Don’t Expect Apologies from Motorists

I think Gandhi would want me to make these posts less mean. But I think he would appreciate that they are provocative. And I have to say writing these posts is very therapeutic. I think I must have bottled up all the abuse I’ve gotten from motorists over the years, and now I’m letting it go, letting it go onto these pages. I’m sure there are readers out there who will think that I must be an angry quick-tempered person. Actually my friends think of me as unusually mild-mannered. In fact one friend once challenged my other friends thusly: “Let’s see if we can make Larry angry!” They failed. But for some reason I do get upset when a motorist puts me in mortal danger and I get even more upset with they scold me for it.

You may think my claim in a previous post that “bicyclists existing” makes motorists mad is an exaggeration. The fact is, bicyclists are inherently unwelcome in our culture. The following story illustrates what I am talking about. I remember once my wife and I were waiting at a red light on our bicycles. A car pulled up behind us and started honking and honking. When I realized they were honking at us I managed to squeak out something like “we have a right to be here!” That made the motorist mad. He stormed out of his car and shook his fist at us and challenged me to a fight. The light changed and my wife and I beat a hasty retreat. A more recent example: my friend and I were biking next to each other on a remote country road with no traffic in sight. Suddenly a motorcyclist came up behind us honking wildly and shaking his fist before zooming off. I can understand a motorist feeling upset because they have to slow down to go around (though it’s not illegal for two cyclists to ride abreast, just impolite if someone wants to pass). But a motorcycle! What’s with that?

Motorists often harbor the assumption that bicyclists (and pedestrians) will always stop for them since their car is bigger than your bicycle, so it is in your best interest to stop for them, right? I mean, you don’t want to get hurt do you? I know this fact from my days as a bike courier. I’ve developed a little dance I do for asserting my right-of-way just enough to encourage a car to stop, but not enough that my life is in danger. I do this by maintaining my speed while keeping a swerve space ready. Often if I suspect a car will cross my path from the right I move left. Drivers behind me may think I’m being erratic and unsafe when in reality I am ensuring my safety.

Once when my wife and I were biking toward an intersection where we had the right-of-way I saw a car on the right pull up to a stop sign. I instinctively moved to the left and prepared to swerve if they failed to yield. My wife however continued on. The car leaped forward straight toward her, and stopped within inches of striking her. In that split second I honestly thought I had just lost all hope for future happiness. I was dizzy with relief. I stopped and tried to express this thought to the driver without using any swear words. The driver didn’t say anything and drove off.

I lot of people will think I’m exaggerating in these posts. I’m not exaggerating as much as you think. The only way you will know how much I am exaggerating is to get on your bike. Try biking 10 miles a day for several years on the streets of a big city (except Portland Oregon :-)). You will see what I am talking about. You will experience not only daily routine abuse, but you may even enjoy some spectacular life-threatening experiences. Don’t expect apologies.