The Memory Keeper
Every cyclist has a story about a close call, a bad crash, or worse. Weldon Weaver wants to make sure no one is forgotten
Something hit my elbow. Something hard. Something plastic.
Then something hit my handlebars. There was the loud thunk of a side-view mirror snapping out, then back into place. My front wheel swerved right. To my left, a silver sedan appeared. I swerved. I wobbled. When my bike stopped shuddering, I stopped. The car kept going.
It made me angry at first. Then confused. Why did he keep going? Did he even know what he did?
The silver car disappeared around the corner. I pulled over to the side of the road. Other cars whizzed by. Nobody got out to survey the scene. I was alone.
Weldon Weaver knows the feeling. On March 6, 2007, he was riding through some winding streets between Freedom Park and Park Road Shopping Center. A driver pulled into the wrong lane to get around a clog of parked cars and smacked into Weaver, who was stopped at a stop sign. He flew over the hood. He had what he calls “obvious injuries.” He didn’t know what to do or whom to call. His mailbox started to overflow with letters from personal injury lawyers who saw the police report. He hadn’t seen the report. The driver had insurance. Weaver didn’t know if he should cash the settlement check.
He started to wonder how many other cyclists had been hit. That’s when the research began. Soon afterward, he started charlottevelo.com (vélo is French for “bicycle.”) He wanted it to be a place where other cyclists could go to find out simple things about bike crashes, details that were actually quite hard to find. Who was hit? How badly were they hurt? Who did it? Where did it happen? He wanted a place for people to leave get-well messages. The comment sections on newspaper websites were harsh. Too many people were assigning blame instead of sharing love.
Weaver posted his first entry on May 12, 2008. A 5-year-old girl named Tyisha Witherspoon was hit by a school bus on her street in Bradfield Farms. The entry was short. A picture. Four sentences. It ended with “get well soon.”
Ten days later, Weaver posted again. Shcrissony Potts, a 13-year-old girl, was hit and killed by a school bus while riding her bike at the corner of South Tryon and Remount Road. Weaver wrote five sentences, alleging that the bus driver’s view was obstructed by a tractor-trailer when she collided with Shcrissony in the crosswalk. “This is a true tragedy,” Weaver wrote. Over the next two years, people left comments mourning Shcrissony. “Today I finished a table for you,” wrote one of her teachers at Sedgefield Middle School. “We are planting flowers for you this week … so others know that through you, life goes on.”
Weaver is a project manager for a software company. He commutes by bike and takes professional photos of cyclists. The tips started to come in. His buddies told him about crashes. He would hear about them on the news. He set up a Google Alert to email him whenever there might be an accident in Charlotte. He started scanning police reports online. The CMPD website doesn’t allow you to search by accident type, only by the driver’s name or the street where the crash occurred. From time to time, Weaver would scan through street names. If he saw only one driver listed, it was a clue that a bicyclist might have been involved. Or it might mean that the driver hit a pole. It cost $2 to request the report to find out.
“I’ve paid $2 for tons of reports that didn’t pan out,” he says.
Why does he do it this way? It’s the only way he knows how.
Charlottevelo.com relies on Weaver’s spare time, his research, and the help of others. He admits his system doesn’t catch every crash. It’s imperfect. But nearly every study or statistic about bicycle crashes is imperfect. Between 2006 and 2010, 549 cyclists reported to police that they were hit by cars in Charlotte. The total number of accidents in this city is the highest of any city in North Carolina, but when you look at crashes per 10,000 people, Wilmington and Rocky Mount have rates more than twice as high as Charlotte’s. And the numbers themselves may be way off. Research into hospital records has shown that only a fraction of bicycle crashes in which people are hurt are ever recorded by police. The federally funded Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center suggests that fewer than 1 in 10 crashes are reported nationwide.
There are some patterns. Most bikers are hit on clear days. The vast majority of them (85 percent) are men. Nearly two-thirds of the bikers hit by cars are hit on roads where the speed limit is 35 miles per hour or less.
Weaver started to see a pattern in his posts. Most bikers were hit at intersections by a “left cross,” a name bikers use to describe a crash where a car is turning left and collides with a biker who’s going straight through the intersection. He also noticed how easy it was to forget about older crashes. Once a post scrolled off the page, it wasn’t often revisited. Weaver started to plot the accidents on a map. They all came back to life. Blue dots show crashes. Red points show where a biker was killed. Yellow ones show hit-and-runs, which really get to Weaver. “Many people think they’re better off fleeing,” he says, his normally calm voice growing tense.
There aren’t many frills on the site. Weaver doesn’t advertise. He writes each post himself. He’s posting the raw data, he says. And in a way, a site dedicated to chronicling bicycle crashes worries him. “It scares me a little bit to have that much negativity around cycling,” he says. “I’d hate to hear that I have any negative feelings about cycling. I don’t.” But crashes are a side of cycling that people talk about, so they might as well be informed. “When somebody gets hit,” Weaver says, “I want to let them know that they’re not alone.”
I never reported the car that hit me to police. I don’t show up on Weaver’s map.
Six days after the silver car hit me, Harry Johnson was the lead rider in a pack of four cyclists. It was dark. Their lights were on. Their clothes were reflective. They were riding south on Selwyn Avenue. A silver sedan came up behind them. The police report says the driver honked his horn 15 times, then pulled around them. The car’s quarter panel hit Johnson’s handlebar, knocking him to the ground. Johnson was OK. The car kept going.
I looked at the map. I never knew I was the second biker in a week to get hit by a silver car. On the same street.
I wasn’t alone anymore.
ALSO: Check out Spin City, a guide to urban biking in Charlotte