Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

02 November 2016

Abigail Dougherty: She "Collided" With A Garbage Truck

Even though it's something I haven't done often, I've done it too frequently.

I am talking about incidents in which an encounter between a bicycle and a motor vehicle results in a dead cyclist.  Or dead cyclists, plural.

In too many such incidents, the driver was intoxicated.  Or, worse, the driver simply took off after running down a bike rider.  

From what I've read so far, the tragedy I'm about to relate doesn't fit into either of those categories.  It seems that the driver in question simply didn't see the cyclist:  a plausible scenario, especially given a few factors I'll mention in this post.

Abigail Dougherty, a University of Florida student just a couple of weeks from turning 21, was riding southbound on NW 17th Street in Gainesville and was starting to cross University Avenue.  

A garbage truck was rumbling along the same street, in the same direction at the same moment.  It, however turned right to go west on University.

Abigail Dougherty

A local news report said she "collided" with the garbage truck.  It's difficult to imagine how she could have done such a thing--unless she rode into the intersection as the truck was in the process of turning.

The more likely scenario, it seems, is that she was partway into the intersection when the driver started to round the corner for the turn.  If things transpired that way, it's not difficult to imagine how the driver might have lost sight of her, or never saw her in the first place, especially since garbage truck drivers don't have the best sight lines.

Having cycled for decades in New York, I have had tailed, dodged  and weaved around all manner of vehicles, including garbage trucks.  Probably the only vehicles with worse sight lines are long-haul trucks.  The best chance I have with garbage trucks or long-haul drivers, it seems, is to get them to see me. 

Of course, I do not know how Abigail Dougherty fell victim to a turning garbage truck. An investigation is ongoing, as of now; officials aren't even sure of who had the right-of-way.  According to a local attorney, motorists are expected to yield to cyclists and pedestrians before making a turn.  If footage of the incident can be found, I would think the question of right-of-way would be fairly easy to solve.  

Whatever the answer, we--cyclists and motorists, as well as pedestrians--need to be more cognizant of each other, and how each of us has different needs, but the same responsibilities, on the road.

Now that Ms. Dougherty's death has sparked a conversation about cyclists and drivers on the road, I hope it won't lead to misguided attempts--like bike lanes that, too often, are more dangerous than the streets--to make cycling "safer".

Whatever comes of this tragedy, I hope it helps to prevent more like it.  After all, who wants to hear about another cyclist (or anyone else, for that matter) cut down in the bloom of youth?


  1. They yield if they can see you. Especially professional drivers. The inescapable solution is to ride where they WILL see you. Bike lanes do not change that - where a bike lane or the way you use it violates that, even the best driver might kill you. Like if you ride up the right side of a truck while in a bike lane.

    1. Steve--That's been my experience, mostly. And, as you say, bike lanes won't make cyclists any safer in the face of trucks.