Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Bike Commuting Highs and Lows

Almost two years ago, I posted about a recurring incident that would happen on my morning ride to work (Share the Road?). There was this woman who would come up behind me in her car and blast her horn at me, startling me completely, then she'd pass me in the wide-open left lane, laying on her horn the whole way past. There was no reason whatsoever for her actions -- there was no traffic. She'd have the whole road to pass without having to wait or slow down at all. It was obvious that her horn was her way of telling me that, as far as she was concerned, I have no right to be there.

For two years I've been trying to catch this lady. I could never get her license plate. I could never notice her coming until it was too late. The traffic lights were never in my favor that I could catch her. But last week, it finally happened. Last week, as I was riding along, she came up behind me as usual, honking her horn -- but this time she did it when she was less than a half-mile from where she works. I could see clearly where she pulled into the parking lot.

Oh My God, I've Got Her! I said out loud to nobody who could hear me.

My heart pumping and my legs racing, I pulled into the same parking lot. My eyes were scanning for her car. I saw her on the other end of the lot, heading for a parking spot, and I cut across the lot so that I pulled up to her just as she was pulling to a stop.

It's hard to sound calm and relaxed when you're half out of breath and your blood is pumping not just from exertion but anger. As she sat in her car with the windows closed, I yelled at her, "Lady - you've got no business honking at me! I have the same right to the road you do. If you want to go by me, then just go around!" I think I might also have told her where she could shove her horn.

She rolled down her window. "Can I speak now?" she asked.

She then went on to say "I should not have to slow down to a crawl to get by you. You don't have the right to slow down traffic."

Complete B.S.

I went on to point out that I was on the far right side of the road, and that she had the full left lane and most of the right lane to use for passing - That there was no traffic - That she didn't have to slow down even a second to get by me - as evidenced by the fact that she used the left lane to pass me even as she was blowing her horn. On the other hand, I did not point out that my bike was probably worth more than her piece-of-crap car, even though that's probably also true.

She stuck to her excuse that she shouldn't have to slow down for a bicyclist. I told her she has to slow down for other traffic all the time -- cars slowing down to turn, school buses stopping to pick-up/drop-off kids, etc. etc. I told her she probably didn't sit behind those school buses blowing her horn.

She said she only honked at me two times. I told her that it was "only" two times this month (absolutely true), but I'd been watching for her for the past two years. I told her I considered her actions to be harassment and intimidation, then I took a picture of her license plate and told her I'd be reporting her to the police - then went back on my way to work feeling totally pumped.

Yes, I called the police later that day. Just as I'd suspected, they told me that there's nothing they can do unless an officer witnesses it. Yeah -- that'll happen. Granted, I knew they weren't going to write her a ticket or anything based on my say-so, but I hoped they might at least send her a letter to notify that a complaint had been registered against her. No dice.

Doesn't matter though. I have a feeling that just being confronted, and knowing that I now know where she works, I think she's re-thinking her actions. I've actually seen her twice since then, and she hasn't made a sound. Yesterday, she was stopped next to me at a light (why didn't that ever happen before?!) and I swear I thought she was going to blow off the light just so she could get away from me. She didn't do that, but did take off in a hurry when the light turned green, though.

On A Different Note:

Also yesterday on that morning commute, I had a very different encounter.

As I stopped for another traffic light, a car pulled next to me, and the window buzzed down. I braced myself for another dose of verbal abuse.

"Excuse me," said a little grand-motherly lady, "are you riding your bike to work?"

I told her I was.

"Well God bless 'ya," she said, "is it very far?"

About 13 miles, I said.

"Well God bless 'ya," she repeated. Then the light changed and she waved as she drove off.

Damn. Why can't they all be like that?


  1. I've been there and I can imagine how good you feel. Hopefully, and very likely, you'll have no more pointless abuse from her.

    It's so rare to get a positive response from car drivers it throws me every time, they're definitely out there though. I'm glad you've been having a good commute week, long may it continue!

  2. This is why I wear a shirt that says "don't be a honky". Did I mention I'm Black. I get so many smiles.

    1. That's hilarious! And appropriately retrogrouchy. Of course for all we know the younger drivers only know "honky" from reruns of the Jeffersons!

      I agree that humor is the way to go. I can't see straight confrontation amounting to much. I know I don't have the discipline to stay calm in such as situation. But I applaud recording the license plate and knowing where she works, so long as you can resist throwing eggs, or worse. Knowledge is power, even if legal leverage is not imminent.

    2. I was satisfied just to finally give her a piece of my mind. Anything more would make me as bad as her.

  3. I got asked from pedestrian about rules for cyclists recently when crossed the intersection with bike by foot.

  4. I've found asking "do you have a valid operators license?" thwarts many agitated drivers, especially in an urban area, who yell at you while sitting at a light. No idea why, but it works to shut them and the windows up.

    1. An interesting response, I'll give you that.

  5. You do have the same right to the road as the lady in the car does. BUT, you also have the same responsibilities. I think that in most jurisdictions, certainly here in British Columbia, a cyclist (or a car driver) is not permitted to impede the reasonable flow of traffic on a roadway. Your honking friend obviously thinks that you are when you block the lane she is travelling in.

    1. If you read the article - it should be obvious that in NO WAY was I impeding any reasonable flow of traffic. I was on the right side of the right lane at 6:00 AM - with virtually no traffic. The left lane was empty of any cars at all. There were also no cars within about 50 yards in front or behind me in the right lane. I was well lit and reflectorized - highly visible - adhering to all the rules of the road. Even in BC, the cyclist's "responsibility" is to follow the traffic laws. If being able to keep up with traffic were part of a cyclist's responsibility, then cyclists would not have the right to use the road anywhere the speed limit was higher than 15 to 20 mph.

    2. Quoted, obviously "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness"

      Impeding, what about my happiness? That is just as silly to me as the signs here in Florida that tell the bicyclist to yield to turning traffic which crosses a multi use path at an intersection. This despite the fact, turning traffic must yield before turning right or for pedestrians in a crosswalk. What about impeding pedestrians with side by side strollers taking up a path? Again, my happiness is not important. The cyclist has to yield, or break their joyful ride until one of the walkers finally surrenders the gratuitous space they are taking up. No one cares about cyclist, but lets vote Pro-life and don't hit a deer- right?

  6. Some people are just generally angry, and they are willing to take it out on "weaker" people as long as they can remain anonymous. I'm surprised the cops can't even give her a call and advise her that the reported behavior is not legal, but at least she is aware she's no longer anonymous.

    1. I was disappointed by the reaction of the police -- but not really surprised. But like you said, she now knows she's not anonymous, and it hasn't happened since (well, not with her, at least).