(Photo: Clackamas County)
On Friday I picked up an incoming call on the BikePortland hotline and heard a very sad story.
Mary LaLiberte, an “almost 70-year-old” by her own description, called to share her experience on the Springwater Corridor path outside her home in rural Boring, Oregon. On November 30th, Mary was walking on the path when someone riding a bike zoomed up from behind her.
As the man approached came up from behind her, all she heard was “Left!,” so she moved to the left, only to step right in his path. “And he was going so fast he wasn’t able to stop in time.”
“He was going so fast when he collided with me,” she recalled, “that I actually flew up into the air and hit the pavement.” The man who hit her was riding “one of those very skinny-wheeled bikes” and was in “full racing regalia,” Mary said. She told her friends that she, “Got nuked by Lance Armstrong’s brother.”
Thankfully, the man stopped and rendered aid to Mary. She said it was cold outside so she was wearing many padded layers of clothes — which probably saved her from more serious injuries. Even so, Mary suffered a fractured pelvis, serious bruising, spent five days in the hospital, and now faces over a year of physical therapy. “I’m in pain,” she said, “I’m not a good age to be getting banged up.” She also faces major financial burdens due to medical bills and lost wages she’ll never recover. (She hired a lawyer to look into the case, but the man doesn’t have any type of insurance they could seek compensation from.)
As I listened to Mary’s story, I kept waiting for the bomb to drop. I was sure the conversation would end up in me being lectured about the bad behavior of “bicyclists” who ride with no regard for laws or safety, how the path should be closed to bicycling, how “you bicyclists” need to be licensed, and so on. But to my surprise, Mary was different.
There was no venting, no anger. Despite this turmoil she’s gone through, she didn’t call to complain or rant against bike riders. She even said the man who hit her “was a nice person” and she was grateful that he stopped and helped her get medical attention after it happened. “I have him to thank for getting me off the trail. He was probably getting to the end of a long ride and didn’t take caution… And I paid the price.”
Mary just wants everyone to know what happened. She also wants to make sure the incident is counted in official statistics. “This is something more people need to be aware of. There’s not enough signs on the trail that warn pedestrians of this danger.
The section of path where Mary was hit has only been paved for just over a year. Prior to December 2013 it was still gravel and dirt and only used by locals on foot and horseback. But now that it’s paved, it’s a popular cycling destination and connection to other routes in Clackamas County.
Mary’s attitude is a breath of fresh air; but it doesn’t lessen the lesson we should all take from this. Her story is a cautionary tale. Riding on shared paths in the presence of people walking demands extreme care, courtesy, and caution. Not only did one rider’s choice lead to a serious injury (that could have ended much worse if Mary wasn’t in such good physical condition), but now Mary and her friends aren’t likely to ever feel safe on that path.
“I’ll never set foot on that trail again,” she said, “And I’m advising the same to all my friends.”
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