When I started this blog (almost 6 years ago!), I thought I would be recounting a lot more tales like the one I’m about to share, stories in the “brave cyclist vs. rude, ignorant motorist” genre . Fortunately, that has not been the case, but every now and then . . . .
Saturday morning found me riding in two central St. Louis neighborhoods, Southwest Gardens and The Hill. After a quick stop at the library, I headed to The Hill to pick up a couple of items at DiGregorio’s Market (really hope I can get them to add some bike parking!).
The scene: The Hill is a dense, urban neighborhood, mostly single family residential along one-way east-west streets, and small businesses along Marconi Ave. When traveling north on Marconi, as I was on my way to the store, there is a significant downhill for the first few blocks.
Marconi is narrow two-way traffic (i.e., barely enough room for two small cars to pass one another when cars are parked on both sides), with street parking on both sides of the street, no center stripe, 25 (or 20?) MPH speed limit, short blocks, and all-way stops at every. single. intersection. So, despite the downhill, this is not exactly the type of street you zoom down, whether in a car or on a bike.
A couple of blocks after turning onto Marconi (and only a few more short blocks to my destination), I picked up on a motorist behind me, giving off an impatient vibe. With the parking lane pretty solidly full, there was no place for an obvious release, not to mention that, with the downhill, I was already traveling pretty close to the speed of traffic.
Even with no oncoming traffic, the effective width of the street (what was left after accounting for the parked cars on both sides, plus five feet between me and the cars parked to my right), there was really not room for the motorist to pass me on my bicycle.
But pass me he did. And then I saw this (picture taken after we had both pulled over) . . .
. . . not just a rude pass, a rude pass by a “fellow” cyclist. Whomp, whomp, whomp.
As I expected, given the road and traffic conditions, I followed him more or less at his exact same speed for two-and-a-half short blocks, until he arrived at his destination. As he put on his blinker to park, I pulled up next to his window, and po.lite.ly asked him if he was aware how close he had passed me. (I had rather been expecting a young whippersnapper, but the face looking back at me was a man in his 60s.)
He helpfully informed me that he “didn’t pass as close as I thought he did” (I am the one who judges that, not you, sir.), and “if [I] had been riding by the side of the road, where [I] was supposed to be,” I would have had more space.
I responded that the side of the road was the [mostly-full] parking lane, not a travel lane.
He went on with his parallel parking (with a bit of performance anxiety). I took a deep breath, pulled my bike up onto the sidewalk (my destination was just a half-block away), and reached into my purse for a CyclingSavvy card.
When he joined me on the sidewalk, I noticed his “Bike Vermont” hat, and asked if he was from this area, or just visiting. He replied that he was from St. Louis. I handed him the card and suggested he check out our courses.
He replied that he knows about “people like me,” and the “claim your lane” idea. He went on to inform me that he knows better, having written “13 books on cycling,” and that it was “cyclists like me, taking up the ‘whole’ road, that make motorists upset.”
At this point, I’m not sure anything I could have said would have made a difference, but I didn’t get a chance to find out, as he rather rudely excused himself to “go get a sandwich.” He was clearly in a rush to get that sandwich — good thing he arrived at his destination a whole ONE second ahead of me! (See Reality of Delay.)
I walked my bike to my destination down the block, shaking my head. I usually don’t engage motorists in situations like this, partly because I often don’t quite catch up to them, but as much because it’s often an exercise in futility and a way to cast an unpleasant shadow on a nice outing. But sometimes doing nothing is hard, and you never know until you try, right?
This was one of those frustrating, futile encounters. He was so sure he was right and I was wrong. Never mind that he was THE only motorist, in over an hour on streets big and small that morning, to object to my cycling. Never mind that he has probably never been on his bike and had a motorist go out of her way to thank him for the way he was riding. Never mind that we arrived at his destination at the EXACT same time!
I realized later, as I was biking home, that I could hardly expect this man to respect my space on the road, when his “right way” to cycle involves not respecting his OWN space on the road. Sad, but true.
Well, my experience is that most drivers are exactly like him. They have NO IDEA that taking the lane is a legitimate thing to do. A while back I was driving somewhere with a friend when we came upon a cyclist riding along the side of the road. Long story short, she started regaling me with a tale of how she’d been driving along that road once and 2 cyclists were riding “in the middle of the LANE!” And they made “NO EFFORT” to get to the side of the street! She was livid! I had to explain that what they were doing was both legal and safer than “scooting over” on a road with no shoulder. But here’s the thing, how can I blame her for not knowing that when a few years ago, before I started riding more seriously, I didn’t even know. In fact, I was taught as a child that the proper place to ride is at the side of the street going the OPPOSITE direction as the cars (so you can see oncoming traffic).
It seems to me that there needs to be some sort of public education campaign both for the cyclists AND the drivers. I mean it’s all good and well for cyclists to follow the rules of the road, but if the drivers don’t know them, what good does it do? At this point my modus operandi is to always act like the car has the right of way, since it’s capable of killing me.
Denver’s had such a huge number of bike vs. car accidents & fatalities recently – literally, there’s one on the news virtually every day, and the sad part is that the only time it makes the news is when it’s a “hit & run” so only a small fraction of the accidents are covered. Get this, Denver had over 12,000 hit and runs last year alone!! I dunno… there have been 4 pedestrian or bike vs. car fatalities within about a mile radius from my house in the past 2 months alone! And those are just the ones that have made the news! I have to admit, it has me a tad bit spooked.
Sorry… the rant is fresh in my mind because CatMan and I ended up on a busy street last week in the middle of rush hour, and I got a flat right at an intersection where there was a bike fatality last year, and the whole experience just scared the pants off of me! I hate cars… grumble, grumble, grumble…
“It seems to me that there needs to be some sort of public education campaign both for the cyclists AND the drivers. I mean it’s all good and well for cyclists to follow the rules of the road, but if the drivers don’t know them, what good does it do? At this point my modus operandi is to always act like the car has the right of way, since it’s capable of killing me.”
This, and it’s so frustrating, but so true. Whenever you are the smaller and squishier one, the only meaningful option is to remember just how squishy you are (and try to be more empathetic and careful when it’s your turn to be the less-squishy entity).
Melissa, I agree. There’s something extra-frustrating about having that experience with a “fellow” cyclist. The psychological impact of “windshield perspective” is amazing.
Yes, I remember once having some disrespect from someone with two bicycles on the back of their truck. In my case, it was a somewhat older couple, probably coming back from a nice ride on a path somewhere, and not an “author” of “bicycle books”.
Worse than that was an encounter I had just a few weeks ago (can’t find the link where I posted it to FB now) with another guy riding his bike to work! He was edge riding on a 4-lane road with no shoulder, I passed him in the center of the right lane. I said hi, he said nothing, and a few blocks later, when I had pulled off to go to a store and he passed again, he said “stupid” loud enough for me to hear. (Passive/aggressive much?) Of course I had to get back on the bike and catch up with him, and we wheeled around the parking lot he had pulled into for a minute or so, “debating”, him insisting bikes had to stay to the side and I was stupid for being in the middle of the lane. Needless to say, we didn’t come to any agreement.
After I had gone back to the grocery store, I was passing the parking lot where we had been talking, and followed a hunch around to the back of the restaurant there. Sure enough, there was his bike, parked. So I left one of my CyclingSavvy cards on it. (And hoped he wasn’t a psychopath.) Haven’t heard anything from him yet.
I had a very similar encounter in the exact same place a few years ago. May well have been the same guy, I don’t remember now. He was NOT a recreational cyclist in lycra, but the plainclothes blue collar type, possibly riding because he had to, for whatever reason. He certainly had a chip on his shoulder towards me.
Crabs in a pot.
It may seem strange but I have very few negative encounters with motorists, and the handful I’ve had that escalated to a roadside conversation have ALL involved entrenched edge riders. I actually wrote a whole post about it, compiling my experiences with others that had been related to me by friends. I never published it, maybe I will some day. It’s a classic case of how control mythologies are enforced most by members of the group they are intended to control.
Here is one post that I did publish about a guy who was so incenses that I was “making motorists hate all cyclists” that he wrote an email to Mighk. Mighk happened to know it was me he had seen and forwarded the sad and ridiculous email to me.
It’s important not to talk ourselves into the maniacal motorist mentality (“all motorists hate all bicycles”). I had a long conversation with a state trooper at one of our LEO seminars about a year ago. His unscientific, anecdotal inference was “You know, it’s really about 1% on either end of the scale; 1% who hate cyclists, and probably everybody, and 1% who will do anything for you – to the point you can’t follow the rules of the road around them”. Good perspective.
Driving angry is driving impaired. Get back on task as soon as you can, or get off the bike for a minute if you can’t.
This sounds like a guy in my area. I consider him knowledgeable in all matters cycling, but when it comes to dealing with traffic, the mantra is that any delay to motorists (even if it just perceived) is to be avoided at all costs. He has deluded himself into believing that riding in the door zone can be done safely, and he contends that his method of straddling lanes to negotiate getting past a dual right turn freeway onramp is safe for him, so why does anyone else need to slow down traffic by controlling the lane? I don’t know if this is another example of the control mythology described by Keri, or if it’s another angry motorist who also happens to ride a bicycle.
Your last paragraph nails it, methinks. Heck, even many of the “engineers” think that the edge is where “bikes belong.”
(pardon the snarky reference to the trade group…)