Now Seattle is up in arms over a road rage incident involving bicyclists. And once again, it’s the cyclists who are being painted as the bad guys.
According to news initial reports, last Friday’s Critical Mass turned violent when a group of cyclists attacked a driver. As these reports put it, the frightened driver tried to back up, hit a couple of bikes, then got scared and tried to drive away. The bikers chased him down, slashed his tires, smashed his windows and hit him with a bike lock, sending the frightened driver to the hospital with a head injury.
Of course, once the initial hyperventilating news reports aired, a more nuanced picture began to take shape as the real reporters — as opposed to the pretty heads on TV — filed their stories, suggesting that there might actually be two sides to this event. According to these accounts, the driver became angry and/or scared, as the riders may or may not have threatened to tip his car with him and his passenger in it. Then he tried to drive off, dragging injured cyclists with him, until he was chased down by bikers who forced him to stop.
And unfortunately, turned violent in retaliation.
As usually happens these days, though, the full picture only took shape online, as the local bloggers began giving first, or at least second, person reports.
Ryan provides the riders’ perspective, describing how his first CM went painfully wrong, as the driver tried to escape his corkage by accelerating through the riders in front of him, running over one cyclist as another held on for dear life. Even with a cyclist clinging to the hood of his car, the driver gave no sign of stopping, so the riders chased him down and forced him to stop.
Then the police — and reporters — took the standard approach and blamed bikers first. Apparently, both had already decided the driver was the victim, and neither seemed to have any interest in the bikers’ side of the story.
Meanwhile, Jonah talks with the driver himself, painting a very different picture of a frightened — and sympathetic — man, who felt intimidated by all rampaging cyclists who surrounded his car, and by his account, threatened him. He responded by revving his engine in an attempt to get the riders to back off, not realizing his car was in gear. It lurched forward and inadvertently struck a couple of cyclists.
He says the other bikers responded by trying to hit him or clinging to his car, so he began to speed off, then stopped when he heard someone say a rider was hurt. When he got out of his car to apologize, the riders attacked him and his car.
So who’s right — or more to the point in this case, who’s wrong?
Intentionally or not, frightened or not, the driver struck and injured at least two riders in an ill-advised attempt to escape corking.
The police and press — as usual — leapt to the assumption that the cyclists were at fault, and weren’t about to let the facts get in the way.
And — ignoring any questions about the propriety and effectiveness of Critical Mass and corking tactics — the cyclists were wrong for retaliating against the driver, however justified they may have felt at the time. Once the driver struck the cyclists, they should have simply taken down his license or taken a picture (I keep my camera phone in reach when I ride for exactly that reason) and reported it to the police. Then it would have been a clear case of hit-and-run, the cyclists, rather than the driver, would be seen as the victims, and both the police and press might have been a little more sympathetic.
Instead, everyone loses. Especially the biking community.