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Open letter to a hit-and-run driver

Ariel with her bike, before it was damaged in the crash.

Last Tuesday started out like any other day. I was biking from Logan Square to Lincoln Park when a driver hit me on Armitage Avenue — then they kept going. I was inching forward at Armitage and Humboldt Boulevard on a soon-to-be green light (like I do literally all the time), so by the time I entered the boulevard intersection, it was a green light for me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dark-blue crossover on Humboldt whose driver hadn’t stopped like all the other motorists. Instead, they sped through the red light. I saw them coming and slowed down, but I couldn’t come to a full stop in time, and the driver hit my front wheel. 

Luckily, I only got mildly bruised on my knee and arm, and some kind people who saw the whole thing checked on me. I remember a car honking at the driver but that didn’t do anything to stop them. They were long gone, so I could not get their license plate. 

In addition to the shock I felt, the bruises, and the destruction of my bike, the crash filled me with anger and disbelief. How could someone just keep going after striking another person with their car? Surely they felt the impact, and surely they saw me go down. “I hope you scratched their car,” my housemate said after she helped bandage my leg. I hope I scratched it, too. 

Screen Shot 2020-05-12 at 3.50.54 PM
The intersection of Armitage and Humboldt, looking east. Image: Google Maps
The intersection of Armitage and Humboldt, looking east. Image: Google Maps

In a city as big as Chicago, especially during Stay at Home, it’s highly unlikely I will encounter the driver that hit me again. But if I ever do, or that they somehow come across this article, here are a few things I’d say to them. 

    1. Speeding up to catch the light is never worth it — that’s how many crashes occur. Simply put, slow down! There is no point in risking your life, or anyone else’s, to make a light. Sure, you might have somewhere you need to be and might be a few minutes late (even though there may be another red light a few blocks ahead anyway), but that still doesn’t justify risking a collision.
    2. If you had stopped after hitting me, I would have more respect for you. Stopping to render aid to a person you've injured with your car is required by law — not doing so is a felony is Illinois. And doing so is the bare minimum required to qualify as a decent human being. I choose to believe that people are inherently good, but this experience has reminded me that not everyone fits that bucket and some people, like you, really suck. 
    3. You aren’t superior to me just because you have a car. Sharing the road with people on bikes is the law and we deserve equal safety. Many drivers do a great job with that (thank you!), but clearly, not all motorists bothers to follow the rules. Would you have slowed down if you saw another car in the intersection instead, capable of injuring you or totaling your car? 
    4. You should treat others how you want to be treated. Empathy should come standard for human beings. Society functions best when people have an affinity for others. What if I was someone you knew? If it was a family member or a friend on that bike, perhaps you would have been more careful.
    5. We live in a dense city where there are many cyclists. Chicago is one of the top cycling cities in the U.S.; people on bikes aren’t few and far between, so there's no excuse for your negligence. 
    6. You should pay for my new bike, at least partially. 
    7. Don’t hit another person on a bike and don’t leave the scene of a crash. Plain and simple.  

I know I’m not alone in being a victim of a hit-and-run. According to city data, 25 percent of Chicago bicycle crashes are hit-and-runs that result in injury, compared to 33 percent of pedestrian crashes. On average, there was one hit-and-run bike crash per day between 2005 and 2010. And although data analysis from the Chicago Department of Transportation’s Vision Zero crash prevention program says bike crashes declined between 2012 and 2016, there were still 385 city hit-and-run crashes involving a cyclist in 2016, according to the Active Transportation Alliance’s 2018 crash report.  

Speeding has always been a common factor in car collisions, but especially during the pandemic, when traffic is light, people are being more reckless than usual. CDOT recently announced that speeding is up 14 percent amid the shutdown. Car crash rates in have gone up in some major U.S. cities, even though there are fewer people on the street.

I know that I'm relatively lucky — the crash could have been much worse. But a collision is a misfortune no matter how you slice it, and drivers need to understand the consequences of their actions and take responsibility for them. And, unfortunately, people on bikes need to be extra, extra vigilant and not assume all drivers will stop for a red light. 

Sadly, most serious hit-and-runs go unsolved. I almost certainly won't get the opportunity to give the driver who hit me a piece of my mind, but at the end of the day, that’s OK. I can turn my anger into a learned experience that can hopefully spread some greater awareness and understanding to others. As a writer, that’s always what I strive to do: Documenting history and voicing issues to my community is important and helps us stay connected.

Everyone on the road (and off it) should practice more kindness and sympathy, especially during the pandemic. I haven’t cycled since the incident (instead, I’ve been bike shopping). But now that I’ve processed this experience, I feel a stronger sense of confidence that will be helpful when I get back in the saddle again. To quote the 1997 song “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba, that now will probably get stuck in your head: “I get knocked down, but I get up again / you’re never going to keep me down!”

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