Thursday, December 2, 2010

Letter to a driver

I don't normally like to post about bad biking experiences, because in general I love biking, and the bad moments are overwhelming outweighed by the good ones.
However, tonight's commute left me shaking and wanting to cry after some guy tried to run me off the road and called me a F'ning- B-  because I dared to ride far enough in the lane that he had to wait to pass me. Panting from the effort of trying to go "traffic speed" I gasped a few weak things about door zone, and legal vehicle blah blah, wheeze, but it obviously made no impression.

This is what I would say if I weren't alone on my bike on a cold night being honked and and yelled at by angry drivers.

Dear Angry Driver
My name is C__,

I have a dog, and a boyfriend, and a Mom, a Dad and a Brother who I love and who love me.
I like to cook and read and listen to music and lie in bed on a lazy Sunday drinking coffee and reading the paper.  I like my job, although not so much on Monday mornings.
I might not be so different from you,  or your sister or your mom.

You were angry because I was riding out in the "Middle of the Road".  You wanted me to ride over to the side so that you could get where you were going (in this case the red light) a little faster.
You might not know why a biker might ride so far into the middle of the road, so let me try to explain.  Unfortunately this street is lined with parked cars, and people aren't very careful about opening them and might hit me,  possibly throwing me under your wheels.  So I ride about a foot inside the fog line so that I'm out of their range.  Most of the time drivers scootch out into the other lane about 2 feet in order to give me plenty of space.  Tonight, for whatever reason (the phase of the moon?)  several people in a row buzzed me way too close, because they were too lazy to wait for a gap in the oncoming traffic to give me even that much space.

Now maybe I'm crazy, but I don't like a 2 ton mass passing by so close I can touch it at speeds of 35 MPH. (or about 15 MPH faster than I'm going and 5mph over the speed limit).
This particular road we're on is a two lane,  quasi-residential street that has been pressed into service as an E-W Arterial.  Per Massachussets General Code Chapter 89, Section Two  "If it is not possible to overtake a bicycle or other vehicle at a safe distance in the same lane, the overtaking vehicle shall use all or part of an adjacent lane if it is safe to do so or wait for a safe opportunity to overtake. "  )  Because people weren't doing that,  I moved out into the middle of the lane (actually about 1/3 in)  in order to make it clear to drivers that  it is not safe to pass me in the same lane, and that they need to cross the centerline,  and pass me safely.
This angered you because you had to take your foot off the accelerator, and maybe even had to hit the brake.  The thing that you might not know about this particular street, is that the lights are timed at almost exactly the speed of a bicyclist (about 18- 20Mph).  I almost never have to wait for a light once I get synched up,  and if you pass me,  you're almost certainly going to be waiting at the next red light until I catch up with you.

Unlike most bikers,  I choose not to pass you while you are stopped,  I wait my turn at the light, or even in backed up traffic.  All I ask in return is that people pass me carefully-  if they have to wait a bit to do so safely,  I don't want them to have to do it again and again along the same stretch of road.  I drive sometimes too, and I know how aggravating that can be.

Believe me,  I wholeheartedly wish that there was a bike lane or a cycle track, or something that defined safely separated spaces for both of us on this (and every other) road.  It would let me ride a little slower on my way home,  relaxed because no one was honking and gunning their engine right behind me.  It would let you get to the red light a little quicker.  We'd both probably be happier.   Unfortunately there's not enough space in this old town's old streets for that.
So for now, I hope you'll consider why I might be riding the way I am before you fly into a rage.
I hope you'll consider sharing the road, even if that means that you might have to wait for 90 seconds to pass, or might get to the light a little slower.
And please, think of your sister or mother or coworker before you call a human being who just happens to be on the same streets names and yell at her for slowing you down.



  1. god that's too bad... hot on the heals of the good experience last night, too...

    I'm sorry that happened, but glad that all there was was name calling.

    Ride safe!

  2. Some days are just close-buzz days, aren't they? I hope the momentary stress of the encounter passed soon, and I sincerely hope your letter reaches a few drivers out there who could benefit from its message.

  3. sorry to hear about the stressful commute. And I hope writing this was at least a little bit cathartic.

    one comment stuck out for me: "Unfortunately there's not enough space in this old town's old streets for that." After going to Amsterdam this summer, I realized that Boston is relaly not so different. they've just come to terms with either not allowing parking or just setting cars up as second class transportation. I don't think that will ever happen in Boston, but it's certainly not because of the lack of space on the streets, but rather the lack of initiative and imagination in the city's infrastructure.

    i hope today was a better ride!

  4. cycler, i'm sorry to hear of your bad experience... ones like that one really do stink. if i were to write a letter in response to an experience such as yours, i don't think it could ever be written so objectively or maturely.

  5. >:-(

    nice letter. Wish he could read and really hear it.

  6. You are much more mature and restrained than I've been in similar situations. They seem to teeter somewhere between frightening and ridiculous.

  7. Boo. I'm so sorry to hear about your altercation.
    Aren't you glad your blood pressure/stress is lower than his must be?

    On my way home Wednesday I passed a fatal auto wreck on the Mass Ave bridge, minutes after it happened. Yikes. Stay safe out there.

  8. I've been biking in the area for years and think it is getting better, but there are still many issues. One is that most drivers do not know the current laws regarding cyclists. Yes, you can take the WHOLE LANE if you need it and do not need to move out of the way because a FASTER vehicle is behind you. You do not need to be in the bike lane.
    Anyway, I've started writing down some offences and reporting the worst. In one case, a transit (non-MBTA) van driver was yelling at another cyclist to get out of the way because the cyclist was STOPPED in the right turn late at a red stop light with a no-right turn on red and he wanted to make an illegal right turn on red. I got the van number and called his boss who said, "I understand. I bike as well. I'll follow up." Last I heard they pulled the video from the van to see what happened as the driver claimed he was only "asking" if the cyclist was turning right or not. Note: the company advertises how "courteous" its drivers are.
    Then last week, in my own neighborhood a driver yelled at me for impeding traffic because the car in front of him would not pass me. Bizarre. This was strange for a lot of reasons including that its a slow-speed residential side street; we were all turning left and then having to stop at the next stop sign; gave me plenty of time to get his details and call the police. In this case I called because its my neighborhood and I don't want crazy drivers in my neighborhood. A cop came to my house and the first thing he said was he understood how I felt because he use to commute by bicycle to his previous job! i think in this case they followed-up with the driver and explained that he wasn't the only vehicle on the road.
    The officer also told me that the RMV website has a place to log complaints against a driver. I think all you need is the license plate, description, time of day. Anyway, the complaints get reviewed and if they seem to warrant follow-up someone may contact you.
    Its not much, but its a start.

  9. Insert sincere sympathy here.

    OK, the REAL question here is can YOU do, since you don't know where to send this letter to directly reach the jerk? For sure, the infrastructure won't be much different tomorrow.

    I suggest the following practical actions:
    1. Send your letter to the newspaper. While I'm sure it won't reach the jerk, it might make a couple of people think which will make things a little better for someone.
    2. Practice getting license numbers in stressful and unexpected situations. The benefit of this skill should be obvious and your post has reminded me I need to practice more. Thank you.
    3. Consider whether there is really any downside to riding in the MIDDLE of the lane in such situations so that passing motorists make a FULL lane change instead of being able to just "skootch" over. Review the commuteorlando post on that subject for why, but I can assure you that for darn sure motorists will wait for a gap in oncoming traffic if their downside is something much worse than simply running you off the road into a parked car if they misjudge and suddenly "scootch" back. Besides, on that street, it isn't as if they'll get there any faster regardless.

    Having driven in Dallas, and in Boston, I'd rather drive in Dallas. I expect that means I'd probably also rather cycle in Dallas, though the distances are also a lot greater.

    If you are ever in Dallas, I expect a comparison report upon your return.

  10. I'm blaming holiday stress. I had a very angry driver behind me on Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving while I was waiting behind several cars in the left turn lane; not holding him up in the slightest. I have his plate number, if he does it again I'll report him. I've also had a few people honk as they go around me on Washington St near Forest Hills Station before Ukraine Ave when I take the lane (with sharrows) this week, it's been more than normal.
    Instead of respond, I try to remember that it's their problem, not mine. I don't always manage too, but I do try.
    Keep your head on straight and be safe,

  11. Steve,

    It was not until I started riding in the middle of the lane, (aka vehicularly) , that the honking and abuse began. This is what I find to be the fatal flaw of VC, that it makes drivers so angry and hostile that A) they behave in a dangerous manner- as in this guy who swerved into me sideways, forcing me either to let him hit me or relinquish my lane position and B) your average bicyclist is not willing, and should not need to be willing to incur such wrath.

  12. the other one!December 4, 2010 at 10:54 PM

    Cycler, Here's to your frayed nerves recovering, and or hardening. It's not a pretty picture. Im a slow driver, I get may of the same expressions of exasperation. Unfortunately these people are just looking for a release of their own bad days. So help them out, wave, tell them "Have a nice day" or other appropreate reply. YOU will feel better! Maybe even shout it. Yes I bicycle also, and often face the same jerks. Think of it as an encounter with a species that is becoming extinct, sooner or later they'll have an accident acting this way, and you will probably be able to ride right on by. Peace to you my riding friend!

  13. The problem with VC is that many drivers (it only takes a couple, right?) have never come across the concept of "taking the lane" and have no idea what it means.

    These drivers just get honestly confused, startled, angry when they see a cyclist riding in the middle of the road. I really don't know the solution.

    I have basically stopped taking the lane altogether, instead focusing on maintaining a constant, safe distance from parked cars. Occasionally cars pass too closely, but honestly, I'd rather deal with that than honking, tailgating, and yelling.

  14. I read once about someone who responded to obnoxious behavior--being shouted at from a car or harassed by a teenager--by calling pleasantly "Say hi to your mom for me!" which I thought was hilarious, though I don't think I'd ever have the sangfroid. Apparently it always startled the perp into a state of total puzzlement ("wait--does she really know my mom?? huh?") and then yes, maybe tapped the shame button just a little.

  15. coming in late to say cycler I agree about the issue of VC and making ppl angry. My Mother in law was in our car on cape cod as we were going somewhere. there are lots of summer bikers on the narrow roads and when going around a bend you def want to take the lane to be seen. However my MIL who lives there was all angry ( as a passenger) saying " I don't know why they do that. Don't they know they have more to loose than a car?" I think she saw them as being aggressively risky just daring to be hit. she couldn't see my point when I explained that it's actually safer since you clearly see them and have to slow downand switch lanes to pass.

    It's interesting- as a new driver it took me a long time to realize that cars do not want to hit me ( in my car) that if I turn out into traffic or am turing left and give enough room the car ahead does not want to hit me- will not speed up to hit me and actually will slow down even if they do not want to b/c they don't want to hit me.

    However it seems drivers don't nec have this same thought process for cyclist or people. On one hand they don't want to hit me and taking the lane should ensure they don't hit me like they wouldn't hit a car. Yet there is still this thing that happens in the brain that one doesn't compute the bike or person and the need to slow down. and thus drivers get mad and act dangerously around us. We are like debrie to swerve around.