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A letter to the people who nearly crippled me

Westley Dang
Westley Dang
4 min read
A letter to the people who nearly crippled me
Photo by Ian Valerio / Unsplash

1: observations

At 12:59 PM PST on March 11th, 2024, you violently swerved your white sedan into the bike lane that I was in. Luckily, I managed to skid my Lyft bike to avoid your car pinching me against the other parked car on the right.

In my rage, I caught up with your car to confront you at the next stop light, and you showed no remorse. Not even an apology. In fact, you were blaming ME for somehow getting your way.

The man in your passenger seat opened his door as if to scare me with a physical confrontation, but I was so angry, I wanted to fight. I wanted nothing more than to show you the same savage disregard for human life that you had shown me. But I know that violence only begets more violence. I wish I could make you understand what a split second could have done to my life, and even as I'm writing this, I don't know if words could ever be enough.

But to break the cycle of violence, I'll try anyway.

2: feelings

In the moments after our near-collision, I wasn't scared for my life. You made me scared for something much worse: A life where I couldn't move. I derive a lot of my identity from my able-bodiedness. I run, climb, bike, snowboard, hike, walk, swim, and dance. These make me feel alive.

Near-accidents like this force me to confront my able-bodied privilege in a way that makes me uncomfortable. Who am I, if not a person who moves?

I've had a small ankle injury a few years ago, and I fell into a victim mindset that led me to three years of a sedentary lifestyle, which spiraled into more and more disability and unhealthiness. Luckily, I snapped out of it. I know that I am much happier now when I get to celebrate life every day through unencumbered and pain-free movement.

What I'm trying to say is that I have a history of not handling injuries well.

When you almost hit me the other day, it horrified me to imagine a life deprived of my physical pursuits. I would grow plump and soft in a wheelchair or a couch, merely spectating everything I envisioned for my own life. New lovers dancing together on the pier. Happy parents riding bikes with their children with the summer evening breeze on their necks. Runners and climbers and hikers pushing their mental and physical limits. That near accident made me afraid that I would spiral downwards until I become overwhelmingly depressed that I am merely living a shell of a life.

But you wouldn't know any of this if you had hit me.

This is why I am angry. There was no remorse from you. You didn't acknowledge the accident was your fault. I don't think you understood your impact if you had hit me.

I'm angry knowing that you will drive away from this thinking you don't have to change anything about your driving. And I'm angry because someone else will have a bike accident with you, and everything I said above will be someone else's story instead of mine. I am angry because of the injustice in our system, that people like you can walk away from this completely unscathed.

3: needs

I need you to understand that there is unjust asymmetry between a driver and a cyclist. You are in a metal box designed to protect you against a collision from other metal boxes. My flesh and bones couldn't damage the even cosmetic parts of your car if I tried.

But you don’t have to completely crush a human body to ruin their life. You have to remember that athletes will frequently rupture ligaments in their knee just by pivoting around a basketball court. A driver can do more damage by parallel parking.

I need you to help me and other cyclists feel safe. If you enjoy car-centric culture, I might suggest you move to Houston, Dallas or Los Angeles. (I personally could never live there). Being able to walk or bike in a city makes me feel engaged and creative. Walking under a row of trees makes me feel lovely in a way that driving doesn't. I love the autonomy of being able to go anywhere with my feet or a quick Lyft bike. It is an expression of my individuality and my independence. In the future, I'd love to be able to run/walk my baby in a stroller, or bike with my toddler mounted in the back without fear of them dying.

I'd love to know how you feel alive. I'd love to know how you feel engaged with the world around you, and when you feel safe enough to be creative. And I'd love to contribute to that somehow.

4: requests

I humbly ask that you put yourself in my shoes, and empathize with me. So, I have two requests for you.

First, watch this video . These are accidents solely related to a driver opening their car door, and I wanted to show you this because these are just car vs. human accidents where the car is stationary. And while you watch it, I'd like for you to imagine if it happened to you.

Second request: After you watch that video, I want you to ditch your car for a month, and ride your bike everywhere in the city. I'll even let you borrow my bike. I just want you to understand that as a cyclist there are 10 ways to die every single minute.

Please just remember that shaving a few seconds (yes, seconds!) off of your commute isn't worth potentially ruining the rest of someone's life.

I care about your feelings. I care about your role in your friends and family's lives. I care about your hopes and dreams for this one life that you have. All I ask that you care about mine, too.



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