Just as we were turning a corner on East Federal Way the other day, bike partner Tony and I were suddenly cut off by a light blue SUV that deliberately turned into our clearly marked bike path and narrowly missed us as we braked hard to avoid slamming in this vengeful driver.
Although I was often harassed by passing motorists, mostly on the rural back roads of West Washington, I have never experienced such blatant and aggressive behavior in my decades of cycling. Neither of us could believe it. I asked Tony, who was pedaling close behind him, if there was anything he’d done to possibly upset that driver, such as drifting left onto the road. He assured me it didn’t and made us conclude that this idiot was just trying in his own way to get us a strong message in the form of an almost physical attack of about 2½ tons of metal on a few 22 pounds -Bikes and their unprotected riders.
It was a message that I only partially received. Had I been beaten or knocked to the ground and a bloody mess on the sidewalk, I would still have difficulty understanding and confirming such an attack.
I understand that there are people who are passionate about believing that roads are only for cars. After all, they pay their taxes on road construction and maintenance while cyclists cycle for free, right? Cyclists have their own designated routes to ride and should just stick to them, right? Another cyclist rode right in front of me in the middle of the road last week, so this one should be paying for his bad behavior, right? Wrong in every way, but even if that’s true, would that justify what I consider attempted murder? It is true that in the event of a collision between a car driver and a bicycle, the cyclist usually loses, and often even badly.
Unfortunately, such incidents are far too common. I struck a chord with my cycling enthusiasts after reporting the incident on both a local cycling club’s Facebook site and on my personal feed. Many had their own stories of hits, near misses, and falls from similar deliberate acts. Some pedestrian victims also got involved. Some even argued that it is time for cyclists to ride with both front and rear cameras.
“The blatant ones are so crazy,” said one. “I think they are jealous because they are stuck in their cars in the traffic-hating life and we have fun on our bikes.”
“There is so much hatred in this country and cyclists are so vulnerable,” said another. A woman I worked with once said that after three blows over the years, including a horrific incident where she broke her hip and broke her fellow cyclist’s thighbone, she had finally come to terms with it, exclusively on mountain biking – and to ride racing bike paths.
Still others offered their encouragement and urged me that if I gave up, I would let these traffic terrorists win.
“Please keep driving and don’t let this (driver) take your pleasure!” One wrote.
I tend to do just that, despite the frightening and incomprehensible behavior of a few like the cretin we encountered. I’m also happy to say that most motorists are willing to split the road and give cyclists plenty of space when overtaking, as the law requires.
I also beg my passengers to drive responsibly. As a cyclist and car driver, I shake my head when I see two or three cyclists driving along a busy main artery without paying attention to the approaching traffic or simply not keeping to the right when driving as safety allows . And what can be said about drivers who think reacting to their latest text message or social media post is far more important than paying attention to the road ahead? Please just turn off your phone. We lost way too many cyclists to distracted driving. (Cyclists on cycle paths must also warn pedestrians appropriately when they are driving past.)
This is not a problem that is not going to go away, especially given the current popularity of cycling as a mode of transport and leisure activity. Despite awareness campaigns from both public transport officials and cycling advocates, I (and others like it) are shocked that we still have many miles to travel before we can reach the level of mutual and mutual respect between cyclists and motorists. Countless improvements in the public infrastructure have to be made in order to accommodate both safely.
To the driver of the blue SUV, please just put down your anger when you drive past other cyclists and pedestrians. Threatening – or possibly killing us – is not the answer.