Severely Injured by an Inattentive Motorist, Seven Years Later
"It'd be so easy to protect cyclists... But they just don't."
5:08 PM PDT on July 25, 2023
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Justin Liszanckie, then 32, was running errands by bike in SoMa almost seven years ago when he got ready to make a left from Brannan onto 4th. That's the last thing he remembers before waking up in the hospital with a concussion and "three broken bones around the orbit of my right eye. Extensive lacerations on the right side of my face and ear. A fourth fracture in my right side nasal bone. Two broken vertebrae on the right side of neck, two broken ribs, a broken right pelvis," he told Streetsblog in 2016.
Despite Liszanckie's lights and bright clothing (and helmet), the driver told police she didn't see him until she hit him (aka: she wasn't paying attention). And a neutral witness said the motorist who hit Liszanckie either ran a solid red or pushed the yellow.
Streetsblog thinks it's important to check in with victims of such traffic violence. Streetsblog and Liszanckie met up near where the crash took place last week. Below is a Q&A with Liszanckie, whose face still bears the scars of that horrible night.
Streetsblog: So how you doing?
Justin Liszanckie: I'm lucky to be here I guess. That is my main thought. I'm lucky that I walked away in one piece. So many other people who were in crashes like this were not so lucky.
Streetsblog: Do you have nightmares? Does it still haunt you?
JL: No. I really have no memory of what happened. That's what happens when you break a windshield with your head.
SB: Well, I guess if there's a silver lining to a concussion, sometimes that's it. But you remember being in the hospital and the pain. Did you have trouble getting back on your bike?
JL: I love biking. It's liberating. It's fun. It's freeing. It's the best way to travel. I got back on a bike as soon as I could.
SB: That's impressive.
JL: But I got back on too fast; three months after getting out of the hospital. My friend Dina really took me to task, pointed out that if I did something else to my head--
SB: Yeah, you'd be messed up. But you didn't have a bike anymore?
JL: I went out and got a new bike. Honestly, I've never been super wealthy but this time I decided to shell out a little bit. I went to Mission Bicycle and I loved that there I could just design and customize a bright orange bike. It was fun.
SB: Least you could do for yourself I guess. Did you get any compensation for all this?
JL: So the person who hit me had the minimum liability insurance. And they went to jail because there was a warrant out for their arrest for a drug related charge. Still surprised she stayed at the scene.
SB: Lucky for you.
JL: It took a while, but I got some small payment. It was nothing consequential.
SB: You also got a traffic ticket, right? The cop left it at the hospital. That was crazy considering the one neutral witness said the driver ran the red light. But the cop only based the investigation on what the driver said. And of course you were unconscious. What happened with that ticket?
JL: I was cited for the incident, which drove me bonkers. So I appealed it. I went to court and the cop didn't show up, so the judge threw it out. But there's a broader problem about cars, cops, cyclists...
SB: You mean the bias of cops to blame the cyclist?
SB: So no psychological effects from the crash?
JL: I'm incredibly lucky to say not really. My knees feel old.
SB: Welcome to the club. You must have been angry though?
JL: Yeah, I was really wired after the crash.
SB: What do you mean?
JL: When I first got back on my bike--I was literally standing over my bike, I had just picked up a burrito, and someone was backing out of a parking spot on 16th Street in the Mission and backed into me.
SB: You got hit again?!? Were you hurt?
JL: It wasn't bad, but I exploded. I can't remember exactly what I said, but probably something along the lines of "this is my fucking life."
SB: That's understandable.
JL: It's frustrating how hard it is to explain to drivers how fragile you are on two wheels. I was in the Castro one afternoon and I was heading downhill from 20th to Market and a car had just parked. And this guy got out of his car and almost doored me as I was going down the hill. I stopped and just flipped out on this guy. I told him "you need to look before you get out of a car!" So him and his partner proceeded to tell me that if they had doored me, it would have been my fault.
SB: What the fuck! I mean, why am I surprised. What was their rationale?
JL: Because it's like if you rear-end someone.
SB: Uh, no.
JL: The stupidity of their position just set me off. We got into a huge screaming match on Castro Street. I was screaming so loudly a cop moseyed by and had to break it up and manage the situation. I tried to calmly explain to the cop why I was so emotional and that I had almost been killed six months earlier. There needs to be some level of driver education and driver testing that does not seem to be included when it comes to getting your license.
SB: Agree. And you'd think the cop could confiscate his license on the spot and send him for a driver re-education class. How could someone possibly not get the difference between hitting a stopped car right in front of you in a rear-end collision and throwing a door open into the path of cyclist?
JL: Yup. And he wasn't kidding. He really thought that was the law. That was mind boggling.
SB: And he's out there someplace driving now.
JL: Sometimes when I'm clearly in the right I figure I'm going to tell this person what's up and they'll be reasonable. I figure they'll be like "oh, sorry, I didn't mean to almost hit you" but now I'm just shocked by the retaliation and disregard. I don't think the guy on Castro was really making a legal or an intellectual argument; he said it with such flippant disregard and no understanding how bad that can be. This is my fucking life and he was basically chuckling.
SB: Do you think things have gotten better or worse over the past few years?
JL: I don't know. Both? Sometimes I feel like it's always one step forward, one step back. During the pandemic though, cycling was a great outlet. It was the one thing you could do. Slow Streets were a good development and encouraging. And JFK in Golden Gate Park is amazing now that you can go end to end without dealing with cars...
JL: But I continue to think that the city is really lacking in courage and imagination when it comes to designing solutions that are pedestrian and cycling forward. Valencia Street is a great exhibit for that. What an absolute disaster! It's a mess and wildly dangerous.
SB: So you've ridden the new center-running lanes?
JL: About a month ago I was there. And it's got the closed signs, so I rode in the car lanes. And some driver overtook in the new cycle track and buzzed past me.
SB: You think it'll be better when it's officially finished?
JL: (Shakes head) I've already seen tons of delivery trucks parked in it. Any car can plow into it. It's embarrassing.
SB: Getting back to your crash, they repaved Brannan right where you crashed and didn't do a thing to improve it for bikes. No protected lanes. No intersection protection. Just the same useless painted lines they had before. That pisses me off. I can't imagine how infuriating it must be considering what you went through.
JL: This is going to keep happening to people because the infrastructure is so shoddy. It'd be so easy to protect cyclists. Just move the parked cars over. Put the cyclists between the curb and the parked cars. Just fucking do it. But they just don't.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.