Is the problem belligerent bikers or ignorant drivers? Or both?

From her perspective, it sounds reasonable.

As a driver — the writer’s husband — waits to make a right turn, a cyclist rides up and complains about not having enough room. When the driver reminds the rider that bikes have to stop for red lights too, he goes ballistic.

You have to understand, my husband is a rule-follower to a T.  As a coach for many of our children’s sports teams, he’s all about fairness, manuals or rule books and takes things to the letter of the law. Calmly (as our children explained later), Daddy calmly said through the open passenger window, “You have a red light, too, buddy.”

And with that the guy stood up on the pedals of his fancy bike, and in fit of fury went from zero to 60 in a millisecond screaming at my husband, “F*** you, you a**hole.”

That, she suggests, is just how those “fancy bikers” in their “florescent, skin-tight spandex clothes” are — a bunch of belligerent, out-of-control scofflaws who don’t belong on the roads to begin with.

And that’s exactly how many motorists see us.

But looking at it from a more objective perspective, there seems to be another side to the story. Maybe the rider did blow up for no valid reason. More likely, though, the writer’s rule-following husband may have cut the cyclist off in some way, intentionally or otherwise.

Maybe he pulled around the rider and cut across his path to make that right. Or maybe, like so many other self-appointed roadway vigilantes, he tried to enforce his own interpretation of traffic law, deliberately edging over to cut off the rider’s right-of-way.

We’ll never know.

But odds are, there was a reason for the cyclist’s anger, just as there is when other drivers relate stories of cyclists yelling, swearing, spitting, flipping the bird or otherwise displaying seemingly irrational anger for no apparent reason.

There’s always a reason.

Human beings seldom randomly go off on other people for no reason. At least, not the sane ones. And the other kind usually can’t afford a high-end racing bike.

Anger like that usually springs from a fight or flight reaction when a person feels threatened in some way. Like when a multi-ton vehicle cuts off a bicyclist, operated by a driver who may lack sufficient knowledge of the rights of cyclists and how to share to road to know what he did wrong.

Sometimes we can catch up to them at the next light and calmly explain their transgression. And sometimes, the drivers actually listen; more often, the response is a finger or “f*** you” as they speed away.

But more often, that fight or flight response kicks in, and whatever response you might have is not one you’d want to share in public or admit to later. And the driver is likely to respond in kind — sometimes violently.

Lord knows my finger has sometimes flown before I had sufficient self-control to stop it.

That’s not to say that cyclists aren’t sometimes the ones at fault. We’ve all seen riders blow through red lights or stop signs, oblivious to who has the right of way, or dangerously cut across traffic without signaling.

Not that you or I would ever do something like that, of course.

And let’s face it.

There are some real jerks on two wheels, just like there are on four or more. Sometimes, they’re even the same people, as drivers often carry the same dangerous, aggressive attitudes and road tactics with them when they switch to two wheels.

Going back to the writer’s story, though, her bias quickly comes through as she continues her tale.

I am so annoyed with these fancy biker dudes and have swerved around them too many times than I care to count. It’s not our responsibility as vehicle drivers to protect bikers on the road. And they take way too many risks in my book to the point of taunting a driver to get out of their way. When there’s a pack of 30, we are forced to patiently wait to cross intersections or change lanes, and no one can drive on the road….

Why do they insist on exercising in the middle of a public road? When I exercise, I go to the gym or my husband plays tennis on a court, not in the middle of a street expecting everyone to give room and steer clear. It is affected narcissism.

Actually, it’s not narcissism, it’s the law. Cyclists have every right to ride in the road, and drivers are responsible for protecting the safety of cyclists, as well as everyone else they encounter on the streets. Just as we’re responsible for riding our bikes in a safe and legal manner.

It’s the obligation of every driver to learn the law — not just selectively edit the parts that seem to support their position — and give cyclists the space on the road that both the law and common decency dictate. And even if they think a cyclist is breaking the law, it is not a driver’s role to enforce it.

She concludes by relating the story of a friend — a “respectful bicyclist” as she puts it — who was seriously injured in a collision.

But instead of calling for motorists to drive safely and share the road, she blames the victim, urging that cyclists be banned from major roadways.

We all need to do our best to control our tempers, as difficult as that may be under the circumstances. And treat other road users with the same courtesy and respect that we have every right to expect.

But when we’re confronted with anger, we both — drivers and cyclists alike — need to ask ourselves if the response was irrational.

Or if there’s something we might have done to provoke it.

And maybe, just maybe, if we’re the ones who were wrong.

………

Tuesday marks Colorado’s primary election day, when the voters will decide whether the conspiratorial-minded UN-fearing tinfoil-hat-wearing gubernatorial candidate will get the Nutcase Republican nomination for governor.

It could make for an interesting race — one candidate who clearly supports cycling and one who’s evidently fallen off his mountain bike one time too many.

………

Photos from Sunday’s Brentwood Grand Prix, won by L.A.’s Rahsaan Bahati. Gary waxes poetic about getting honked at, briefly. The BAC gets a little more feminine. Defending champion Lance Armstrong pulls out of this weekend’s Leadville 100 mountain bike race. Clearly, not everyone likes sharrows. Not everyone likes bikes, either, as a NYC vigilante glues the locks of parked bikes. New York could get a vulnerable user law by the end of the week. An NYC museum looks at bikes as art. Fighting the myth that bike paths bring crime; should be assigned reading for the NIMBYs fighting the Expo bike path through Cheviot Hills. Biking all the way to the bank. The country’s first non-San Diego Gran Fondo rolls through Philadelphia. Houdini: great magician, not so great bike racer. Create a bike helmet design that screams sustainability and win 2,000 Euros from Fiat. Great Britian’s AA — no, not that one — warns about iPod oblivion. How to win your next sprint. Pedal your way through your mid-life crisis.

Finally, a new video from the Marin County Bicycle Coalition and Marin Cyclists Road Club instructs riders to ride to the right; is it just me, or does it seem a little heavy on the “don’t risk offending the hulking, smoke-belching motorized behemoths” attitude?

20 comments

  1. Richard Masoner says:

    It’s possible the driver cut the cyclist off and didn’t see him until the cyclist knocked on his window. Which means when I yell at a motorist who violated my right of way, he or she probably just sees me as a random crazy screaming psychopath on a bike.

    Or maybe that cyclist was just a belligerent jerk. I’ve seen it happen.

  2. “It’s not our responsibility as vehicle drivers to protect bikers on the road.”

    It’s her responsibility to obey ALL the laws of the road, which include safely passing slower moving vehicles, which includes bikes. It also includes not passing in such a manner that affects the operation of the overtaken vehicle–which means if I have to swerve or slam on my brakes when you’re attempting to pass me, then you are attempting an unsafe pass and breaking the law.

    We all know that there are bad drivers and bad cyclists. The only time I make any kind of gesture to a driver is when they do something unsafe near me that usually results in imminent danger to me. If lots of cyclists are behaving in a belligerent manner to her and her husband, then maybe they need to re-examine how they drive. I’m guessing it’s not just cyclists that are getting pissed off at them.

  3. Digital Dame says:

    It is (sadly) entirely possible this cyclist came unglued for little reason. My cycling mentor here at work once observed another rider do something reckless (I think he blew through a red light), so he chased him down (on his bicycle) and tried to talk to the guy about not running red lights. The guy went off on him with a long stream of obscenities. Now, maybe it wasn’t Mentor’s place to chastise this guy, but he tries to set a good example as a very dedicated cyclist, and it irks him when others do not obey the laws, even for their own safety.

    However, as you said, we’ll never know. With three sides to every story, no doubt the writer is portraying the actions of her husband in the best possible light, regardless of what really happened.

  4. Brent says:

    As an aside, I did read recently that cyclists aren’t supposed to filter up to the light when a line of cars is waiting. Instead, they’re supposed to wait their turn in line and suck up fumes. If the cyclist here was “filtering,” and complaining about the lack of space he had, he may have been in the legal wrong.

  5. Eric B says:

    If the cyclist was filtering up to the right of the right turn lane, then he’d be doubly wrong. However, having had more than my share of close calls on a right hook, I’d have to say it’s more likely that the driver didn’t merge right as carefully as he should have.

    Brent, my understanding is that it’s not against the law to filter up, just like lane splitting is legal for motorcycles. However, legal and safe are frequently not one and the same. If a turn indicator is on, you’d have to be an idiot to put yourself next to that car.

  6. Peter Smith says:

    0 to 60 in a millisecond. wow. maybe it actually _was_ Lance?

  7. Haha, that’s funny, I don’t often filter up in the lane. Sometimes I ride with people who do so, and they pull right in front of the vehicles. I don’t like it because if I was driving, I could see it being a completely irritating thing. You’re waiting at the stop light and a cyclist pulls directly in front of you, then you have to wait until it’s safe again to go around? I always wait in line, unless the lane is clearly wide enough for me to safely pull up next to the vehicle or if their left turn signal is on.

  8. Richard Blanton says:

    I never ride straight out of a right turn lane. In a situation where the lane is as narrow as this one appears to be. I take the lane that is going in my direction. Painted line bike lanes encourage many bicyclists to have bad intersection habits. Many of the bicyclists I see place themselves at intersections where it is easy for the motorist to miss seeing them. And of course they do not signal or even point so the motorist can see what they intend to do. I have been on the receiving end of motorists mistakes and seen bicyclists cause there own misery also. We need better education and enforcement which I do not see happening.

    • Eric B says:

      And intersection design! My candidate for stupidest bike lane engineering is heading west on Venice at Lincoln, where the bike lane kind of dashes off into the gutter before miraculously reappearing to the left of the right turn lane. If you were to actually follow the markings, you’d end up in the gutter right of a right-turning stream of cars. It’s the perfect spot for some green-painted bike markings.

      I went to look for a street view of it and apparently it’s changed since the picture was taken. The old way was (marginally) better! And I thought we were making progress…

  9. bikinginla says:

    Eric is right. Filtering up to the light is perfectly legal here in California, as long as there is room to do it safely; though like anything else, enforcement depends on how well the local law enforcement understands the law. Personally, I do it almost every time, and strongly recommend it to ensure that you are seen by every driver at the intersection.

    You may think you’re being polite by waiting in line, but consider the fact that you are at least partially, if not completely, hidden from view from any cars coming from the opposite direction, which greatly increases your risk of a left cross. Depending on how far back you are, you may also be hidden from any cars on the cross street. And drivers coming up from behind may not be looking for you there, which means you could end up in an automotive trash compactor.

    You do have to watch out for cars that may be moving right, and stay to the left of the right turn lane. But once you get to the front of the intersection, you are clearly visible to every driver that could pose a risk to you if they hadn’t seen you. My experience is that I’ve had a lot more close calls on the few occasions I’ve waited in the line of traffic than in the many times I’ve filtered to the front — and never had an issue with an angry driver as a result.

    I wrote about it in more detail last year.

  10. Richard Blanton says:

    I am sometimes the first or next person stopped at the light. I have had two instances In two years where an aggressive driver cut across my front from the left most straight through lane to make a right turn. Once was a bus in Moreno Valley. I forced him to stop by getting to the front of the bus before he could run me down. And more recently near Highland riding behind a care until I cleared the freeway ramp that goes on the 210. As the car in front turned going onto the freeway an angry white female attempted to right hook me from the left straight through lane. There was absolutely no traffic behind me either. The angry white female lives in the same complex as I do. I smile at her when I see her.

    • bikinginla says:

      I deal with that by stopping in front of the front right fender of the lead car, blocking them from being able to turn right. If I see a turn signal, I move my bike to the left so they can make their turn, but still block any following cars from doing anything stupid. Then once the light changes, I pull to the right through the intersection, allowing the lead drivers to pass before I retake my lane position. That way, everyone’s happy — and everyone is safe.

  11. UrbanReason says:

    Ted, I love your blog – and I’m certainly not trying to rebel rouse here, but I feel like I kind of have to call this post out.

    As someone who takes street design, cycling-as-transportation, and most other urban issues pretty seriously (if not sometimes a little personally), I’m getting tired of cyclists giving other cyclists a free pass. Now I completely agree that the rest of this woman’s post was entirely insulting to cyclists, but her personal ignorance or bias aside, she was probably right.

    You ride in LA, I ride in LA – what we see can’t be THAT different. And every day, EVERY SIGNLE DAY, I see at least one cyclist (usually more) violating traffic law or doing something stupid. Every morning on my ride to work (and it’s not a long ride) I observe countless cyclists run stop signs with out slowing down, cross intersections on red lights, skip from the lane to the cross walk to avoid a red light, weave carelessly in and out of traffic, ride their bike for a good two blocks in the wrong direction (if they ever change lanes), and just behave unpredictably. On more than one occasion, I’ve sat at the lead of a red light, had other cyclists ride up along-side me, and though I felt certain my example would show them the law, I still watch them cross an intersection on a red light.

    Yeah, I’ve been cut off and passed to closely – but based on the sheer volume of cyclists I watch break the law every day, I’m not putting my money on this “by the rules” husband cutting the cyclist off. I’m going to bet the cyclist was just pissed that the guy was in-front of him and felt he was violated in some way by not having enough room to turn.

    So like I said, I’m tired of cyclists giving other cyclists a free pass. I feel like it’s our responsibility to hold each other accountable. When we make excuses and list the countless hypothetical reasons why a cyclist might have been provoked to unload on a guy, it doesn’t do us any good. I’m tired of being perceived as a lawless rebel. And when some cyclists ride around with a sense of entitlement and yet don’t take the time to educate themselves on their rights and responsibilities and behave properly in traffic, it just makes us all look bad.

    I really respect your work and your blog, so please don’t take my post as an insult. I truly believe that the vast majority of law breaking I see from fellow cyclists is the result of lack-of-education and not intent. But I feel like we have to start holding each other accountable and not making excuses for why people get pissed when others expect them to play by the rules.

    • bikinginla says:

      No offense taken. I wish more people would feel free to disagree with what I write; I can learn a lot more from people who disagree with me than I can from those who don’t.

      You may be right. As I wrote, we’ll never know what really happened that day; it’s entirely possible that the cyclist was entirely in the wrong and went off for no reason. But looking from a rider’s perspective, it just seems like there’s more to the story than what she wrote.

      I’ve talked to a number of drivers over the years who described a similar even and couldn’t understand why a cyclist was angry, but after talking with them, realized that they’d cut him off or passed too close.

      But you’re right, a lot of cyclists ride in dangerous and illegal ways. I’ve tried to call some of them out in the past, but looking back, it has been awhile since I’ve taken our fellow riders to task. Bottom line is, we’re all required to observe the same laws drivers are, and we have just as much obligation to use the road safely — and even more motivation, since it’s our lives at stake.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • urbanreason says:

        Hey, thanks for not taking it personally!

        And I do agree that there’s often more to the story, perhaps even in this situation. It was just that taking her description of the events at face-value, (and discarding the absurd opinion at the end about cyclists riding in the gutter and all of that selfish, entitled motorist BS :) ) it really does seem the cyclist in this situation was motivated by an (legally) unjustified sense of entitlement.

        Reading a bit further into her article, it’s certainly understandable to come to the cyclists defense based on the insulting nature of her comments.

        Anyway, again, love your work. Keep it up.

    • Eric B says:

      I agree wholeheartedly about setting a good example, but I won’t go so far as to take responsibility for the actions of another cyclist, just like I don’t expect other drivers to take responsibility for the jerks among them. Ted’s point was dead on: it’s not that the cyclist was innocent–we can’t know that–it’s that there’s probably more to the story.

      I will disagree with the idea that if cyclists would just follow all the damn rules that we’ll suddenly get more respect. In every case I’ve encountered a dangerous situation, I was riding safely and legally. I’ve been nearly hit by drivers running red lights, stop signs, speeding, passing unsafely–you name it. Cyclists are not innocent, but they don’t go around riding death machines.

      Finally, I have to make a plug for infrastructure as the solution. To be a cyclist in our current setup requires a certain degree of risk-seeking personality. Our infrastructure makes cycling abnormal, if not counter-cultural. Every place that has normalized cycling (i.e. gotten normal people to ride bikes) sees an increase in law-abiding cycling. In other words, take the risk out of cycling (through good design) and cyclists will no longer be risk-takers.

      • urbanreason says:

        Hey Eric,

        It’s not the passing speculation that there may be more to the story that bothers me. It’s that all too often I feel we rush to the defense of the cyclist – even if that means elaborate hypothesis and speculation in an attempt to discredit the source and justify the cyclist.

        I don’t know if you read her blog entry or not, but she gives a pretty clear description of the events:

        “As Tom approached the corner of Piquets Lane and Woodbury Road, coming to a dead stop, he waited to turn right at Meyer’s Farm when a fancy biker on a titanium bike knocked on the side of our Volvo sedan and yelled through the open windows.

        “Hey, you didn’t leave me enough room here.” ”

        He didn’t shout “Hey you cut me off”. In her story he was pretty clear. “You didn’t leave me enough room”. As if that’s his right. It’s NOT his right to have room left in the road for him, just as it’s not the RIGHT of a motorcyclist to have enough room to split a lane.

        So, why is it our objective to try to bring doubt to her story and suggest that she was somehow in the wrong, lying, or oblivious to the full extent of the situation?

        The moral of the story, assuming she was being entirely truthful, shouldn’t be that maybe she was wrong. The moral should be that we have to obey the same rules of the road as everyone else. If we come to a red light and there’s not enough room for us to pass traffic and make a right – we have to wait.

        And also – geez, I’m going to sound argumentative, sorry about that – I have to disagree with your disagreement about the cyclists obeying the rules/respect issue. A good percentage of the complaints I hear about cyclists are augmented by examples of rampant law breaking. But I see it all the time myself, and I’m not a fan of the “well motorists break laws all the time” apologists. If the most a motorist has to complain about is us slowing them down from 30 to 25, I can live with that. Is it too much to ask that I not be in the minority when it comes to observing the law? Because when we’re in the minority, we become lawbreakers by association.

        Lastly – I completely agree with your comment about infrastructure. While I don’t consider myself much of a “risk-taking” personality, I take the risk because my feeling that it’s important on a variety of levels outweighs my fear of danger in that situation. I love the last line, “In other words, take the risk out of cycling (through good design) and cyclists will no longer be risk-takers.”

        I see you commenting on a lot of the blogs I read, good to chat!

        • Brent says:

          We can’t give cyclists a free pass for lawbreaking. But I do think non-cycling motorists have little appreciation for the problems cyclists face. The article’s author, after going through a parade of “indignities” wreaked on motorists, concludes that cycling should be banned from some roads. Banned? She might have called for better infrastructure, or education, or a host of other solutions. Banning is all too often the response to these issues, and it hardly furthers dialog. Cyclists become defensive because the proposed solution is unworkable.

    • John says:

      they are far more idiots in cars breaking the law as there are more motorist then cyclist. Should we run them down in our cars and do the same?

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