You might think it’s someone’s job to clean up in the aftermath of car accidents, but it’s not. Yes, the city knows about the debris. After all, its first responders, EMTs and police are often the first to be notified when there’s a traffic incident. The insurance companies know, too. But often the detritus of these unfortunate events are left right where they landed. This is one of the many things I notice that most people don’t because I choose to commute on foot, by bicycle and via city bus.
In 2017, Hurricane Matthew took down a large oak tree along my daily route. Someone chainsawed the tree and piled the pieces it so close to the road, it obscured visibility at the intersection, causing a major accident. The cars involved were towed immediately, debris remained in the street, on the sidewalk and in the homeowner’s yard, where one of the vehicles ended up. There was also a heap of broken glass near the curb. For weeks afterward, as I crested the hill on my bicycle, I could see the glass shimmering in the afternoon sunlight. I noticed the heap got smaller and smaller as time passed. At first I was mystified, then I realized it was being blown all over the neighborhood.
I also noticed coins strewn in the same area. Though it is instinctual to pick up quarters and dimes, I am careful not to do so in these accident zones. I am not religious, nor am I particularly spiritual, but I am superstitious, and I do not want a dead man’s money jingling in my pocket.
All this wreckage does serve a purpose for some of us. It can serve as a warning to be on guard or become road-kill. From the I-10 exit south to the Roosevelt Boulevard Bridge, U.S. Highway 17 is as likely a place to die as anywhere else, whether you’re a motorist, cyclist or pedestrian. Cars are traveling at speeds that vary greatly, some in excess of 55 mph while others are attempting to merge from a dead stop. Making matters worse, Roosevelt Boulevard has a lot of curves and bends, reducing visibility. I have seen the aftermath of two wrecks at Roosevelt and Wabash. Once I was so close, I heard the impact. Wrecks always sound the same: a screech of tires, then that unmistakable crunch followed by an eerie silence and, eventually, sirens. A few days later, you might notice a cross or a bouquet of flowers or a teddy bear near the site.
I travel up that stretch of road nearly every day, and it’s not unusual to find chunks of bumper, shards of mirror and glass, even hood ornaments (I’ve started a collection). Though this stretch of road has signs that implore motorists to “share the road,” you’d have to be suicidal to ride your bike there—even where “bike lanes” suddenly appear. The sidewalk is uneven and cracked, and offers little safety.
Based on my encounters with everyone from cops to motorists to bus drivers, a dismissive attitude toward pedestrians and cyclists is all too common. My experience suggests that drivers even make distinctions about how to treat pedestrians and cyclists based on their socio-economic status. If someone is obviously out for a walk with their dog, for instance, drivers afford them more status than someone who is shabbily dressed and carrying a backpack. In other words, if you commute on foot or bicycle, you’re seen as a lesser person than someone who has a car but is outside for recreation.
About a year ago, while riding my bike, I was struck by a motorist who was distracted by his cell phone. My prized vintage bicycle was ruined, my ribs were bruised and my shoulder was injured. (It still hasn’t fully healed.) I called the police and, despite the fact that the guy admitted it was his fault, the cop did not write him a ticket.
It would seem that for pedestrians and cyclists, it’s a lose-lose situation. Half the people don’t see you, and the other half consider you a cockroach. My advice for motorists: slow it down a bit. My advice for cyclists and pedestrians: avoid intersections where you often see accident debris. As to whether or not you should pick up any loose change you find scattered on the pavement in those danger zones, you’re on your own.
Mongar, a full-time student attending Florida State College at Jacksonville, is a part-time social critic.