Valley Blvd. Grade Separation Project

Valley Blvd. Grade Separation Project

A Story by Chopstix

A cyclist's nightmare caused by construction of an overpass.

Sunlight glints off a sharpened spade as I ride my bicycle east on Valley Boulevard approaching a grade separation project.  A cluster of construction workers gather near a barrier protecting their work from traffic.  I think they are discussing last nights Dodgers’ game.  With his back to oncoming traffic, a construction worker wearing blue jeans, boots, a white tank top and yellow hard hat flexes his biceps and mocks a batter in the box.  Lane narrowed for roadwork; traffic forces me close to the barrier.  Spade raised like a baseball bat, his left foot lunges forward, his trunk twists as he extends powerful arms driving the blade toward an imaginary ball.  I pass as the spade completes its arc past imaginary contact with the ball; its follow through intersects my line.  The blade severs my arm at the elbow.

Los Angeles’ commuter cyclists must overcome several fears, most of which involve LA’s notoriously self-centered motorists.  Although road rage first appeared on the Apian Way, LA contributed car to car freeway shootings.  For some reason, cars and bicycles do not share the road well, and motorists, having the advantage, utilize their vehicles to vent anger.  Cyclists constantly monitor road conditions and traffic for possible threats.  Anything; everything can cause harm.  Fear leads to religion; religion to ritual.  Before every trip, I take a moment to review every danger point on my route.  Reassured, I mount and ride.  

The Valley Boulevard Grade Separation Project began April, 2009.  To better serve freight trains, CALTRANS decided Valley Boulevard should bridge over four sets of train tracks.  They built the north ramp first, adding incline to my morning commute.  By July, they started the south ramp.  Nightmares quickly ensued.  Every night, I feel confined by traffic as I climb an ascent before Valley flattens and I need to make a left turn.  The careless construction worker lifts his shovel off his shoulder and swings; the follow-through powers the shovel’s blade through my elbow.

Struggling against gravity, I watch my forearm dangle from my handlebars, my right hand gripping the shifter’s hood.  I lose balance, wobble a short distance and fall to the left, occupying the lane.  I hear a large, white delivery truck’s tires bite into pavement with a low pitched growl.  It can not stop in time.  First, it crushes my bike’s rear wheel and my right leg.  A large, heavy-metal transmission housing flattens my chest, drags me forward and, eventually, squashes my left wrist.  The truck halts.  Its muffler catches my helmet and radiates heat.  I smell burnt plastic, singed hair and charred flesh.  The tailpipe burns a gash into my right cheek.  I scream in agony, but just once.  I possess neither strength nor air in my lungs for a second scream.  I may whimper, but no tears.  Exhaust heat evaporates them.  

Intense agony subsides to shock-numbed pain.  I hear voices, but I barely follow their meaning.  One wants the truck to roll forward, another backwards and a third wants to preserve the crime scene.  I collapse further and see a spreading crimson pool emanate from my elbow.  Strangely, most of the pain is gone.  I bleed out, loose consciousness 
and awake with a sense of terror and self-pity.

This nightmare recurred night and day for months.  Cyclists can’t afford to lose observation of the road, even for a moment, but every afternoon, while crossing the Soto Street intersection, my mind conjured a white tank-topped construction worker.  Every morning and every afternoon, I labored through pre-ride rituals.  My faux religion of preparation and planning almost gave way to belief in deities.  

On Tuesday morning November 17, 2009, some A la brava! mother f****r in a pewter Jeep Cherokee determined ten seconds of his life mattered more than the rest of mine.  At the complex intersection where Valley turns into North Main at Mission, he pulled along side me and turned right.  My front tire hit his right rear wheel throwing me over handlebars.  My left shoulder slammed into his rear quarter panel followed by my left hip.  At fifteen miles per hour, my 240 pounds impacting his vehicle must have “rocked the boat” a little.  He didn’t even stop.  I received relatively light injuries: separated shoulder, bruised hip and bruised tailbone (presumably from hitting my saddle or top bar on the way down).

My injuries healed in time for my commuter cycling season’s start in March.  The completed south ramp diverted traffic off Valley Boulevard while they built the overpass.  All construction activity occurred on the left side of the street.  My nightmare never returned.

© 2017 Chopstix

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Added on February 10, 2017
Last Updated on February 10, 2017
Tags: Bicyle, overpass, nightmare, injury, Valley Boulevard, Los Angeles, LA, traffic



Los Angeles, CA

In high school, I wrote lyrics. I started college writing poems and switched to short stories. After college, I discovered I could write computer programs, but I could not finish a novel (kept editi.. more..