A Close Call With a Reckless Semi-Driver

The intersection I visited to capture an image I thought would be interesting. (Image courtesy of Google Earth)

I spend the majority of my day working on the website. It’s been that way for years, and it’s only gotten busier since taking a leadership role back in August. However, there are unexpected pockets of down time that randomly crop up every so often, and when that happens, I rarely use it for anything useful. Truth be told, it’s largely because I’ve forgotten what I enjoy doing and end up napping or endlessly scrolling through toxic social media feeds to fill time.

Yesterday, though, I had a chance to spend two hours in the middle of the day doing what I like. Determined not to waste it, I found an eBike at the nearby RedBike station and headed to Queensgate. I had a photo opportunity in mind and there was a pleasant break in the weather.

After 15 minutes, I’d ridden to the intersection of Merhing Way and Freeman Avenue in Queensgate. A small section of 5th Street still exists there, and there’s an interesting view of Carew Tower right above some overgrowth in the foreground. Thinking I could adequately capture it the way I’d envisioned with a 24-120mm, I attempted to make my photo.

The lackluster photo that really puts the “meh” in Mehring Way.

Long story short, I needed a lens with a longer focal length than the one I’d brought to do what I wanted. The image turned out to be lackluster and not commensurate with the perspective I had in my head. No worries, though; I was in Queensgate on a bike and there was more to see. I had two hours, afterall.

I then proceeded to travel north on Freeman toward the Police HIstorical Museum at 8th and Freeman where a mural I wanted to photographed was plastered on one of its exterior walls. It was about a three block ride from where I’d been. Traffic was light, so I rode on the street as I normally do when I’m on a bike. As I passed the 6th Street exit, a large semi truck was rounding the curve to get onto Freeman. I sped up to get ahead of it so I wasn’t breathing exhaust when the truck accelerated up the bridge ahead of me.

I was going about 15 mph and pedaling as fast as I could. Where I needed to go would’ve taken about 20 seconds to get to as I crested the bridge. Freeman is four lanes across, two of which are dedicated to the direction myself and semi were going at the time. The semi, apparently too eager to get to where it needed to go, decided to pass me, but instead of going into the other lane where I wasn’t riding, it passed me IN THE SAME LANE as we went over the bridge.

I am not exaggerating: the semi was so close, I could’ve reached out and touched it if I’d leaned far enough left. In all seriousness, it was somewhere between three and four feet from my shoulder. The thought of bouncing beneath the massive tires breathing on my legs mere feet away instantly entered my mind and I froze. It was incredibly loud and I squinted involuntarily. The semi sped up to pass me, but feeling the length of that truck—so close and hot—felt like it took a full minute to pass when, in reality, only about seven seconds or so probably elapsed from grill to hitch.

The bridge where the semi passed me. I was heading to the red marker. (Image courtesy of Google Earth)

Whatever fury I felt was neutralized by the fear in that moment. But as the semi appeared in full in front of me and I realized everything was over, the fury boiled over again. I raised a what the hell, man? hand and got off the road to the right as soon as I could. I couldn’t believe this person driving this deadly machine could be so careless and in THAT much of a rush to put a stranger’s life in danger like that. I was obeying the law and not riding on a one-lane street. There was NO reason for this driver to do this.

Adrenaline coursed through my veins and I tried my best to stop from becoming outwardly angry. I was shaking and actively trying to calm down. To make matters worse, the semi was stopped at the stoplight just 50 feet away. Its insistence on passing me was for NOTHING.

I couldn’t look at it. I couldn’t approach and scream at the driver. Anyone that reckless, I reasoned, could put my life in danger again if they had a weapon. I just parked my bike and got my camera out to take a photo of the mural in front of me. As I raised the camera to my eye, I could barely level it because I was still shaking. I went through with the photos anyway, relying on the technology’s VR to stabilize the images.

All of this is to say: Cincinnati is NOT bike friendly. The lack of bike lanes forcing cyclists into traffic with reckless drivers, the hostility toward cyclists, and the lack of vision from our leaders to protect cyclists makes this place a bad place to ride. And I really, really hate admitting that.

My whole job is to build up Cincinnati and find its strengths—to shine a spotlight on that which deserves highlighting. But I can’t pretend that Cincinnati is anything but unfriendly to those who ride in it. An unprotected bike lane on Central Parkway doesn’t make us worthy of that accolade.

Sure, some of this vitriol is a direct result of an emotional response to having my life needlessly threatened for the sake of getting to a stoplight three seconds faster, but isn’t that reason enough to raise hell? At what point do we look at the facts and address the fact that Cincinnati is hostile toward cyclists?