Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bike Rage

One of my staff was riding his bike to work the other day on the road as is his right. He was passing a shopping centre when a car turned left in front of him with the result that he broke her windshield with his head and sustained some soft tissue injuries. Fortunately he had a helmet on and didn't break anything. To my surprise when I phoned him, ostensibly to see if he was okay but in reality to see whether he would be able to work, he expressed remorse that he had broken the lady's windshield. He also told me that she had been looking into the sun and couldn't see him (as a general rule I don't drive when I can't see where I'm going which has so far kept me out of any serious accidents.)

I used to ride my bike down the same street to get to work before I moved. I still ride down it occasionally. I told him that I always rode that particular stretch of road on the sidewalk. He told me he never rides on the sidewalk.

I am not a serious bike rider but I do enjoy riding to work whenever I can. Typically when I drive to work, I arrive at work feeling tired and yet stressed out. When I ride or walk to work I arrive feeling wide awake and almost euphoric (maybe because I survived another bike commute?). While our city does have some bike paths and some designated bike routes, for the most part riding anywhere within city limits is a combination of service roads, side streets, riding cautiously in traffic and unfortunately riding on the side walk. I also ride across crosswalks sometimes. I know that under the motor vehicle act, I am equal to a car and am not supposed to ride on sidewalks. On the other hand, I am not protected by one ton of steel and I really don't want to end up on somebody's windshield or under their front tire and the fact is we have some pretty bad drivers. Besides nobody walks on the sidewalk anymore.

Currently we have some great paved bike paths in our city. Unfortunately most of them end abruptly forcing you to rejoin the road. Our city does have an ambitious plan for bike paths all over the city. Ambitious, as in expensive which means that it will never get done.

Worse than the bad drivers are the drivers who have a hate on for cyclists. A couple of years ago I was riding on a side street designated as a bike route. This runs parallel to a major street which is quite busy and so many drivers use it as a short cut (me included). I was riding along minding my own business when I hear, "Get off the road you asshole.". Just then a car passed me and in case I missed it, he repeated it. He drove on ahead but had to stop at a stop sign, where I caught up to him. I knocked on his window. "Do you want to step out of your car and call me an asshole?", I asked him. I am not an aggressive person but I felt empowered. Besides I could see he was a senior (meanior) citizen half my size and I figured I could probably kick his butt. He looked terrified quickly locked his door. Through the glass he started yelling at me about what was I doing riding down the middle of road (I wasn't). I gave his door a kick, not hard enough to dent it but hard enough to make an impact. He quickly turned left and sped away.

That is probably the worst episode I have been involved with. I have of course been yelled at many times, sometimes for riding across crosswalks or doing rolling stops which I know are wrong but hey it is only my life I am endangering. Many times the driver's rage has been existential. As I told my wife after a pick-up driver honked at her, "you have to remember his drive to work (in the city) in his big pick-up is probably the best part of the day in his pathetic life and you ruined it by forcing him to slow down."

This is not an isolated attitude. Our local tabloid paper actually printed a letter from someone declaring open season on cyclists who ride on the road.

One of the prominent members of the local riding community who my son knows, is much more aggressive. Any driver who misbehaves is chased down. While cars can drive faster than bikes, they too have to stop at lights and he can generally catch them although it may take several blocks. I can imagine the shock and surprise of the motorist on being accosted by an rather large angry cyclist. This is may be a little extreme.

Even pedestrians with whom we should feel solidarity are selfish when we have to co-exist on the shared trails. I have a bell on one of my bikes; I haven't gotten around to getting one for my other bike but I yell loudly, "on your left" as I approach them. Despite this I get a number of snarky looks and remarks as I pass; quite a few refuse to yield. One fellow on hearing our bell actually lurched across the trail in an attempt to block us. As we passed he yelled , "you know I have the right of way!". About 75% of walkers and runners now are listening to their I-Pod, you could have an airhorn and they wouldn't hear you. (MEC sells a bike air horn but my wife won't let me buy one). Dog walkers still haven't learned that if your dog hasn't figured out that it needs to stay out of the way of bikes or worse if it is aggressive toward bikes, there is a device called a leash which the dog should be wearing even though you might be in an off-leash area. Toddlers are a challenge too. Some people find it quite cute watching them zig-zag across the path. I used to too when I had toddlers. They make me very nervous when I am on my bike trying to get past them. Not that I advocate leashes.

This was a victory for those of us who have been bullied by malicious drivers. The driver in this case, an emergency physician had a habit of braking suddenly in front of cyclists. They had complained to the police in the past without avail but with this happened, charges were laid, the doctor was in true American Justice fashion perp-walked from the ER and eventually jailed.

1 comment:

Paul Turnbull said...

I'm not sure what I do different but I commute to work summer and winter by bike and have rarely had problems cars. I ride primarily on roads or multi-use paths. I rarely ride on sidewalks in the summer, however in the winter my sidewalk riding goes way up as I have to ride a lot slower. The winter 'brown sugar' on the roads is also difficult to ride in and tends to push the bike around a lot.

When I have had car issues it's generally been when I have been on sidewalks. The majority of bike/car accidents I hear about involve bicycles coming off sidewalks onto the road. Riding on the roads I've even almost been hit by cyclists on the sidewalk not slowing down at intersections.

Bike paths can help but can also cause problems. The closest call I've ever had was on a bike path. It was a contra-flow lane and I was pulling my two kids in a trailers. In the intersection ahead a mini-van was stopped on the cross street. Because the van was stopped and I had the right of way I kept going. I figure the driver of the van only looked left up the one-way street and not right down the contra-flow bike lane. My emergency stop jackknifed the bike and trailer and launched my over the handle bars. Everyone was all right but I was really ticked that the driver slowed down slightly when he say me and then took off as I lay on the pavement.

I think the biggest issue overall is one of attitude on both sides. I ride full on in traffic, taking the lane as long as I can maintain a good pace. I'll move over for cars out of courtesy but only if I feel it's safe. When waiting at intersections I move to the left so right-turning cars are to my right. I've never had a driver yell at me for this and many wave and smile when I do it.