Sunday, November 4, 2007

Pointing a middle finger – and pulling the trigger

I’ve just read about a disturbing incident on the West Coast.

SIR rider Peter McKay, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met on a bike, was shot with two BB pellets this week while commuting home from work. Far from being a harmless prank, the shooting pierced one of Peter’s lungs and sent him to the hospital.

This is Peter’s own account of the event and here’s a newspaper account with quotes from RUSA president Mark Thomas.

Here’s to wishing for a full recovery by Peter. And here’s to hoping they catch the guy who pulled the trigger.

The level of violence that Peter witnessed at point blank range may be at the extreme end of what we cyclists encounter. The level of animosity is not, in my experience.

An example: about a month ago, JoeRay, Wes and I were riding along, miles from anywhere or anyone. It was a rural road with almost no traffic. We were just chitchatting, enjoying another pleasant day for cycling.

Now comes a car in the other direction. We’re not in his lane, not slowing him down, not even heading the same way.

Still, the guy finds it necessary to stick a hand out the window, flip us off.

What the…? Where did that come from?

JoeRay has a name for it: Embedded hostility.

He’s on to something. Long before the motorist crossed our path, he’d developed a deep-seated anger toward cyclists. We did nothing to him except appear in his line of sight. We were merely the flashpoint for his hatred.

The simple fact is that lots of motorists resent bicycles on the roads. You’ve heard all the reasons: We slow them down or hold them up. Only kids ride bikes. Roads are for cars, sidewalks are for cyclists. Bikers don’t pay gasoline taxes and don’t have any right to use the road. Cyclists wear stupid clothes.

On and on it goes.

When someone yells out the window, or flashes the bird, I want to react in kind, and sometimes I do, a fact I’m not proud of. It’s counterproductive and potentially dangerous for me and my buddies. And it ruins the ride.

I don’t have any solution for defusing the hostile motorist. I have no clue how, short of wearing a Kevlar vest, to deal with the kind of unprovoked attack that Peter saw.

But I take small steps, nearly every time I ride, to promote our cause with the rest of the motoring public.

I wave at the motorists who go out of their way to pass safely and courteously. Ditto to the drivers who nod and wave hello.

I wave at the kids playing in the yards. They’ll soon be drivers.

I give a passing hello or nod to the parents sitting on their front porch or mowing the lawn. They’ll be behind the wheel soon enough.

I try to ride in a predictable manner and use hand signals to indicate changes in motion or direction.

As much as practicable, I avoid running red lights and stop signs. My reasoning: The motorist who sees me disregarding traffic laws might be more tempted to disregard my rights.

I know where to find the motor vehicle laws that apply to bicycles. In North Carolina, my home state, they’re here. I’ve found it’s hard to educate motorists about my rights if I don’t know what they are.

I stay alert to cars approaching from behind, especially when I’m riding in groups.

And I always use a mirror to watch my back. As this incident shows, there’s a lot of embedded hostility out there. Sometimes it's aimed randomly at nice guys like Peter. And sometimes it can leave a permanent scar.


Eric said...

It's actually illegal in Raleigh to ride on the sidewalk. Perhaps with good reason it might seem, because that's actually how my friend who didn't feel comfortable riding in the road got hit when they were going against traffic on the left side and a car coming in from the left blew through a stop sign, only looking to their left for oncoming traffic. It was after only about 1 month of commuting the 1/2 mile to and from Meredith college, while I managed to last 3 years before my first accident involving a motor vehicle; biking every which-away across Raleigh (in this case the vehicle was a dually, man was I lucky to only have my bike seriously injured). Then there's the guy who got hit on Avent Ferry about a month ago and was in critical condition. You can still see the stain from his accident on the street between Avent Ferry dorm and Mission Valley. I never heard if he recovered or not. All of these accidents occurred within approximately 2 weeks as well as some others among some friends of friends that happened more recently. Some sort of deescalation needs to occur here in the triangle, particularly in Raleigh. Maybe some sort of driver education regarding cyclists by the NC DMV could help because many many drivers yell and point at the sidewalk when passing me. Who knows what it is, but something needs to be dome.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I would like to personally thank the thoughtful person who flicked their cigarette onto my back last week.

Better a few ashes than pellets I guess.

Maybe the future of cycling involves helmet cams and police band radios.

Cap'n said...

I have lost hope that common sense and courtesy will ever prevail in a country that elected George Bush to the presidency, TWICE!