11 Tips Following an Assault while Riding a Bike

A year has passed (just about) since my assault while Traveling at the Speed of Bike in the place I call home. Strengthened 3-Feet-to-Pass laws went into effect in several states (including mine) yesterday, and I have found stories about this to be slightly triggering. Therefore, yesterday I rode through the location of my assault, where my ghost bike would have been, to officially move on from it, with gratitude for the bonus of these past 525,600 minutes.

Almost every day, I am alerted to another person on a bike who has been hit by a driver of a motor vehicle somewhere in the USA. Sometimes this results in death (and I have covered several stories in depth — see A Long and Winding Road and Man Charged with 7 Counts after Killing Man on Bicycle in Sandy Springs, GA), but more often it’s a close call or a minor injury and people think it’s no big deal; in fact, it’s considered normal as it seems to happens to everyone on a bike in this country at some point (there’s even a perverse machismo about it).

But I know each and every one of those people is changed by the experience. Some are traumatized. Some never ride a bike again. If you are a girl, woman, person of color, person with disabilities, or a senior who is already feeling threatened or marginalized in public space in our society, this experience will tell you once again that you are not welcome.

I took some very conscientious steps immediately following my assault with the hopes that they would help me heal physically, mentally, and spiritually, and mostly I have. I am, however, changed, and there’s a piece of my joy that has been stolen by a speeding driver in a 4,500-pound SUV. I know this because I have worked diligently this past year to center joy, and I frankly never had to work at that before.

For the record, I will be forever grateful to my family, friends, people in the bike community, and my lawyer. I am disheartened that the people in leadership in my city have refused (so far) to create safe access for all (and continue the misrepresentation of their “achievements” that don’t meet NACTO guidelines, including on the very road where I was almost killed — here is the media release I would rather see). But, the day ain’t over yet, and there’s always hope that one of them will finally put a stop to the charades.

So, for anyone out there who may find this helpful or necessary, here are the affirmative steps I took in the six weeks following my assault. I found it helpful to “come at it” from every angle, and you may find something in here you hadn’t thought of:

  1. Called 911; kept witnesses of the hit-and-run on the scene; made sure my body camera footage was securely in my possession at all times (do NOT hand it over to the police); took photos;
  2. Called Bruce Hagen at BikeLaw Georgia and initiated both criminal and civil cases (find a lawyer in the national BikeLaw network near you);
  3. Downloaded and sent my body camera footage to the investigating police officer, who was then able to identify and serve my assailant with three charges within two hours;
  4. Wrote an email to the Dunwoody mayor and city council that very day; posted it here on my blog (it is the most-viewed post of any in the history of this blog);
  5. Went to my doctor for x-rays of my injury the next day, who then referred me to a specialist;
  6. Re-rode the scene of the assault the next day, and forced myself to ride somewhere every single day after (as was previously usual, without the forcing);
  7. With my lawyer’s approval, agreed to be interviewed by Fox 5 the very next day (by Denise Dillon, who did so with much-appreciated compassion), and selectively chose to speak with other media outlets/podcasters, etc.;
  8. Went to physical therapy (online because of COVID — here is my first Leap of Faith since the assault, on the day I received clearance from my specialist);
  9. Did my own art therapy(the painting from which is at the top of this post);
  10. Did something called “forest bathing” (which was surprisingly helpful);
  11. Was reminded of the ongoing need for Good Trouble on a very moving ride in the City of Atlanta (which was my usual and preferred place to ride as transportation while doing research five days a week prior to COVID);
  12. Created the “You Go, Girl” series, featuring 31 women across the USA making it more welcoming to ride bikes. This was enormously helpful to see the power we collectively hold in our hands, and to have these hour-long intimate conversations with so many people I did and didn’t previously know. (I’ve since continued this, broadened to include men as well.)

Later that fall, I created a public service campaign centering joy.

Joy Campaign

I applied for and was named the first Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor. Here is my 6-month executive summary and my latest update on my efforts in that capacity. FYI, it looks like the Peace Corps is trying to get my Uganda cohort (delayed since June 2020) out before the end of the year, and once I get the firm date, it’ll be a wrap on my bicycle mayor work as I do final preparations to leave the USA for 27 months. I currently represent 10 counties and 70 cities as the Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor in order to get this effort going and to make sure our region has a voice at the table of this global consortium. The best bicycle mayor for each individual city would be someone who lives there. I invite you to apply.

By the way, folks have asked about that moment in the video of the assault, after the impact and before I screamed. In my conversation with the witnesses directly after the crime, it was clear to me that something otherworldly happened there. I am a spiritual person, and I don’t discount this possibility.

During that second or two, I felt like I was floating. I believe a decision about my life was made in that moment, and God or my guardian angel decided to hold me up, in a situation where it is virtually impossible to believe I didn’t fall. Perhaps it was my father-in-law who died of COVID-19 in April 2020 and whom I visited in February 2020 at a rehab facility via bike for weeks, prior to his coronavirus illness. Or my friend, Bob Lundsten, with whom I had worked on numerous city and other initiatives, saying as-only-Bob-could-say, “Get your ass back to city hall and get changes made, Pattie.”

I did continue to encourage local change. I’m now done. I leave you this. I ask you to get involved locally. We shouldn’t have to beg, and perhaps you can find a more effective way than I to achieve local change. I’m sticking with joy (with full understanding of its conundrum), and continuing to take my daily Leap of Faith.

I am reserving my next free Pedal Power with Pattie class for up to three teen girls or women who have experienced road violence (including harassment) and are thus hesitant to ride again. Please contact me here to schedule. I am also available for phone consultation (and have talked several women back onto their bikes). You may also find my TikTok series of bike skills tips and inspiration helpful. I have additionally created these welcoming routes with you in mind.

A final affirmation to you (and myself): you belong in this bike boom.

Note: Here are 7 Low-Hanging Fruit Actions Cities Can Take