Ponsonby, Revisited

Sep 14, 2015
Ponsonby, Revisited

Bike Auckland

A guest post by Anna Bracewell-Worrall, News Director at 95bFM.

There’s a particular spot on Ponsonby Road that I always look at. It’s right outside Ponsonby Central: it’s the place I was knocked off my bike into oncoming traffic six months ago.

I used to bike around a lot, but most of the time now I walk or catch the bus. I miss the speed and practicality of my old bike, but there’s a tranquility to using the bus that I don’t get from cycling anymore.

The other day, I was on a bus, feeling particularly at peace as we approached the site of my crash. As the bus idled at the lights, I looked across and had one of those moments when you can almost feel your brain pulsate against your scalp.

Across two lanes of traffic, I could see, surrounded by people, a man in shock. He had a towel draped over his shoulders, and leaning against the tree next to the group was a bike, crumpled.

From the bus, it was impossible to tell what had happened, but all I could think was: that cannot have happened right there, again.

It’s still fraught and confusing to think about how it had been for me, sitting wrapped in a towel on the side of Ponsonby Road. The events were – and still are – so bizarre that the whole thing is flavoured with stilted comedy.

It had been the kind of day that biking’s made for — sunny, with a soft breeze. I’d just had my nails manicured for the second time in my life, and was biking home happy along the ridge of K Rd and Ponsonby.

It was 2pm, so traffic wasn’t too bad, but when I’d stopped at the corner of Richmond Road, cars were queued at the lights. Once we were moving again, I felt that familiar pressure to tuck to the side and let cars past. I moved through the lights, gaining speed, but in that comedy of disaster, I was somehow suddenly lying on the road.

I felt this vague surprise that I was on the ground. A vehicle — a ute or an SUV — went past so closely I thought my legs had gone straight under it. My entire brain lit up in a single realisation: I’m dying.

My brain flicked to the closest scenario it could find to explain what was happening. It didn’t have much to work with as, fortunately for me, I’d never been in a crash before. I had however gone through a phase of watching a lot of 24 Hours in A & E, a show I found painful and sweet. So, in what I thought was my final moment on earth, I thought of a young man I’d seen on the show, writhing in pain after his pelvis had been crushed between two boats. Had I died, he would never know that I thought of him in those moments. I’m glad I’ve lived to never tell him the weird shit my brain got up to.

Time stretches and bends in those moments, and your mind plays tricks on you. I hadn’t been run over, and I certainly wasn’t dying. I tried to shift myself back away from from the traffic, but struggled to move. Someone grabbed me by the arms, and I desperately wanted to tell them to let go — everywhere they held me burned to the touch, and I think I fainted as they pulled me up and off the road.

Dizzy and slow, I realised people were talking to me. I had to close my eyes to concentrate on hearing them, but even then, everything was noisy and distant. I just wanted to close my eyes in dark silence, and was annoyed that someone kept asking me questions.

Now I think the man who carried me off the road, and the woman who took my phone and methodically asked for my password before calling my dad, are utterly amazing. At the time, though, I felt crowded; and as I regained a semblance of control over my brain, I was slightly embarrassed to be the focus of their attention.

A paramedic arrived and asked how I felt. I’d become intensely intrigued by how sweaty I’d become. It was all I could think about, and I answered honestly — I’m really sweaty. It’s the adrenaline, the paramedic told me. Other than that, I couldn’t tell what was hurt. Everything felt wrong, but nothing felt acutely wrong.

Waiting in the ER. Manicure intact; leg, not so much.
Waiting in the ER. Manicure intact; foot, finger, teeth, not so much.

It took a while to figure out what my injuries were. I’d broken my foot, and a finger, although the whole hand was injured, so we X-rayed the wrong finger initially and it took a few days to realise a different one was broken. My ribs were probably fractured, my front teeth irreversibly damaged, my body covered in very geometric bruises. It’s been six months, but I still have a bruise down the length of my left thigh, where I hit something long and straight.

When you have multiple injuries, they simmer under everything you do for months. You’re slow and sore and tired, less happy, more irritable. Whenever I reached for a mug and pain shot across my ribs, I’d think I hope shes thinking about me. She’ being the woman who opened her car door into my path without looking. The sensible part of my brain accepted we’re all subject to human error and it was cruel timing that had her swing her door open just as I biked past. The wallowing part of my brain had me angry that someone could so easily break my bones and render me so deeply tired. I hope shes thinking about me became my own bitter chant.

When the crash was at its rawest, one of the most difficult things was dealing with the practicalities. I didn’t want to think about what to do with my bike, which had been run over by two cars. I didn’t want to think about pressing charges, although I did lodge the incident with police. Most of all, I didn’t want to deal with the woman who caused it all.

The woman who doored me immediately apologised and admitted she hadn’t looked before opening her door. She clearly felt awful, but was also defensive, telling me I should ride on the footpath, saying I must have been biking quickly, and that she saved my life pulling me away from the cars. She probably regrets saying those things.

As months passed since the crash, it became easier to discuss, and she had her insurance company replace my bike. The crash and its aftermath was difficult for both of us, and I’ve forgiven her.

I never did hear from the police.

I still flinch when people open car doors, even when I’m in a car myself, which is hilarious and pathetic. Sometimes I look at a car and feel a sudden expulsion of breath, like I’ve been kicked in the stomach. I know intimately the unforgiving hard of a car. When you’re inside a car, you forget the fragility of humans and the callousness of our creations.

I don’t know what it will take to prevent more crashes like mine. All I want is for our city to be safer for cyclists. I want to never again look out the bus window and see a bike, and a person, mangled.

Anna's bike: done for.
The bike.
Recovering and back at work. An apple a day…

Huge thanks to Anna for sharing her story, and best wishes for her continued recovery. These kinds of experiences are hard to read about, but they underscore our fight for streets that work for people on bikes – because nobody wants to be on either side of this encounter, ever again. 

We’ll be following up the issue of improvements along Ponsonby Rd. Meanwhile, check out our companion post on how NOT to door a cyclist – and do share! The life you save may be your own.

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