On National Bike to Work Day in May, Brendan Markham, 24, decided he would ride his bicycle from his Burke home to his office in Tysons Corner.
“It was the first time I ever used my bike to commute,” he said. “The morning leg of the trip went fine and I was feeling good about it.”
But on the way home, tragedy struck.
As Markham was riding home through Fairfax City that evening around 7 p.m., an ice cream truck struck him a short distance from the Fairfax Square Apartment complex.
Markham suffered broken ribs, one of which punctured his lung.
“When the truck hit me, I was thrown up on the hood of the truck and then rolled off and landed in front of its front left tire,” Markham said. “The tire then rolled over me and remained on my back before it eventually backed up off of me.”
Many Fairfax residents witnessed the accident.
“The truck pulled out from a side street near Burke Station Road without seeing him. We were first on the scene before the ambulance arrived and it was terrible,” said Fairfax City resident Kelly Ojala, who was heading to dinner with his wife that evening. “[Markham] was screaming in pain from the tire tracks on his back, and we tried to keep him still. There were bits of his purple bike-to-work shirt actually rubbed into the pavement.”
The truck’s driver, Impha Gassama, 52, of New Carrollton, Md., was charged with failing to yield the right of way from a private drive, according to Fairfax City Police spokesman Dan Grimm.
Gassama was unable to be reached to comment for this article.
National Bike to Work Day was on May 20. Markham only recently has recovered from the injuries.
And another cycling accident occurred in Fairfax on National Bike to Work Day in 2010.
That accident resulted in two deaths.
“We had an unusual number of bike fatalities last year,” said Fairfax County Police spokesman Bud Walker. “We had 86 accidents that involved collisions between a bicycle and a motor vehicle, four of which resulted in fatalities.”
Walker said there have not been any bike-related fatalities yet this year, a statistic for which Markham said he is grateful.
According to Walker -- who compiles bicycle accident statistics for the police department -- motorists and cyclists often are equally at fault when such accidents occur.
“In the 2010 accidents between cyclists and motorists, 53.5 percent of cyclists were at fault,” he said. “Which tells me that there needs to be more mutual respect on both sides of the issue.”
Walker said motorists should treat bicycles as vehicles, and treat them accordingly. By the same token, cyclists should act as vehicles, and obey all traffic rules and laws.
“We are at a really critical point in Fairfax County,” said Bruce Wright, president of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, a local cycling advocacy group. “More and more people are choosing to commute by bike and a lot needs to be done on both sides to educate both motorists and cyclists about our joint responsibilities.”
Virginia law states that, except under a limited set of circumstances, cyclists “shall ride as close as safely practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway.”
But both Walker and Wright said that isn’t always practical.
“If I’m on a bike in a lane that is 12 feet wide -- which most generally are -- I cannot share a lane with a motorist safely. On a bicycle, I need about four feet of navigating room around me, and a car generally needs about 10 feet or so. That’s 14 feet. If I am all the way to the right, a car will generally try to share that lane with me and pass me much too closely. Passing a bicycle in a car at closer than two feet is not safe. So I generally ride in the center of the lane, to force that vehicle to go around me as they would another car.”
Walker, a cyclist himself, agreed, saying cyclists should “own the lane” they are in, to get the respect of passing motorists. “Motorists need to know why cyclists are doing that, and there needs to be a mutual respect,” he said.
After his ordeal, Markham now is committed to getting that message across.
“I want to bring more bike safety awareness to the Northern Virginia area,” he said. “I have gotten involved with the Washington Biking Association and I want to get out there and speak to the public to educate both drivers and cyclists about sharing the road safely. No one should have to go through what I did.”