The tragic death of Michelle Walters during this past weekend's Ironman Boulder competition returned the spotlight to cycling safety — or the lack thereof.
Fatal cycling accidents are a far-too-regular occurrence in these parts, and the risks cyclists face on a daily basis are magnified by bike rage, a phenomenon that happens off-road — Calvin Chambers was recently cited for scattering thumbtacks on Deer Creek Canyon Road, a popular Jefferson County bike route — and on. In recent years, bike-rage incidents like the one Dirk Friel caught on video in 2012 demonstrate how tense the relationship between cyclists and drivers can become.
And according to Denver's Mark Shelton, "it just seems to be getting worse and worse."
Shelton's perspective makes perfect sense given an incident last week, when he was the victim of a hit-and-run crash. To make matters worse, he says the driver didn't strike him by accident.
"He definitely intended on hitting me," he says.
On Wednesday, August 3, Shelton was "riding to hang out downtown," he recalls. "I was at 12th and Holly, going westbound. I'd already gone through a stop sign, but I saw this car" — he believes it was a gray Honda Accord — "that was speeding up Holly. I decided to stay on the left-hand side of the road to let him go past me before I crossed over. But I looked back just in time to see him swerving over toward me. And that's when I got hit."
At first, Shelton notes, "I thought maybe he was just being a dick — like, he was going to swerve and come close to me. But he didn't hit me by accident. I feel like he saw me on the road and intentionally hit me. It's two lanes, a neighborhood street and a designated bike route, and I was almost on the gutter on the side of the street where the cars park. He had the whole road to work with, and he chose to swerve toward me. I was like, 'Man, this guy is being a jerk' — and the next thing I knew, I was picking myself up off the ground as he turned right toward 12th and drove away."
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The car destroyed Shelton's bike, and he wound up covered with what he refers to as "road rash," as seen in this photo of his back.
The Honda suffered damage, too.
Afterward, Shelton found the remnants of a driver's side mirror, and he's pretty sure the Honda's windshield must have been cracked from the impact of his body against it.
The police report about the crash (see it below) categorizes the incident as a hit-and-run, but it doesn't weigh in on whether or not Shelton was targeted. That's understandable, since there were no other witnesses to what went down other than Shelton and the driver, who hasn't been found at this writing.
For his part, Shelton, who's commuted year-round by bike for the past six years, says the incident is a more extreme version of things he experiences regularly.
"I deal with it a lot — people being jerks in their cars," he says, "almost on a daily basis. I feel like I'm risking my life every time I ride my bike."
He describes a common scenario: "A car will go speeding past me, because they're in a car and they're sure they're going to get there faster than me. Then I'll catch them at a light and pass them and they'll get pissed off — so they'll go speeding past me really close."
Why does he think the situation is worsening? He acknowledges that there are some "jerk cyclists" who "can be assholes on their bikes." But he also stresses the presence of "more people from out of town who come from states that aren't so bike-friendly. And they don't think about how they're driving a two-ton vehicle and I'm on a 25- or 30-pound bicycle. They think it's funny or whatever to clip somebody on a bike, and they're going to win every single time. The one with the most lug nuts always wins."
Equally frustrating to Shelton are the limitations on possible punishment for the driver who hit him, should he be found.
"The detective told me that unless I had any broken bones, the only thing they could charge this guy with is a misdemeanor, which I think is ridiculous, especially when I really feel he intentionally hit me," he says. "That's almost attempted murder in my mind. A bicycle-versus-car accident isn't the same as a car-versus-car accident, so I don't understand how it could be a misdemeanor just because I don't have a broken bone. The only reason I didn't break something is because I got lucky."
Thanks to friends who work at a bike shop, as well as members of a bike club in which he participates, Shelton has a new bike, and he plans to use it as his primary mode of transportation despite his close call.
"I love riding my bike way too much to stop," he says. "In fact, it makes me want to ride my bike more. And it makes me want to get the message out to people in their cars that they need to be more aware, and attitudes in general really need to change. Because I'm not going to stop riding my bike because of idiots."
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Here's a larger look at Shelton's original post-incident Facebook post, followed by the aforementioned police report..