Hoffman's Houston
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Ken Hoffman's near-death horror stories reveal the dangers of cycling in Houston

Hoffman's near-death stories reveal the dangers of cycling in Houston

Bicycle Rally & Scavenger Hunt
It's a dangerous road for Houston bikers.  Photo courtesy of Houston Heights Association

As CultureMap reported, Houston is the sixth-most-dangerous city for bicycle riding, according to a ranking of 790 cities by Your Local Security, a blog that covers safety issues operated by the ADT home security company. Frankly, I'm shocked by Houston finishing so high on the danger list.

I thought we'd be higher.

The survey was based on factors such as bicycle laws, infrastructure, percentage of people who commute to work on bicycles, and fatal crashes. I know that Houston has ambitious plans to improve things for bicycle riders. In 2017, City Council passed an imaginative Houston Bike Plan, a call for a "highly accessible, citywide network of comfortable bike facilities," and strategies to convince Houstonians to get on their bicycles more often. I get all that.

But until then ... it's war between car drivers and bicycle riders. And guess who wins that? As Sgt. Esterhaus used to warn cops on Hill Street Blues, "Hey, let's be careful out there." I'm talking to bike riders.

Before we build new bikes lanes, how about filling 10,000 potholes along Bissonnet, and sweeping the bikes lanes we have now? I'm sort of a bicyclist, but not a Spandex-wearing rider who pedals 75 miles on Saturday mornings for fun. (Fun?) Once a year, I ride the weekend BP MS 150 to Austin, but that has me limping to Massage Envy on Monday asking, "How much to do just my butt?"

Mostly, I ride to the supermarket, once in a while to "work," to my neighborhood tennis courts, around my spring/summer home in West U, places like that. I like to consider that exercise, but it's really not.

Bike lane horrors
Problem is, the bike lanes along Westpark and West Alabama are garbage dumps — broken beer bottle depositories and gravel quarries. They're dangerous. One skid on the gravel and you're tumbling into oncoming cars. Better to take your chances riding on the sidewalk, which doesn't endear you to pedestrians.

The cities that beat Houston for danger are: Los Angeles and New York City — of course, slam dunk. Next was a part of Brooklyn, followed by Webster, Iowa, and two cities in North Dakota. The North Dakota cities shouldn't even count because how can you ride a bike in snow 11 months a year?

Dear drivers: Why the bike hate?
I don't understand the hatred that some drivers have for bicyclists. I've been honked at, yelled at, thrown things at. For what? There's room for both drivers and pedalers on Houston streets. Once time, true story, while getting a medical checkup, my doctor went off on bike riders who run red lights. I know, he had a point, but let's get back to my heart rate, okay, Dr. DeFelice?

A brush with death
Want to hear about the two times I almost killed myself on a bicycle? (Well, one time; the other time wasn't my fault.)

Friday night in October 2013: After I participated in the Critical Mass bike ride around downtown for a column about the controversial, often wild 'n' wooly gathering, I hit a pothole, or something, on Weslayan Street, between Westheimer and Richmond.

I was thrown off my bike and cracked my head against a metal pole.

I'm not sure if I was knocked out (no way of telling), but I grabbed my face and noticed my hands were covered in blood. I felt loose teeth. I could tell my nose was broken. I looked like a boxer after 12 rounds with Floyd Mayweather. A car stopped and a stranger helped me up. He had a towel in his trunk, which he wrapped around my head. Blood soaked through it.

I made it home and took a selfie. (Always document everything.) A doctor neighbor came over to clean me up. That's one thing about my neighborhood in West U: It's very diverse — we have every kind of doctor and lawyer you'd ever want. I called my dentist, Dr. Don Tamborello ("Dentist to the Stars" in Houston, who said to meet him at his office at 7 am the next day — a Saturday!).  I was busted up pretty good. Over the next few weeks, Dr. Tamborello stabilized my teeth, filled in a couple of chips and restored my TV anchorman smile.

Because I was injured on a work assignment, I was ordered to see a workers compensation doctor. This was an amazing experience. My face was still covered with thick scabs. It was easy to see what happened to me. A child playing "Doctor" could tell that I suffered a head injury. The workers comp medical facility looked a bus lobby, mostly packed with people getting drug-tested for a job interview.

When the doctor called my name, he checked my blood pressure, reflexes, eyesight, hearing, etc. He gave me the once-over and sent me out the door with a note saying I was okay to return to work.

I swear this is true: He did not check me for a concussion, even though I told him that I banged my head against a metal pole.

I knew my brain was rattled. I know my body, and I had all the symptoms of concussion. I was nauseous, headaches, couldn't remember things, the whole deal. I decided I needed to see a real doctor after some friends and I were talking about that week's NFL games, and I couldn't remember the name of the New Orleans Saints quarterback. That scared the crap out of me, because I have almost a Charlie Pallilo memory for sports facts, and I'm a huge Drew Brees fan.

To my employer's credit, this time they sent me to a qualified neurologist, who scheduled some tests at TIRR. Diagnosis: I had a severe concussion, which took me a few weeks to recover from.

See that photo of me after I banged my head that Friday night? You can imagine how much that hurt.

That was the second-worst thing that ever happened to me on a bicycle.

Ken vs. a Chevy van
Saturday afternoon in September 2003, I was riding around my neighborhood after a charity bike event in Montgomery County. I heard a vehicle behind me gun its engine. I turned my head and stared the driver in his face, as his white Chevy van crashed into me. I flew and rolled 33 feet, stopping when I hit the gutter. I stuck the landing, all right. I couldn't get up. 

The crash sounded like a bomb went off, I will never forget that. Hugging the curb, I didn't know if I was alive or dead. (I don't know what death feels like.) I saw blood trickle past my head. I heard a neighbor run to me, "I'm a firefighter, don't try to move!" 

Don't move? Where was I going? I heard another neighbor ask the fireman, "Is he dead?" Meanwhile, the driver kept going, roared around the corner and got away. They never caught him.

It felt like my whole body was broken. The West U fire department was there in minutes. Paramedics strapped me in a stretcher and loaded me into the back of an ambulance.

That was one of the worst parts. I was strapped in so tightly, I couldn't move my arms or head or legs. I remember pleading with the driver, please take me home. I just wanted to go home.

They took me to the hospital, where I spent several hours in the emergency room. I remember a doctor saying that a chunk of my ankle, a divot about the size of a teaspoon was missing. He said, "Later on, you can get some cosmetic surgery to fill that in." I said, "Or ... I can just wear socks." (I wasn't planning on a foot modeling career, anyway.) The divot in my ankle eventually healed itself. I still wear socks. I find sandals pretty creepy on men.

Again, I swear this is true: About a week later, half-covered in Saran Wrap, I took a shower, my first after the accident. When I got out of the shower, the mirror was all foggy, but I could see myself faintly. I was all druggy on painkillers, looked in the mirror and thought, "I just took a shower with jeans on!"

I didn't. My legs were completely black and blue. In a foggy mirror, it looked like I was wearing Wranglers. That freaked me out. I was on a walker, then crutches, then a cane. It took about six months to get back on just my two feet.

I still ride my bike. Hurry up, Houston Bike Plan.


Do you have a Houston bike horror story? Tell Ken all about it on Twitter