Michael Barbehenn has redefined his relationship with the nexus of The Great, North, and Concord Roads – the Willson Park triangle.
Let’s say it’s a closer connection than he would prefer.
Last Tuesday around 3 p.m., the Irene Road resident was struck by a car turning onto Concord Road as he was cycling eastbound, crossing the invisible boundary from North Road to The Great Road. He says he was saved by the quality of his bicycle, and by his reaction. “If I hadn’t turned the wheel and stayed balanced, I would surely be in the ICU, if not dead.”
Bedford Police Lt. Scott Jones confirmed Friday that the incident is still under investigation.
Barbehenn would like to see the intersection reconfigured – regardless of whether the traffic that used to back up at different times of the day ever returns. “This is not the first such accident at that location. it’s a known hazard for bikers and cars alike. It’s a crazy, dangerous intersection.” Willson Park is a segment of The Great Road Master Plan, but nothing close to a final design has been discussed by town officials.
“We keep prioritizing cars over people. This has to stop,” Barbehenn asserted. “People do not feel safe crossing the streets, or biking in the streets. Drivers harass people at crossings, pass with too little margin, assert a privilege they have because they are cocooned in two tons of metal. Slowing them down is the best thing we can do — maybe more will bike.”
Barbehenn Tuesday afternoon was nearing the end of the 13-mile loop he regularly rides through Bedford, Concord, and Carlisle. He was riding a neon yellow bicycle with a matching helmet, wearing bright clothes with front and rear flashers activated. “I was about as observable as can be.”
He pedaled up the incline at about 15 miles per hour; Willson Park was on his right. “As I get to the next intersection, I look and then I keep going straight because I have the right of way. And when I look up, here’s a car barreling down on me. Somebody who should have been waiting to turn left decided that it was OK to go.”
Barbehenn described the scene. “I doubled down to get out of the way, but I was basically broadsided, laid out in front of this car. I had turned my front wheels into the front of the car – there was an incredibly loud explosion when the tires popped and the wheel collapsed. I rolled onto my side. My outside knee hit the ground and I was lying in the curb, thinking, ‘That wasn’t too bad.’”
Then the operator of the car opens her window and “says something to the effect of, ‘What are you doing in the road?’ and then takes off.”
The narrative continues. “A moment later, a pickup truck stopped. He asked if I was OK, said, ‘You totally had the right of way,’ and drove off. A crowd of high school kids across the street was yelling, ‘You OK?’ Yeah, I’m fine.”
That was not the case for his bicycle. “The bike is totaled,” he said. The damage estimate is more than $4,000.
Barbehenn said he walked over to the police station and filed a report. “I cleaned up my knee and realized, ‘I’m actually pretty good.’” He observed, “My tendency is to be collected in an emergency situation and focus on what’s important. It takes an hour for the nerves to kick in and go, ‘Oh…. holy moly!’”
In retrospect, “I want to emphasize the unlikely conditions of that collision and my walking away. If I had not turned my wheel, then I would have been broadsided with enough force to break bones and send me flying. If I had a metal frame and wheel, the bike would not have acted like a spring and absorbed the force strong enough to bend a crank arm while driving me into the pavement. I would have been tangled in sharp jagged tubes. I probably would have bounced over the hood and flung into the granite curb instead of being pushed 10 feet.”
He commented that “at the start of my ride I wait at that very spot to turn left onto Concord Road, so I know the visibility and what she would have seen of my approach. She had to have ignored the fact that I was approaching or somehow assumed I would stop because she planned to sneak through before I could arrive.”
“If she could have shown a little kindness and remorse, I would have shaken the whole thing off.”
Barbehenn said the car that struck him was “a pretty generic silver Japanese sedan. That’s all I was able to ascertain in the few seconds it took to peel away. I was pretty incensed that she stopped and showed no remorse whatsoever.”
Cameras seem to be ubiquitous, and “maybe people can review their house tapes. Maybe there is a camera on The Great Road that will spot the car/driver on her approach to the intersection, and maybe there is one on Concord Road that will spot her departure,” he remarked.
Barbehenn, in his 50s, said he has been a cyclist since the summer before senior year in high school. “I mowed lawns all summer and bought a nice bike at the end.” Years later, he commuted to work in Cambridge, then about three years ago “I started serious road riding in the area.”
He also is on his mountain bike quite a lot – as chair of the Bedford Trails Committee, he monitors the 30-plus miles of trails via bike.
Barbehenn said this is his first serious bicycle mishap. “I have had some close calls that make me not want to do certain things again, like rock-climbing,” he said. “This could have been really bad; I was very lucky.”
“When they get behind the wheel of the car, people lose all empathy. They are just annoyed by bikes and people — they don’t want to share the road,” he said. “I do not feel safe on Bedford streets.”