My commute home takes me down Cambridge street which is the main way to get from downtown to (surprise) Cambridge. During rush hour, the traffic is bumper to bumper, and I am easily able to keep up when traffic does move (the fact that it's downhill helps) and when rush hour has passed, since it's two lanes it's pretty easy for people to pass me safely. It's lined with driveways and parking spots, and I pretty much take the right lane for most of the 1/2 mile or so from Government Center to the Longfellow bridge.
A couple of days ago I went home a bit earlier than usual, so traffic was still bad. I had a bit of a start at an intersection at the top of the hill While sitting waiting at a light, another cyclist stopped a couple of feet behind me and to my right, a third guy"shoaled" me and pulled up in the 2'6"' space between me and the other cyclist waiting for the red. He had to twist to avoid hitting both of us. I had a WTF moment, and exclaimed "careful there" when the light turned green and I immediately left him way behind.
Through the top of this stretch there's an intersection where the parking lane turns into a right turn lane for the last 30', followed immediately by a short block with a right turn only lane to the right of the two through lanes.. I stay in the right through lane, not in the right turn only lane, since I'm going straight.
Still a bit adrenelized by the guy trying to slip through the tiny space between me and the other person at the light, I was going pretty fast- was also trying to "keep up" as I try to do when I'm taking the lane. I was doing pretty well, staying about 20' behind the car in front of me through this stretch, when someone starts to honk at me. As is my custom, I ignore it, and continue through the intersection, when a red Ford sedan passes within touching distance. Out of startlement, I yell an obscenity.
100 yards later the Ford turns into the Whole Foods parking lot. The driver yells out his window "want to talk about it?" I hesitate for a second, and then stop, turn around and bike back up to the parking lot. I catch him after he's entered the parking lot, say "Yes Sir, I would like to talk" and he's a more or less genial chap with a commonwealth accent (either americanized British or Australian).
I told him that I wanted to apologize for calling him an A**hole, but that he passed me really closely, and that's a scary thing. I said, in Massachusetts, legally, if the lane is narrow, bikes are entitled to take up the whole lane because there's not space for door clearance and me and safe clearance AND his car.
He immediately said, "but you weren't in the right lane". I said, "that's a right turn only lane, and I was going straight." At that point, I think he realized a) that I was a human being who he had scared and endangered, and b) that he'd probably done the wrong thing.
Amazingly he was honest enough to admit it. He first said that he, and his son are both cyclists (?!?). He apologized for scaring me, and said that he appreciated that I had the proper equipment and a knowledge of the law. We had to pull out of the way to let another car through, and he parked.
After he emerged from his car, he said, something like "Really, I have to apologize, because I was driving out of downtown, and I had a green light, and two bikes cut in front of me, and called me an Ahole as they did it." I think that what he meant, is that he was still upset by those scofflaws, and was angry at bikes when he came up behind another bike, even thought I was occupying the space in front of him in a rational way. It was only when he was confronted by a middle aged woman in heels and a dress, and an outraged but articulate argument that he could realize that he'd transferred his anger at them to me in an unreasonable way.
What I took away from this interaction:
1) I think that a good percentage of drivers are susceptible to rational arguments.
2) That a handful of "bad apples" can make conditions more dangerous for the rest of us by creating animosity between drivers and cyclists.
3) That we too infrequently have the change for rational discourse, human to human on the road. Part of it is the brevity of our interactions, and part of it may be that the cyclist is so out of breath :). I was definitely gasping for the first half of our conversation
Overall, it made me feel optimistic about the possibilities for bike- car relations, but I realize that this was an unusual experince, and wonder how it could be replicated more often.