Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Dangerous Drivers, Dangerous Roads

Approximate spot where driver cut me off

Approximate spot where driver cut me off

This morning I was on my way back from my ride to my daughter’s school, about to stop off at the local Trader Joe’s to pick up some groceries.  I was on a four-lane stretch of road that is clearly marked as a “Bike Route” (see photo).  I took control of the right-hand lane as state law allows, because the shoulder was intermittently occupied by parked cars and trash bins and the lane was not wide enough for a car to safely pass (In compliance with CVC 21202, sec a3-4).  It was daylight on a sunny day and I had my rear flasher on for safety.  Visibility was not a problem.
As I approached the intersection, I could see a white mini-van gaining on me in my rear view mirror. At the last minute he passed dangerously close to me and then swerved back into my lane, cutting me off with about a foot to spare (violating CVC 21760).  It was a straight intimidation move, designed to send a message that I don’t belong on his roads.  His life-threatening driving got him to a red light at the intersection literally 2-3 seconds earlier than he otherwise would have.  He was a white male about 65-70 years of age with his wife in the passenger seat next to him.  When I got to the intersection, I pulled up to the passenger side of his car and matter-of-factly said that he needed to give me three feet (I may have been talking loudly, because his window was initially closed, but I was not being hostile, despite the fact that he had nearly killed me and my adrenaline–not to mention my anger–were running high). As I explained the law, he rolled down the window and told me that I was “in the middle of the street,” and that I have to “get over to the side of the road.”  I tried to explain that there were parked cars and trash cans that prevented me from doing so, and he growled “fuck you, asshole” and then immediately sped off when the light turned green.  His intimidation tactic won’t keep me off my bike, but drivers like him are an effective deterrent to many more people riding their bikes for everyday transportation.  Until we protect bicyclists from motorists like him, we won’t see significant changes in mode share.
It’s sobering to think there are motorists, licensed to drive by the state, who don’t know the law and would kill you to save themselves the trouble of easing their foot off the gas for a few seconds.  When I got to Trader Joe’s, my legs were wobbly from the realization of how close I had come to serious injury or death because of someone’s reckless, ignorant, entitled operation of a motor vehicle—a potentially deadly weapon.  Moreover, I’ve had another close call in the bike lane less than half a block from that spot.  The streets in that part of Pasadena are dangerous for cyclists because of high traffic speeds and a lack of good bike infrastructure.  The City of Pasadena needs to make it safer for bikes, but I’m sure DOT staff get tired of hearing me complain.
Will they wait until I, or someone else, get killed before acting?

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6 thoughts on “Dangerous Drivers, Dangerous Roads

  1. Pingback: Today’s Headlines – Streetsblog Los Angeles

  2. Zesty Italian on said:

    Props for continuing the fight! I’m pretty much ready for a change of scenery. Not sure where, but tell u truth, I haven’t really seen that big of change here in LA County. Even though I’ve been riding here for over 25 yrs. Want to see big change? Rally for high gas prices!

    Btw, riding w a flashing rear light is a really good move if u ask me. Pretty much how I always ride.

    Be safe!

    • Thanks. Yeah, I agree that the changes are coming waaay too slow in LA Co. I’m modestly optimistic that Measure M money might provide some funding for these things, but we’ll see.

  3. Pingback: Conductores negligentes con los ciclistas | El Pasajero

  4. If it were me (and if has been) I think I’d just ask for “more space, next time, OK? ” in an attempt to start a dialogue and get him, or his companion, to think it though. This used to be worse, but now there is a 3 foot law, and most cars have seen a bike on two on the road. Maybe not taking a lane of their favorite shortcut though!

    Also, I typically (and your milage may vary) ride about 1/3 of the way from the Right Hand side of the lane, when I take control. This allows cars to be a little late on the pass, as it sometimes takes them awhile to process that they need to pass a bike. Position of the bike is everything in this communication process.

    PS. It almost goes without saying: Never get in front of the car of an angry driver you just spoke to. Just let them go on.

    • Good suggestions. As an LCI, I am aware of proper lane positioning, and I am not an assertive or aggressive vehicular cyclist. I was, in fact, riding about 1/3 from the right hand side of the lane, which in his mind was “the middle” of “his” lane. As you can see from the photograph, the shoulder disappears entirely as the road approaches the intersection. What he wanted was for me to ride in the gutter. He had plenty of room to pass safely and he had plenty of time to get over, as the left-hand lane was empty. I’m always open to dialogue with motorists, I attempted to start a dialogue with him, and I was in no way rude. Nor did I “get in front of the car” or impede him when the light turned green. This was a “punishment pass,” pure and simple. I am normally very forgiving of motorists’ foibles and see myself as a friendly ambassador for cycling. It mattered not how sweetly I spoke to him or the precise wording of my admonition. In his mind I had no right to be there in the first place because I was on a bike, and he was annoyed that I had the temerity to speak to him at all rather than skulk off to the gutter where he thinks “assholes” like me belong. I will assert my right to live, my right not to be gravely injured by his recklessness and vehicular aggression, and my right to ride my bike legally.

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