basic psychology courses. there is no “us” and there is no “them”.

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    • bikeninja December 5, 2017 at 3:55 pm

      I sure wish the rest of ‘us’ would get with the program and join us here on the sunny side of the street.

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    • David Hampsten December 5, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      Was it Albert or was it Pogo who said, “We have found the enemy and thems are us”? Walt Kelly at any rate.

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  • jeff December 5, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    ironically enough, BP seems to feed on and perpetuate the “us vs. them’ narrative far too often.

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    • S December 5, 2017 at 3:37 pm

      Agreed, most of the bikes vs cars animosity seem to stem directly from this publication.

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 5, 2017 at 4:20 pm

        With all due respect, I feel like both of you are completely the missing the point. This is about a great story. Not about a specific phrase, or about your assertions (Which I very much disagree with FWIW) that BikePortland loves to stoke “us vs them” flames .

        I’ve changed the headline to help focus any future comments.

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        • jeff December 6, 2017 at 9:39 am

          have you ever bothered to objectively read your own publications?
          probably 50% of them are ‘us vs. them’.
          I get that point every time I open this blog of yours.

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          • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 6, 2017 at 10:16 am

            Jeff, I think the problem here is that we’re talking about a nuanced issue on a platform that makes nuance difficult. Yes, many of the posts here are anti-car because I think cars are the cause of many problems we face and they — and the culture that makes them so dominant — deserves to be criticized and scrutinized. That being said, I write in a way that respects people for who they are — and I do not label or stereotype people based solely on their mode of travel. So what I’m saying is that I think what you and others perceive as BP being “us vs them” is not the way I define or perceive “us vs them”.

            Have you read a post on BP where I’ve divided people up into camps and pitted them against each other for no other reason than to see them fight? That’s what I mean when I say “us vs them”. I don’t think so. If you have, I would love to see it so I can explain my approach.

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      • 9watts December 5, 2017 at 10:32 pm

        That is pretty lazy, S.

        A very powerful story well told. Thanks for introducing us to this, Jonathan.

        It is particularly interesting to me—as someone who has long been intrigued by what is sometimes called victim offender reconciliation—how this story exemplifies what has seemed so important even urgent about that approach. As for the us vs them trope, I’m not ready to jettison it, but at least for me it is far more interesting and perhaps also complicated than the caricatures being tossed out here in the comments.

        ODOT is a them. Police are a them. All the rules and laws and codes that don’t work for vulnerable road users, that so predictably hold harmless those who drive around and smash up so many of us are a them.
        We could work on that, on making them less of a them, but it is going to take a lot of work; and pretending that there are no fundamental injustices, that things are not badly out of whack for certain groups in our society doesn’t strike me as a fruitful way to proceed. This story is good for thinking, and I’m very glad I got a chance to listen to it.

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  • Mike Gilliland
    Mike Gilliland December 5, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    I experienced something like this a number of years ago when a motorcycle crossed the striped bike lane on Front Ave. sideswiping me, crushing my front wheel, and sending me to the emergency room. I was much more fortunate than this story and was sent home with a concussion, and much less injured, but I can relate to a lot of what was said here.

    It provided me dramatic sense of simple physics and the result of bad timing. Fault stopped mattering when I hit the pavement. It provided the logic of not assigning guilt or blame, but an appreciation for the brutal forces that we live with.

    The system tends to remove those involved in these crashes and subjugate things to a monetary result. I never felt anger toward the motorcyclist, never felt a need to meet like this, but I recognize the natural imbalance of those of those parallel lines.

    Through this I also became thankful. This crash taught me that stepping back with patience is a lot better place to be than anger and a drive for retribution. Intangible rights-of-way only mean something in a court of law, and two-way responsibilities rule in all walks of life.

    I totally agree with Greg, that our gripes and efforts should be focused on conditions and management that can only set the stage to practice our responsibilities to ourselves and others.

    The rest of the job is ours.

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  • Smarty Pants December 5, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    I’d like to listen to it, but after the first 2.5 minutes, nothing useful had been said. Can someone write a one paragraph synopsis of the podcast so those of us who don’t have 40 minutes to listen might know what it says?????

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    • BradWagon December 6, 2017 at 10:10 am

      Young guy gets hit and almost dies, years later wants to meet driver and thank him for how it ended up changing his life for the better. Turns out the driver (also a young guy) suffered years of PTSD and social challenges because of it. Driver was hesitant to meet but they do and have a pretty deep moment of bonding and discussing the accident (cyclist can’t remember any of it, driver can’t forget any of it).

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 6, 2017 at 10:17 am

        Thanks BradWagon…. And Smarty Pants, the reason I didn’t offer a synopsis is because the whole point is to listen to the episode so you can really feel what’s going on.

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        • BradWagon December 6, 2017 at 11:25 am

          Yeah, regretted not putting a spoilers right after posting, feel free to bold in a disclaimer… although hopefully folks worried about spoilers on the internet know not to scroll down to comment sections haha.

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  • BradWagon December 6, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Listened to this yesterday afternoon and wrestled with it all night…

    Ultimately stories like this normalize the lack of responsibility that drivers take. We are pulled into the emotional side of it and given an opportunity to feel sympathy for the hardship that was faced by the driver and maybe consider that he didn’t deserve that burden in his life. However, driving should carry these burdens and people should be made more aware of the physical, financial and in this case mental burden that driving does and can potentially carry.

    I do not mean to sound harsh but this driver is one of the very few drivers that will actually incur to true cost and burden that the privilege of driving carries. I wish stories like this would convey that idea, rather than this obscure philosophical BS about their “paths crossing”, just state it like it is: One person, by driving a car, accepted the risk that he would nearly kill someone. That it happened and he thus suffered from it should not be surprising or used in a way to normalize the two parties as equals. I want to teach this to my son so that the overall burden he feels when he needs to drive causes him to avoid it as much as possible, I wish more parents would take this mindset. General culture seems to portray a parent being so fearful of their children out on the road driving but at the same time learning to drive and getting a car is one of the most celebrated milestones in a young persons life.

    As respectfully as I can say Jonathan I don’t know that this story will change how anyone things about traffic collisions. People that mostly drive will be comforted by a story that gives sympathy to a driver and his hardships and people that mostly cycle will continue to be upset about such normalization and again reminded that the cyclist will always be the one that has their life greatly transformed (hopefully for the better like this case).

    (The story leaves out details and I don’t recall hearing about this accident years ago. Without investigating past police reports there are some clues in the story that suggest the driver was closely following a larger vehicle to make it through a yellow light, I believe it said he was going 45? It’s implied the cyclist was watching the light phase and attempting to jump the green and didn’t see the driver behind what he thought was the last car through in the intersection. Again, this is speculation based on spares details but if it is something similar to this it’s not exactly a “haphazard, random occurrence of a car and cyclist coming out of nowhere and colliding”).

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    • 9watts December 6, 2017 at 11:17 am

      Thank you, BradWagon. Good observations.

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    • rachel b December 6, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      So well said, BradWagon.

      “Ultimately stories like this normalize the lack of responsibility that drivers take. We are pulled into the emotional side of it and given an opportunity to feel sympathy for the hardship that was faced by the driver and maybe consider that he didn’t deserve that burden in his life. However, driving should carry these burdens and people should be made more aware of the physical, financial and in this case mental burden that driving does and can potentially carry.”

      Drivers I see on the road only get more careless and reckless and scofflaw, by the day. There is an element of personal responsibility that plays into collisions. I’m not disagreeing that road design and infrastructure also plays heavily into all this, but I agree with BradWagon that drivers–all of us–need to take piloting a multi-ton vehicle around fragile lives way more seriously. It’s become a joke, the inattentiveness and living room mentality drivers now have in their cars. I can’t believe how much, and how quickly, it changed for the worse in Portland.

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    • El Biciclero December 7, 2017 at 10:04 am

      “…driving should carry…burdens and people should be made more aware of the physical, financial and in this case mental burden that driving does and can potentially carry.”

      This is the problem I have with stories like this one as well. Yes, we are all human beings at the end of the day, and in that sense, equals. However, the responsibilities one tacitly agrees to by driving or not driving are not equal. The cultural bent in our society is to foist all the “burdens” for avoiding death and injury onto the non-motorized; it’s part of driving=normal, anything else=weird. When parents worry about their kids driving, they usually aren’t worrying about their kids killing anyone but themselves or their passengers—those outside the car are on their own to protect themselves.

      I guess all I’m saying is I agree that if I kill or injure someone with my car, I shouldn’t be shocked, because, well, duh—it’s a very dangerous thing to do and that’s what I sign up for every time I get in my car. What that realization should do is cause me to drive extremely cautiously. What that realization should do is cause authorities/government to put some pretty serious restrictions on allowing such dangerous behavior. Stories like this, while doing a good job of “humanizing” everyone involved, can have the effect of making it seem OK (not really, “OK”, but “normal” I guess) that someone using a car seriously injured someone not in a car, because, after all, we’re only human. Again, if I hit someone with my car, I may not be shocked that I seriously impacted (pun intended) someone’s life, but I’m also not held to any real account as long as I wasn’t drunk. Whatever piddly fine and vehicle repairs I have to pay for, plus any PTSD or other mental/emotional disturbance I might suffer, are the only real consequences our legal system seems to demand. Oopsie.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 6, 2017 at 11:29 am

    OK I just heard from the lawyer who represented the bike rider in this case… Turns out the driver filed a suit against him! For damaging HIS CAR with his body. OMG.

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    • 9watts December 6, 2017 at 11:50 am

      seems kind of pertinent to the story. I guess Mr. Goldstein didn’t think it fit his metaphor of the two threads diverging and re-connecting.

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    • BradWagon December 6, 2017 at 11:59 am

      Interesting, while the story works well as a standalone metaphor I couldn’t help but wonder what the full story was behind it when there were brief staments hinting to legal action, responsibility, witness statements… etc.

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  • Greg Spencer December 6, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    I’d hate to think that part of Jesse’s motivation for cooperating in this story was to shame Christian into dropping that disgusting lawsuit.

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  • Bjorn December 6, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    This was a rough listen for me. Very similar thing happened to me 27 years ago this week when I was riding my bike to school. I ended up going through the windshield of a car that hit me at 55mph. On the one hand the driver driving to the hospital is probably the reason I didn’t lose my leg. On the other hand I don’t remember anything about what happened, I was riding along in the bike lane one minute and in the front seat of a car with 7 broken bones and leg that was largely severed at the knee the next. My parents had been sued by a woman who was trying to use a minor fender bender to get rich a few years before, she ended up losing in court but my parents were tired of litigation so they settled for pretty much having my first year of healthcare costs paid for and not much else. My life has been changed significantly for the worse and I’ve had to pay out for healthcare treatment related to the collision for my entire adult life. I was also forced to confront the driver because Corvallis is a small town and I ended up working at the same company that he did. I don’t think he is a bad person but I was nowhere near made whole and if he felt badly about that afterward it didn’t ever come with an apology or an offer to help with medical bills. Hearing that the driver in the case on the podcast actually sued the cyclist definitely makes me feel a lot of anger at him and brings back a lot of my feelings about my own case.

    There have been some positive things that came out of it too though. It spurred me to work to try to make streets safer for everyone. I was quite involved with the BTA’s legislative committee when that was still a thing and help write and pass several pieces of legislation that I think have made incremental differences for Oregonians. I also think that my badgering of PBOT about needed infrastructure improvements has caused some changes on the ground and I probably would not have been invested enough to put in the time on those things if I hadn’t had such life altering injuries. In my experience though, nothing good ever came from interactions with the driver who hit me after the fact.

    I will also say that people who work in the medical industry absolutely need to be more cautious about discussing a patient with family members etc on the other side of the curtain. I was walking while listening and the part where he talked about the doctors talking to his parents about his injuries almost knocked me down because it brought back one of the most tramatic moments of my life which was 4-5 days after the accident when the doctor was discussing with my parents that they still might have to amputate my leg. I am sure they thought I was asleep or not listening but it was a very frightening thing for a 12 year old who was basically completely incapacitated to hear. I also experienced thoughts of suicide afterward especially when due to gangrene I was getting worse instead of better for awhile. Thankfully I had some very good friends around me, most notably Beth who checked in on me often and helped me make it through. I am forever grateful to her for not forgetting about me and calling often when I was homebound.

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  • rachel b December 6, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    Wow, how truly horrible, Bjorn. I’m glad you survived. What a dreadful story. 🙁

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  • ralph December 6, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Just when I thought I had life figured out, happily cursing at every car that passed too close to my left knuckles…… Now I see I can be a little more forgiving, and maybe even a little more loving. Great story, and thanks to all involved in sharing it.

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  • horseheel3 December 6, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    Wow. The driver sued him?!

    That puts the podcast in a very different light.

    How did the lawsuit resolve?

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  • BradWagon December 6, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    I was hit over the summer and while it totaled my bike and was quite an ordeal almost all summer I wasn’t seriously injured. There was some disagreement about who was majority at fault although lawyers never got involved and things settled relatively smoothly to get me a bike, cover chiropractor visits, etc..

    I know in the world of litigation drivers in accidents are told to never reach out or do anything that would admit guilt (aka “Apologize”). That said though, if I ever send a guy off my hood and across the street and destroy his bike and thoroughly put a cloud over much of his summer I’m definitely sending a note to the address on his license after everything is settled with insurance.

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    • BradWagon December 6, 2017 at 4:38 pm

      That isn’t to say I’m still angry about it or want/think I should have received an apology… was just interesting to think about in the light of this story

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  • Dave December 7, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    We need crap like this podcast like a hole in the freakin’ head. I’m not going to sing “Kumbaya” when drivers and the infrastructure are doing a good cover of “Search and Destroy.”

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