A Bad Start to the Commute
Today I was to start my car-free commute to the University, due mainly to the fact that yesterday I got a ticket and had my license suspended and taken away (for a supposed unpaid infraction that was actually thrown out of court and reduced to $0, I found out later), and if I’m caught driving, well, it’s the slammer for me. No problem, I have a bike and Miami’s fairly good public transit system at my disposal. Let’s do this.
I biked from my house in South Beach across the Venetian Causeway and into the Omni station at the edge of Downtown Miami (see MapMyRide.com route here). It took me about 35 minutes and it was an eye-opener in many respects: how much weight I need to shed from what I’m carrying (I calculate I was carrying about 30 lbs between the chunky bike chain, backpack with school stuff, laptop and extra clothes due to the 40° weather), how different it is to bike for leisure vs when you need to get somewhere on a time schedule, and how I need to better layer for the cold so I can remove layers more efficiently while riding. All good lessons. And in the end, I did make it to Omni, fairly tired, with a nice burning sensation in my thighs from the exercise, but overall fine and dandy. I was actually quite proud of myself!
Then came the bus leg of the trip, taking bus route 93 from Omni station to 135 St along Biscayne Blvd. The bus pulled up, I brought down the front bike rack and hefted (ugh!) the bike into it. I was always afraid that the 700-size wheels on the Amsterdam would not properly fit the bus bike racks, but they fit just fine, surprisingly (700 is not a common size in the US). It was also my first time using the bike rack so I followed the instructions on the Miami Dade Transit (MDT) website to the letter when locking it, but asked the driver as I got on if I’d done it right; my bike is back-heavy due to the panniers so it felt a bit wobbly and I wanted to be sure. She made a non-committal noise and shrugged; I took that to be a yes.
The bike held ok for the ride, swinging back and forth as the driver hit the brakes and accelerated along the route (in that oh-so-softly way that MDT bus drivers hit the pedals, like they really get a kick of seeing everything and everyone on the bus swing wildly back-and-forth). I hit the signal for my stop at 135 St & Biscayne, and as we’re slowing down, the bike slipped off backwards from the bus bike rack. The locking mechanism of the rack had slipped off the front wheel and thus the bike was left without anything holding it in place. The bike was hit by the bus (thankfully as it was slowing down), pushing it into the next lane of traffic (the middle one).
The bike suffered some scratches, one of the panniers was scratched heavily, and both wheels got bent to the point that the bike could not be ridden. The driver called in and reported the incident, and then left.
I accept an amount of responsibility for perhaps not having secured the bike well to the bike rack. But then again, the mechanical arm that supposedly holds the front wheel did not actually lock into place (as it should have?). Furthermore, the driver never properly confirmed that the bike had been rightly secured, and at no point did she ever check that the bike continued to be properly secured on the rack, thus not noticing that the locking arm had slipped off. Even though I was sitting right up front and keeping an eye on the bike I could not see the locking arm from my sitting position, so I cannot tell at what point it slipped off.
To add insult to injury, the driver (driving bus #2070) was less than cordial with me after the accident (which happened at 10:00 AM), immediately shifting all the blame onto me, almost annoyed that she had to deal with this issue. She did not inform me of any kind of procedure to follow (if there is any in place), simply called the report in and left. Not even an “I’m sorry.”
The bike can be repaired (I’m guessing it’ll be around $100, as I need a new rear wheel rim), thankfully, though the panniers will most likely need to be replaced (at a cost of $150, though currently unavailable via Amazon.com). I don’t know what MDT policies are in regards to situations like this (I looked around their website before writing this, just in case, but could not find anything). I doubt that Metro Dade Transit will actually accept any kind of responsibility for the incident, though I did file a complaint, just to follow protocol.
I will not let this deter me from my resolution to go car-lite/car-free in 2010; if anything, it forces the issue even more, as I now have to rely solely on public transportation to make it to and back from school. I will likewise not hold all MDT employees in contempt for this event (though you bet if I see that driver again, she’s getting the stink-eye from me), though I can’t say that I like them very much either.
As a kind of epilogue, I walked down 135 St all the way to FIU, walking along the beautiful bike path going through Arch Creek East Nature Reserve. My feet hurt when I finally made it to class (15 minutes late, not bad considering my entire morning odyssey) but that walk did give me some time to cool off.