Life beyond the automobile in Southern California


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.


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12 thoughts on “Harassment

  1. Pingback: LAPD doors a cyclist, CD11 candidates talk bikes and raft load of soggy bike links for a rainy few days « BikingInLA

  2. My wife keeps reminding me, “Half the people in the world are below average in intelligence and yelling at them doesn’t make them any smarter.” Stay safe.

    • Jim–so true. In hindsight, it was probably best that I didn’t yell back. Best part is, the following evening my commute home was uneventful and quite pleasant. It set things right. Appreciate the support. John.

  3. Good job keeping your cool and not escalating the situation, at least. My favorite is when I leave room on the right for cars to make a right turn on red and then someone proceeds to stop there, then tries to pass me on the right in the middle of the intersection once the light goes green. Sometimes if the situation gets hairy I speed up to block them off, and force them to pass safely on the left, but usually I just sigh and let it happen.

    I’m almost religious about protecting my safety while biking and in 10 years of daily riding have never been in a crash, but nonetheless I still get the occasional driver who sidles up next to me (sometimes while still moving) to try to scold me about something which is of course 100% not illegal (even police officers do this). I want to tell them that their distracting me from the road is more dangerous than whatever they think I am doing wrong, but nobody has ever changed their mind because of a random stranger in traffic.

    I case anyone is wondering, taking the whole lane at any red light is completely legal because the CVC allows cyclists to move away from the right side of the road whenever (among other exceptions) any right turn is allowed (like a cross street, driveway, etc) or when moving the speed of traffic (0 mph at a stop light).

    Besides better biking facilities that put people in conflict less often, the best we can do is to advocate for more bike safety education in elementary and middle school, before kids get a drivers license, and then better training on how to drive around cyclists for adults. Also, the more people we can get on bikes, even as occasional riders, the more empathy and understanding there will be for the rights of cyclists and what constitutes safe behavior.

    • Prinzrob–thanks for your encouragement and thoughtful comment. I completely agree that better bicycling education in schools (or perhaps I should say bicycling education, period, since it is virtually nonexistent now); drivers’ ed that incorporates sharing the road with cyclists; and reinforcement by the DMV is necessary.

  4. One of the few times I’ve had a driver yell at me out here was a similar situation to yours – I lined up behind three cars waiting in the “go straight” lane just so I wouldn’t block off a pretty narrow right-turn lane. A guy coming up to turn right yelled at me to get out of the road and all I could think was that this guy was yelling at me after I positioned myself precisely to avoid blocking people who could still continue on while the light was red, all while patiently waiting behind the other cars that couldn’t but had made it to the light before me.

    Just had to think that this was one time out of the numerous times I’ve done the same thing commuting every day. That guy was an idiot, and the world will always have at least a couple of them. I eventually just grew to be thankful that he didn’t hit me, and be happy with that.

    • Brian–good point. Sounds like your situation was very similar to mine. Believe me, I’m happy the idiot didn’t hit me. I guess I still marvel at the irrationality, not to mention the meanness, of the harassment.

  5. Eric Weinstein on said:

    Never reply if they are, or can get, behind you. That’s where they decide to “teach you” by hitting you with their car. Never.

    I’ve have these discussions at stop lights…actually I’ve had interesting discussions at stop lights about all kinds of things. the idea is to get the car drivers thinking outside the car.

    And I reprimand people texting. So many texters , so few stoplights.

    • Eric–Good advice. Unfortunately, this guy sped off before we could have a “discussion.” Probably a good thing, too, since his tone of voice really peeved me. On texting, I’ve also started to make a “hang up” sign with my hand when I see people on the phone or texting. Also when I ride the bus I can see into people’s cars and I’m shocked at how many people are texting with their phones in their laps while driving.

  6. I’m so glad I found your blog. I’ve started telling people that, increasingly, I’ve been riding the bus and using my kick scooter more often than biking not because I fear riding in mixed traffic. It’s because it takes me *so long* for me to calm down after being harassed by a motorist.

    • Sirinya, thanks for sharing that. Yes, I completely understand. I’m trying to develop a thicker skin, because I really have no alternative. But we shouldn’t have to endure harassment, period.

  7. There’s no gain, only risk, in “discussion”, but I’m also 6′, also 200+, and I ride a 65lb bike (and it’s a cargo bike, and who knows what I’m carrying back there). You have to wonder what is going through people’s heads when they set out to harass an objectively-fit larger-than-average stranger.

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