Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mr. VW

So here’s my commentary for Tuesday, June 25. It is a reprisal of a previous commentary to some degree.

I rode my bike today, an 18 miler in the rain (I only had an hour, thus the short distance). But it does not matter the distance, today I was reminded that despite the general acceptance of bikes on the road, there is still good reason to be highly cautious when riding. I had a car deliberately try to run me into the curb, and almost caused me to wreck. This person did this all while honking, flipping me off and angrily waving their hand while yelling for me to “Get off the road!” I’ll just let that all settle a little bit while I give some back story and try to argue the case of the driver of that car.

I would have gone farther than 18 miles had two things not happened, first I only had an hour. And, second, I had forgotten my helmet and made it halfway from my house to Hill Rd—about a mile—before I realized it. Rather than risk it (which an earlier, less wise version of myself might have done) I decided to turn back and get my helmet. I got home, grabbed it from off the table whence it had been left and headed out again, a new route in mind. I rode to the greenbelt, by the time mostly deserted due to the rain that had begun falling in earnest and headed toward Warm Springs and Bown Crossing. My planned route was to take the greenbelt to the East Park Center Bridge and then head over it to Park Center Blvd. and on in to Main St. in Downtown, then back to the Greenbelt and on home. For the most part it was a routine and uneventful ride.
I got to PCB and was maintaining a pace between 22 and 25 MPH as I blasted down the smooth and fast pavement. I was conscious of avoiding the concrete because it would be slicker than the pavement, and I also was avoiding painted lines as they can lead to wrecks in the rain. I got past Apple St. Then Pennsylvania—where I caught up with traffic—then to Riverstone where I stopped at the red light and then proceeded when it was clear—a legal and typical cyclist maneuver. I had realized the light had triggered only to let an elderly couple through the crosswalk, there were no cars coming either direction on the cross street. Once up to speed I was humming at around 25 MPH as I approached Mallard Dr. The light changed to Green and traffic had yet to catch me from the previous light. I was hammering, on my aero bars and flying. For those not familiar with the area, PCB at that particular point is three lanes wide, and the right lane is particularly so, though there is not a designated bike lane.

I was cruising about a foot to 18” from the curb, holding a pretty steady line. As I was passing the Albertson’s parking lot, I heard a friendly toot-toot behind me, which often signals the approach of a large vehicle that can’t get over. I put myself as close to the curb as I could as a big Econoline passed me, giving me as much room as he could—there was a car in the lane next to him—easily three feet from me. He waved as he passed. As he passed I heard a not so friendly horn blast and an engine rev as a VW Passat wagon with driver angrily screeching at me and waving his arm as he yelled for me to get off the road. More disturbing was the fact that, unlike the large van in front of him, as Mr. VW passed, he swerved in to me, nearly driving me into the curb. Remember that I was going about 25 MPH? At that speed, there is no way for a wreck with a car and a bike to come off well for the biker. Best case: I manage to bail over the curb and onto the sidewalk, perhaps making it to the grass before I totally lose it and come out with a dislocated shoulder, or maybe just a few bad scrapes and bruises. Worst case, and more probably, the VW nudges my handle bar, forcing my tire out of control, into the curb, I endo into the roadway and the car behind the VW, if not the VW itself, runs over my legs and midsection as my head comes to rest abruptly on the edge of the curb. In an attempt to avoid this the vehicle behind the VW swerves into the other lane of traffic hitting the person next to them and driving that person into the lane next to them, the cars behind all skidding, as traffic piles up. You know the Allstate “Mayhem” ads? Well the driver of the VW better hope he has Allstate, because it will be paying for all of this messy mayhem.

No, I am not writing this from the ICU. In fact the VW continued down the road as I rode with all vigor to give him a piece of my mind (and maybe the tip of my key to his paint). I did in fact catch up with him again three lights later, where it appeared that all of that anger and hurry had only gotten him to the light a few seconds ahead of me. By the time I arrived, I had cooled down and decided to ride without the anger toward Mr. VW that I had previously been so zealous to display. I can honestly say that after the rest of my ride I wish him no ill will, though perhaps some words of caution. Coincidentally, I managed to almost cause another accident with a car a little farther down the road as I rounded a corner that, due to the wet roadways, had become quite slick. The Prius had begun to cross and I knew that I would be just ahead of him as I got to the right hand turn, but as I started into the corner it was obvious that I had to take it wide or risk sliding across on my side and ass (a thought I did not relish). I was in the Prius’ lane, just in front of him, and probably held him up a bit. So yeah, I can see why people get frustrated with cyclists. Also, thank you Mr. Prius driver for being unnecessarily kind and just waving to me, and even watching out for me as we proceeded down the road. I am sorry for the inconvenience I caused you.

Back to the VW, a letter of caution:

Dear Mr. VW driver,

I want to apologize for the frustration that cyclists have obviously caused you in the past. I understand that cyclists in the roadway mean just another hazard for you to worry about, another liability to your insurance payment. I get that cyclists sometimes ride two abreast when they shouldn’t, and others ride slowly causing you to miss that all-important lunch meeting with your tennis trainer. I know that sometimes we misjudge a corner and swerve into your lane of traffic just when you are going by and that is annoying. But for all the holdup, frustration, anger, and annoyance we have caused you, is it worth 1) Prison (because I know that number one is all you care about); 2) the reckless endangerment of the lives and health of the 10 drivers behind you; 3) the life of a cyclist (despite how much I know we must frustrate you) and, finally; the 40 or 50 years of guilt you will doubtless be wracked with for the remainder of your life? I ask this in anticipation of my second point, and I am not trying to sound uppity here, but you were absolutely in the wrong.

I know it may not have felt like it at the time, I know your brain was not processing all of the possible outcomes of your actions, I know how infuriating it can be to feel like everyone is going slow and I can’t get around them, I am a strongly assertive driver also. I too have taken my chances with others’ lives, behaving stupidly, outside the law, apart from the rules, ignorant of the etiquette. But I want to stress something very strongly here, when it comes to bikes and pedestrians I have come to realize that it is simply NEVER worth it to play fast and loose with their lives, whether they are protected by the law or not.

I would further like to stress that in our little escapade today, I was absolutely protected by the law, and you were in violation of at least two, one relating to me, the other relating to the van in front of you that you were tailgating. I also have an inkling that you all were going considerably faster than 35 MPH. The state of Idaho protects cyclists riding in the right lane of traffic if no bike lane is designated provided that they stay as close as they practically are able to the right side of the lane. Further, the law recognizes that there are times when it is impractical to ride too close to the curb or otherwise and grants the cyclist the discretion to determine when these times are. In such cases, it is the responsibility of the following vehicle to wait until either the cyclist clears, or a space opens up that allows the vehicle room to go around the cyclist. Boise city further defines the recommended passing allowance as three feet from the cyclist. The van in front of you respected this rule, and even allowed me the courtesy of announcing his presence. You on the other hand, you sounded your horn in a situation that did not call for it, you were driving distractedly and recklessly and deliberately swerved into me, allowing less room than I am comfortable with (and I am comfortable at a pretty tiny allowance).
I’m alive and well and finished my ride without further incident for the most part, so this one was a freebie. Next time, you might not be so lucky. You ought to take some time to seriously consider your actions and what the consequences might be, both for you and for the people toward whom you are angry. I sincerely doubt you will read this, but perhaps it can serve as a reminder to other drivers on the road, simply because you have size over cyclists does not give you the authority to exert power over them. You may also consider that bikes were here first, as were pedestrians. Long before you had any rights whatsoever, these ruled the road.  Cyclists are here to stay. They have been here longer and will be here for the foreseeable future. You can accept that reality and be a productive member of the traffic community, or you can continue your obvious vendetta against pedestrians of all sorts until you kill someone and end up old and bitter. The less destructive of these paths is obvious, but it’s your choice.

The cyclist you tried to intimidate

So there it is folks, my Tuesday Commentary. I hope that you have found something of value amongst the reeds of this written swamp. I hope that in your driving you take into account that cyclists are not on a raging campaign against motor vehicles. What we are asking for is not unreasonable, i.e. access to the sides of the roads and drivers that acknowledge our presence. We try to ride courteously and stay on our little slice of the road. I know that most who read this, if not all, practice sharing of the road and I appreciate that. In fact I would say that 299 out of 300 drivers are conscientious, if not kind to cyclists. When our lives are put in danger, however, is when we take notice. It is for that reason that many drivers feel as if cyclists don’t like them, because it is negative feedback they generally hear. If you can hear one last plea, it is this: don’t be that 300th driver. Please, please don’t be “That Guy.”


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