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Sunday, December 21, 2014

What Can Change An Avid Active Commuter?



As many of you know, I write about pedestrian issues.  Occasionally, I'll veer off into a related topic that still falls under the umbrella of 'active transport' such as bicycle riding.  As a (new!) board member of Walk/Bike Nashville & someone who attends the Metro Bike Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) meetings I hear more than my share of bike concerns and thought the story below was well worth some consideration.  Importantly, this is a blow by blow account of why a smart and dedicated bicycle rider would quit riding.  It is a lesson to a changing city and a warning combined.

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Pinar Polat is a child neurology resident at Vanderbilt Medical Center.  I had heard about Pinar as she was known as an ardent  bike rider - someone who rode to work in the dark, in the winter, in the rain, when on call.

Intern year, she lived close to the hospital.  Close enough to walk which she did daily with some caution.  Second year, she moved to Germantown, 2.5 miles from Vanderbilt's campus and began riding her bike to work.   The cars scared her some but she arrived at work with a lack of frustration and a feeling it was worth it.  In our conversation, she must have said 10 times that riding made her 'happy'.

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To be fair, Pinar has no memory of the event that changed here impression of bicycle riding in Nashville.  Witnesses called 911, an ambulance came but no police report was filed.  Later, no on sought to contact the individuals who reported her accident.  No officer  checked the security or traffic cameras.  The last thing Pinar remembers is being at work, rounding.  Next thing - waking up in a trauma unit.  

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I am purposefully calling it an event since the details of what actually happened are unclear.  The thing we do know is on June 18th, at Church and 21st, Pinar was in some sort of accident on her bicycle.  This accident left her with both retrograde and anterograde amnesia.  She had 2 small subarachnoid bleeds.  It crushed her wrist.  The bike was damaged.  And, the medical bills were not small.  

Ironically, this event occurred near the medical new year - a handful of days before July 1st, when she was to transition to her adult neurology training.  On a positive note, the event has left her with a sense of insight and appreciation for her patients.  She has found it very humbling.  Her parents had to come.  Her mom stayed for 2.5 months to care for her.  Without her mother's help managing the house, Pinar is not sure she would have been able to rejoin work so quickly.   She took 3 weeks off work & then started back with a reduced schedule that built day by day.  She had a distal ulna fracture and a severe distal radius crush injury requiring plates and screws.  Her mom ended up having to bathe her for the 1st few weeks.  She had to do complete mental bed rest for a time.  

Now, she feels she is a little forgetful but essentially 100% recovered mentally.  Her wrist, sadly, has lost some rotation ~ roughly 85% effective.  Returning to work was difficult - she had a sense of letting the team down and had to learn the ropes at double speed since everyone else had made the transition weeks prior.  

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Pinar describes the event as 'eye opening' as, to her opinion, bike riders are considered '2nd or even 3rd class citizens' in Nashville.  It was incumbent on her to file a police reports.   But due to the brain injury,  she was not oriented at the time of the accident and the following 3 weeks were to be low stress.  Frankly, at the time, it didn't occur to her to file a report.

In addition, it appears she was not actually struck by a car so little for police to pursue.   The leading theory is that she had to take drastic action to avoid being hit.  I believe a critical part in this story is the police response or lack of.  No report was filed.  No investigation.  When Pinar had recovered enough to pursue the matter - she was shuttled from department to department with the sense of 'no one cared'.  She reports she was not naive -'she didn't think Nashville was a super bike friendly city' - but no one took on her case.  No one collected information from the witnesses.  No traffic or security cameras were checked.  Eventually, she was directed to the Hit and Run Unit but because it appeared she was not actually hit - the case was not pursued.  

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At this time, she has not gotten back on her bike.  It was damaged and she hasn't found the time to fix it.  For her, biking was 'her thing' and it 'made her happy'.  But now she is unwilling to 'take a chance' and she 'doesn't trust Nashville drivers'.  

For a woman who loves to sleep (common among residents who work long hours with little time off), she used to wake 15 minutes early to ride to work on her bike.  Now, due to safety concerns, she arrives to work frustrated along with all the other drivers.  She is keenly aware of the risks involved and of not being able to take more chances.  

In closing, Pinar notes, 'Nashville is changing fast…it is going to need better infrastructure  in the future to support it'.

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