What is it about being wrapped in 2,000 lbs of steel that makes some drivers feel entitled to harass cyclists on the road? It happened again to me on my commute home last evening. Some anonymous stranger presumed to reprimand me for riding a bicycle.
I was stopped at a red light, and had positioned myself so that I left enough room for drivers to make a right turn on the red, so I was not blocking anyone. A chubby, middle aged guy in a cream-colored Lexus sedan pulls alongside me on the right, and says, in an obnoxious, disgusted, hectoring tone, “YOU’RE A BIKE … GET OUT OF THE MIDDLE OF THE LANE!” Then sped off before I had a chance to give him a piece of my mind (the drivers who yell at me never seem to stick around for my choice response … I wonder why?). Shortly thereafter, the light turned green and I rode home, fuming the rest of the way.
Mind you, I was riding legally, and had moved to the center of the lane precisely so as to allow drivers like my ignorant interlocutor to make a right turn on red. I was obeying the law, riding with courtesy, wearing a helmet, had lights, etc. You know, doing everything you’re supposed to do to ride safe and legal. And yet, I was once again the victim of driver harassment.
Usually I laugh these clowns off, but there was something in this guy’s tone of voice that was so contemptuous, so full of bile, it really raised my hackles. My initial impulse was to punch the guy in the mouth, and, since this is not the first instance of harassment I’ve experienced, I completely understand why a cyclist might hurl a U-lock at a car in frustration and anger. Funny thing is, all three times I’ve been verbally harassed by drivers in the last 6 months have been cases of drivers basically telling me I shouldn’t be on the road (they’ve all occurred in various parts of Arcadia, which, as I’ve said before, has no bike infrastructure to speak of). These are just the cases of verbal harassment, not including the times drivers have honked at me for no good reason. In all three cases, I was riding legally or, as in the case of being stopped at the red light, occupying a safe, legal position in the roadway. None of which spared me from the impromptu “lectures” I was subjected to by drivers who thought they would—what—teach me a lesson? This doesn’t mean cyclists don’t sometimes violate traffic laws, but the thing is, I really do try to be conscientious on the road, and look where it gets me. You know, I get tired of hearing law enforcement officials prate on about “scofflaw” cyclists. What about motorists?
Bicycles already have a legal right to the road (see CVC 21202), but I’m more convinced than ever that bicyclists will never be respected until we get our own space on the roads (bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, cycle tracks, bike boxes, etc.) and laws that protect vulnerable road users. I’m also convinced that more vulnerable and traffic averse segments of our population (which is a very large proportion of the population) will not use bicycles for transportation due to the risk of injury and harassment on the public roadways that belong to all of us. I can’t say I blame them, I mean, who deserves to be verbally abused just for being on a bike? And, I’m a pretty good-sized adult white male, 6 feet tall and over 200 lbs. I can only imagine the threat of abuse is worse for women and people of color. Am I supposed to encourage my children (or anybody’s children) to ride a bike, because it’s economical, healthy, and good for the planet? And we as a society are missing out on the benefits that alternative transportation can bring. So we must also have PSAs on billboards, radio, and TV reminding people how to share the road with cyclists
We in the bicycle advocacy community are going to have to continue to organize and agitate for the rights of all cyclists, in the face of resistance from people who mistakenly assume the world owes them an open road for their luxury sedans, ’cause, y’ know, in the Lexus commercial there wasn’t all this traffic, and certainly no bicycles.
I’m also convinced that the automobile simply turns some people into complete jerks. Wrapped in a steel cocoon and capable of speeding away in a second, the car gives people the luxury to be uncivil. Reason number 2,678 that I’m really starting to hate cars (gasp! did I just attack one of the bastions of American freedom?). Maybe I should turn the tables on them. You know, just start shouting verbal abuse at law-abiding motorists: ”Hey JERK, get that car off the road, you’re creating more congestion!” ”You’re gonna KILL SOMEBODY with that thing, you DAMN FOOL!” “What kind of LAZY MORON goes to work in a CAR?!?” ”Buy a BIKE, for God’s sake, that car’s making you FAT!” Or how about one that would apply to just about any driver: “Get that piece of shit off the road, A**HOLE, it’s destroying the planet!”
So, drivers, next time you feel that little urge to offer your “friendly advice” to a cyclist … don’t. Just take a deep breath and keep your mouth shut. I’ll try to do the same while I tolerate the presence of your polluting metal box on my roads.